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Reintroduction of work conditionality and sanctions is an appalling decision that must be reversed, says DR UK

30 June 2020

Work and Pensions Secretary Thérèse Coffey has announced conditionality and benefit sanctions will be reintroduced this week as jobcentres in England start to reopen after lockdown, saying it was “essential” claimant rules are reinstated.

Face-to-face meetings in jobcentres were suspended in March, and in addition to  “claimant conditionality” – a set of rules that require people to agree to carry out job search activities as a condition of claiming benefits.

Speaking in the House of Commons yesterday, Ms Coffey refused to extend the arrangements after the three-month period finishes today:

“It is important that as the jobcentres fully reopen this week we reinstate the need for a claimant commitment.

It is an essential part of the contract to help people start to reconsider what vacancies there are, but I know that I can trust the work coaches and jobcentre managers, who are empowered to act proactively with people.”

DR UK’s Welfare Rights and Policy Adviser Ken Butler said:

“The decision to reintroduce conditionality and sanctions is appalling and one that DR UK strongly condemns. Quite simply, it must be reversed.

It is a decision that has been made without warning and no consultation with any DWP stakeholder groups, let alone DPOs and other disability organisations.

Since the lifting of the conditionality regime, job vacancies have progressively reduced, with very many disable people still facing restrictions due to the coronavirus pandemic.

DWP staff themselves say the move is premature, with the PCS civil service union highlighting that reopening jobcentres as early as next week could create “a perfect storm” and that, with the threat from the virus remaining all too real, a lack of adequate protection for staff and customers could lead to “pandemonium”.

Since March, there have been over 1.5 million new claims for Universal Credit that the DWP has struggled to cope with following a 21% reduction in staff.

How on earth will Job Centre Work Coaches be able to ensure disabled claimants will face reasonable and “personalised” conditionality if that was not the case before?

There has been no research that finds that the conditionality and sanctions regime helps disabled people. Instead there is evidence that the DWP’s sanctions system has discriminated against disabled people for a decade. The Work and Pensions Committee of MPs concluded two years ago that not only is there no evidence that the DWP’s benefit conditionality sanctions system works but that “worse, it is harmful and counterproductive.”

Only yesterday, DR UK and sixteen other leading charities and mental health organisations, backed the Stop Benefit Deaths campaign launched by Rethink Mental Illness that calls for an independent inquiry into the deaths of disabled people pushed to breaking point from their experience of social security system conditionality.

Conditionality and sanctions actively harmed disabled people before both were lifted in March. To reintroduce them with no discussion, in the environment of an economic recession, with millions more Universal Credit claimants and amid a viral pandemic shows a scant regard for the welfare and safety of disabled people.

DR UK wants a system that genuinely supports the many disabled people who want to work to keep their job when they become disabled - and, for those out of work, to get into work, or set up their own business, with the tailored and flexible support they need to do so.

Instead people will now again be subject to a regime that seems to be finding coercive ways to get people off benefits when their health or other critical factors clearly make this inappropriate.

DR UK will continue to argue for replacing benefits sanctions with effective support for both disabled people and employers, to make a reality of the Government’s pledge to reduce the disability employment gap.“

The Work and Pensions Secretary’s announcement is available from hansard.parliament.uk.