PEOPLE who are out-of-work and receiving universal credit are finding it harder to get back into appropriate jobs because Jobcentres are focused on enforcing rules through the threat of benefit sanctions rather than providing support, according to the results of a poll for the New Economics Foundation.

The polling finds that this culture of enforcement and threat is particularly damaging for the growing number of people on universal credit who also have health conditions or disabilities. 60 per cent of those polled who had a health condition or disability that makes it harder for them to work are still required to attend regular Jobcentre appointments.

The poll of people out-of-work, receiving universal credit and obligated to attend regular Jobcentre appointments, by Survation for the New Economics Foundation (NEF), found:

  • 61 per cent of people said that the threat of sanctions made it harder for them to have a trusting and supportive relationship with the Jobcentre, while only 10 per cent disagreed. For people living with a health condition or disability, 69 per cent agreed and only seven per cent disagreed.
  • 63 per cent said the threat of sanctions had a negative impact on their mental health, rising to 73 per cent for those living with a health condition/​disability.
  • 73 per cent said their first Jobcentre meeting was focused on talking about the rules they had to follow and the expectations they had to meet, increasing to 75 per cent among people with a health condition/​disability, with only six per cent of either group disagreeing.
  • 59 per cent felt the Jobcentre wanted to get them into any job, as soon as possible, regardless of how good a fit a role was for them, rising to 65 per cent for people with a health condition/​disability, with only 16 per cent of either group disagreeing.

People receiving universal credit while out-of-work have been subject to strict conditions since the scheme’s inception. But these findings arrive at a time when the government is expanding the expectations people must meet in order to receive universal credit payments, particularly for those already doing some work or with caring responsibilities for children. Government figures show that this will impose stricter conditions on a further 110,000 people, while 700,000 lead carers of children will face more stringent requirements.

A NEF policy report has also found that the expectations people are told they must meet in order to retain their universal credit are ineffective for supporting people back into appropriate jobs, as well as being damaging to their wellbeing. The report sets out an alternative approach that would help more people find good jobs.

The report calls for a new relationship between Jobcentres and people on universal credit. It urges replacing the current focus on requirements and punishment with shared accountability between Jobcentre advisors and the people they are supposed to be supporting, focused on achieving jointly agreed goals.

Tom Pollard, head of social policy at the New Economics Foundation, said: “An obsession with applying stringent and prescriptive conditions to job seekers, backed up by the threat of sanctions, is harming their efforts to find appropriate and secure work. Demanding compliance from people means they end up jumping through hoops rather than finding jobs that are a good fit for them. This is particularly important when so many people who are out of work face additional barriers such as health conditions and disabilities.

“It doesn’t have to be this way. Politicians need to help reset the relationship between the Jobcentre and people out of work, to focus on engagement and support rather than compliance and punishment.”

* Read: From Compliance to Engagement: rethinking the use of conditionality in our social security system here.

* Source: New Economics Foundation