What are the changes
From April, in England, Scotland and Wales, working-age benefits and Tax Credits have been gradually replaced by a new benefit called Universal Credit.
Initially a pilot scheme, from last month, anyone who faced a significant change of circumstances, such as when a child is born or starting a new job, was switched to Universal Credit, replacing:
- Income support
- Income-based jobseeker's allowance
- Income-related employment support allowance
- Housing benefit
- Child tax credit
- Working tax credit
What are the rules?
Tougher sanctions such as the freezing of benefit payments kick in if a claimant, for instance, does not fulfil their jobseeking deal and fails to show they are determined to find a job.
To get Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) you must:
- be 18 or over but below State Pension age - there are exceptions if you’re 16 or 17
- not be in full-time education
- be in England, Scotland or Wales
- be able and available for work
- be actively seeking work
- work on average less than 16 hours a week
- go to a JSA interview
What the government says
Minister for Employment Esther McVey says the changes mean the government is "ending the something for nothing culture".
– Minister for Employment Esther McVey
This government has always been clear that in return for claiming unemployment benefits jobseekers have a responsibility to do everything they can to get back into work. We are ending the something for nothing culture.
People who are in a job know that if they don’t play by the rules or fail to turn up in the morning, there might be consequences, so it’s only right that people on benefits should have similar responsibilities. We always make the rules very clear – it’s only right that there is a penalty if people fail to play by them.
What the charities say
The Charity Citizens Advice has called for an overhaul of the benefits regime, in the wake of a huge increase in the number of jobseekers receiving sanctions.
– Citizens Advice chief executive Gillian Guy
The sanctions system is all stick and no carrot. At Citizens Advice we've seen a 64 per cent increase in problems with JSA sanctions since this time last year.From July to September this year, Citizens Advice Bureaux dealt with 3,895 issues to do with Jobseekers Allowance. This is becoming a chronic problem, based on a bad system, which is getting worse.
Far too often, all this system does is move people further away from the jobs market. When you're already struggling to make ends meet and put food on the table whilst looking for work, a sanction ends up being an extra obstacle to the huge challenge of getting a job.
Charity Child Poverty Action said that 120 disabled people who had been receiving Jobseekers Allowance have been given a three-year fixed duration sanction since October 2012.
– Tim Nichols, a spokesperson for Child Poverty Action Group
The sanctions regime is an unfolding scandal that is doing tremendous damage to jobseekers and disabled people, even when they are trying to do the right thing.
Claimants are finding it increasingly confusing to understand what the sanctions regime expects of them, and many sanctions appear to happen when people are trying to do the right thing, but they just cannot find their way through the unhelpful and chaotic bureaucracy of Jobcentres and the Work Programme.
The result is demand on foodbanks surging from people whose claims are stopped for weeks, months and even years.
Oxfam said the new rules have left many people without food and basic necessities.
– Oxfam's director of UK Poverty Programme, Chris Johnes
We have spoken to people who have had delays and sanctions for mundane reasons, such as not having the right ink to fill an application or missing appointments due to sickness which is unacceptable.
Any sanctions system needs to operate in a way that does not push people further into poverty. People need support not punishment, they need understanding not condemnation.
Who to contact