The UK government has revealed plans to introduce new financial sanctions against jobseekers who claim Universal Credit and remain unemployed for an extended period.
Jobseekers will soon be obliged to take up an offer of work in any sector if after four weeks they are unable to find a job in their preferred field.
Existing rules have meant new claimants of Universal Credit have had three months to look for work in their chosen field before they start being obliged through sanctions to seek employment wherever they can find it.
The British government is referring to its plan as its ‘Way to Work’ initiative, with the stated aim being to get almost half a million people who are currently unemployed into work by the coming summer.
The policy will mean that anyone who fails to make “reasonable efforts” to get a job in any sector after four weeks of unemployment will potentially see their Universal Credit payments partially withdrawn.
Therese Coffey, the work and pensions secretary, has said on behalf of the government: “Our new approach will help claimants get back into the world of work quickly, while helping ensure that employers get the people they and the economy need.”
However, some social policy experts and charities have been quick to criticise the plans the government is putting in place for the Universal Credit system.
A tweet posted by the Trussell Trust, the UK’s foremost food bank charity, said: “Research shows that 1 in 4 benefit sanctions are associated with someone needing to turn to a food bank.
“At a time when people are being forced to make impossible decisions between heating and eating, sanctions are the wrong approach at the worst time.”
Research carried out several years ago by the National Audit Office (NAO) found little evidence that benefit sanctions have the effect of encouraging jobseekers into work.
Anti-poverty campaigners have been arguing consistently over the past decade that benefit sanctions are fundamentally cruel because they generally make life significantly more difficult for people who are already struggling financially.
Many people who suffer benefit sanctions find themselves being forced into serious debt problems and rent arrears, and towards a reliance on food banks.
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