The government's welfare plans are under attack from yet another angle. The National Association of Welfare Rights Advisers (NAWRA) has directly contradicted claims by Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith that his reforms would make the benefits system more straightforward.
They warned that they would be likely to make it even more complicated.
NAWRA is one of several specialist organisations to have challenged government claims about the effect of the reforms within hours of the details being published yesterday (11 November).
“Mr Duncan Smith says he wants to make the benefits system simpler and easier to move into work but in our experience his plans will inevitably make it more complicated and more unfair,” insisted NAWRA's Alan Markey.
Duncan Smith has said that people unemployed for a year will be obliged to do thirty hours unpaid work each week for four weeks in order to receive their benefits. Critics say that if there is work for people to do they should be paid at least the minimum wage for it.
“Sanctions are administratively complicated and will see increases in requests for hardship payments and claims on other grounds,” explained Markey. He said that the plans were low on detail and high on soundbites that allowed Duncan Smith to “sound tough”.
Markey insisted, “The real issues to be tackled include making sure that proper support to people facing job losses and looking for work is delivered quickly and effectively and that there are enough real jobs out there. And the proposals do nothing to provide support for people who are sick and disabled and who want to try and get back into work but face discrimination from employers”.
NAWRA are not the only specialists to attack the government's plans. Family Action, which provides services to disadvantaged and socially isolated families, insisted that the plan for forced work “would not tackle the key issues of job availability, and the provision of holistic support which many of our service users need to make employment sustainable”.
Family Action said that they are “very concerned about the impact on those who volunteer only because of sanctions on our volunteering culture”.
The Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) echoed NAWRA's comments, suggesting that, “As more details emerge, it does look as though the government’s claims may be overinflated as complexity, disincentives and significant barriers to work may largely remain in place”.
CPAG welcomed the government's statement that 350,000 people will be taken directly out of poverty, but said it must be “a guarantee rather than an aspiration”, with a firm target date.
And CPAG's Alison Garnham insisted that, “Sanctions are an expensive red herring with no real evidence they work. Sanctions are better at wrapping claimants up in the red tape of bureaucracy than getting them into work."
Garnham said that the government is ignoring issues such as poverty pay and employer discrimination She called for “a welfare system for the 21st century” which must have “job guarantees, clear work incentives, entitlement to work-focused support, training and protection from poverty when work is not possible.”