Iain Duncan Smith, Tory Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, has published a White Paper, “Universal credit: welfare that works”. Following on from the Comprehensive Spending Review’s cutting of pensions, child benefit and housing benefit, it is another major attack on working class people.
Universal credit will replace means-tested benefits including Income Support, Jobseeker’s Allowance and Working Tax Credit with a single payment, made to unemployed and low-paid workers. It is to be introduced in 2013 alongside a new Work Programme.
There will also be new benefit regime for the unemployed — benefits will be cut for a period of between three months and three years if Jobcentre Plus thinks claimants have breached strict conditions linked to attending work-focussed interviews and applying for vacancies.
Duncan Smith says an increased earnings disregard will mean claimants can move into jobs without being worse off than they are on benefits. But the obvious question is where are these jobs going to come from?
Two and a half million unemployed people are now chasing 467,000 job vacancies.
Long-term unemployment has doubled since 2008 to 797,000.
The Government intends to cut around six hundred thousand jobs in the public sector over the next six years.
From April 2011 2.6 million Incapacity Benefit claimants will be transferred onto the new Employment and Support Allowance. The Department for Work and Pensions is already predicting that around three quarters of IB claimants will be found fit for work by the ESA medical and forced to sign on.
There are simply not enough jobs. But the Tories and their Lib Dem coalition partners have a solution to this problem. It is a US-style solution — workfare (work for your dole) schemes.
From next year, long-term JSA claimants will be forced to undertake “mandatory work activity” of at least thirty hours a week for a four-week period in order to receive their benefits.
As opposed to the Tory concept of the “Big Society” — getting people to volunteer in their communities in order to fill in the gaps in local services created by cuts — this “mandatory work activity” aims to transform the unemployed into a pool of forced labour, carrying out full-time jobs for councils and private sector employers on way below the minimum wage.
It will also parallel the community work schemes for those convicted of criminal offences. The meaning here is clear — the unemployed are to be punished for the lack of decent jobs, they are part of the “undeserving poor”.
Companies such as A4e who currently have contracts worth £80 million under the last Labour government’s Flexible New Deal will surely be first in line to scoop even more public money into their shareholders’ pockets.
As the Work Programme will be based on targets for getting unemployed people into jobs, such companies will concentrate their efforts on those most likely to get work, discriminating against those with disabilities or learning needs.
The proposals have been attacked by a number of charities. The chief executive of Scope asked: “What about those disabled people who ... try repeatedly to get work but are not successful? The sanctions the government is going to introduce will effectively penalise them, pushing them further into poverty”.
We need a labour movement drive — starting with workers in the Department for Work and Pensions — to halt the introduction of sanctions and workfare. Millions of workers — including trade unionists threatened with redundancy as the result of public spending cuts — now face destitution and exploitation on a massive scale.