Coffey sneaks through tough plan to push 114,000 Universal Credit claimants into jobs while Parliament is in recess

Therese Coffey :Pic credit: gov.uk

The Department of Work and Pensions is to tighten the rules significantly to force 114,000 existing Universal Credit claimants into work as job vacancies soar across Britain.

She is changing the rules so far more people will have to go on what is known as an intensive work search regime where they will be monitored continually by work coaches on how many jobs they have applied for and why they didn’t get them.

Therese Coffey has been planning to do this since January this year and consulted the Social Security Advisory Committee, chaired by the architect of Universal Credit, Stephen Brien, on January 26.

Ian Caplan, DWP’s Director of Employment, Youth and Skills

A letter to the committee from Ian Caplan, director of employment, youth and skills said:

“The Secretary of State wishes to bring in the change as soon as practically possible…for providing immediate support to low-earning households to increase incomes at a time of immense cost of living pressures…. By bringing these regulations into force as quickly as possible, including by laying the regulations in recess, the Department can start making the operational preparations”

SSAC kept decision secret for 8 months

The committee approved the idea on February 4th but agreed to keep the decision secret until last week when it published the minutes of a meeting between DWP officials and the committee.

To make the change the government is using a regulation to uprate what is known as the Administrative Earnings Threshold – a device which sets the level of benefit and earnings dividing those who only receive ” a light touch” regime – ie occasional checks whether they are seeking work – from their local job centre and those put on intensive work search programmes. Those who refuse or don’t co-operate properly with face benefit cuts as a sanction.

It will move the level from £355 to £494 a month for a single claimant and from £567 to £782 a month for a couple. At present some 250,000 people covered by the intensive work search programme are in work – this will increase the number by 50 percent. The government justify it by saying the new level brings it into line with recent rises in the national minimum wage for those in work.

What is more interesting – and perhaps why the minutes were withheld – is the question and answer session between the committee members and civil servants.

While the overall aim of the scheme is to get a higher income for the unemployed – by getting them work or more work for those in part time jobs – the DWP admit they have another agenda. Questioned about the current job vacancies level encouraging this move officials said: “the vacancies position the labour market is considered by some to be hot which could be driving inflation.”

In other words by getting more of the unemployed into work, employers would have a bigger pool of labour and would not have to offer higher wages or even compensate people for the rising cost of living.

Will the unemployed be recruited as strikebreakers?

There may now be an even more compelling reason as Therese Coffey wants this to be law from September 26, since the government plans to use agency workers to break the coming strike wave. What would suit ministers would be if the unemployed could be drafted in as agency workers leading to confrontation with striking workers on trains, buses, schools, the NHS, and the post office with shouts of ” scab” and bringing the police in to make mass arrests of strikers. A reminder of the miners’ strike.

There were other gems from the minutes – which in my view revealed the attitudes of the DWP and committee members

There was much questioning about the effect this could have on 16-24 year olds which suggested the programme could work for them. There was concern about the disabled – and an admission by the DWP that except in Yorkshire it had done hardly any research on how this could affect them.

DWP building

What was tellingly missing was the complete lack of interest from the DWP or committee members about the effects on people over the age of 50 and 60. The DWP didn’t even bother to give the committee a breakdown on them. But it is a fact that the rising of the pension age to 66 -particularly among women has seen a big increase in numbers on Universal Credit who can’t get jobs.

I really wonder whether this is prejudice. Women like Therese Coffey, who is 50, have had stellar careers and I wonder if they think women born in the 1950s and 1960s who are on the dole are failures or nonentities, don’t cause them a lot of trouble and don’t turn physically aggressive like some men. So they can be safely ignored. Certainly any thought about their plight or indeed any old person was spectacularly missing from discussion about this new drive.

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A right wing aristocrat to fight ground breaking £180,000 tribunal ruling against him for “arrogant and misogynistic” treatment of two pregnant staff

Sir Benjamin Slade

The Court of Appeal is expected to hear an extraordinary case soon involving a wealthy aristocrat who says he is descended from Charles II and his treatment of two of his employees who were sacked from his upmarket wedding business at his stately homes after they became pregnant.

Since the case the wedding business has been closed down after Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue Service issued two prohibition notices on one of the venues, Maunsel House, because of “inadequate means of escape from first and second floors due to lack of escape signage, lack of emergency lighting and lack of fire separation.” He has been ordered to install fire escapes.

Surcharge of 25 per cent imposed on compensation package

Sir Benjamin Slade is now appealing a ruling from an Employment Appeal Tribunal which not only ordered him to pay compensation for unfair and constructive dismissal , injury to feelings of the two women and aggravated damages, but imposed a 25 per cent surcharge on the awards for breaching the employers’ code of practice by ACAS. The total compensation for both women came to just short of £180,000. The surcharge ruling is particularly significant as it lays down rules for similar surcharges in other cases.

Maunsel House Pic credit: BBC

The two women, Melissa Biggs and Roxanne Stewart worked on his wedding business where people could hire Maunsel House and Woodlands Castle near Bridgewater and Taunton in Somerset. Roxanne Stewart, was a deputy manager and Melissa Briggs, an admin assistant. Both became pregnant at about the same time.

What followed was that both of them found themselves dismissed without full statutory maternity and holiday pay and wages after first being transferred to a new company – without their knowledge- which only employed both of them and had no money to pay them. Their pregnancies were said to be ” highly inconvenient” for Sir Benjamin .

The tribunal used unusually strong language against Sir Benjamin including accusing him of refusing to hear Melissa Biggs grievances and subjecting Roxanne Stewart to a ” spurious and vindictive disciplinary process” on ” trumped up ” charges. Sir Benjamin was said to have made ” entirely fanciful” allegations against her. They were also critical of his agent, Andrew Hamilton.

” one of the most egregious acts of discrimination possible”- tribunal

The first employment tribunal hearing described the process involving Roxanne Stewart as “one of the most egregious acts of discrimination possible”. The timing of the suspension, in the advanced states of her pregnancy, was “designed… with her then vulnerability in mind, to have maximum effect on her” The suspension and dismissal were then pursued with the “motivation… of driving her out of employment”.

She gave birth prematurely and within the weeks following that birth ,her baby was in intensive care”.

When giving evidence to the ET, Sir Benjamin “made wide-ranging and lurid allegations about the claimants and their relatives, without any substantiation whatsoever, in respect of their character, financial position and other matters”. The ET found that these allegations were “entirely fanciful and prompted by a desire on his part… to ‘throw some dirt’ at the Claimants.

The appeal tribunal held in London and president over by a High court judge, Mr Justice Martin Griffiths, threw out a case from Sir Benjamin to say he should not pay the surcharge. He said he would appeal.

He told me: ” The sum I am being asked to pay is totally disproportionate given the staff were paid about £20,000 a year. I am not against people getting pregnant, indeed I have been helpful to other staff who became pregnant. I think the judge was left wing.”

The Sun ran a flattering article on him after he ” auditioned” for a ” breeder” to get him a son and heir

Sir Benjamin has a controversial back story. He is 75, a hereditary baronet, but has no heir. He recently advertised for a young wife as a” breeder” as he wanted two sons – an heir and spare – to succeed him.

He listed his requirements for the perfect ‘breeder’. She should be taller than 5ft 6in – ‘preferably 6ft 1ins or 6ft’ – aged between 30 and 40, and possess a gun licence. ‘Scorpios, drug users, lesbians, communists and Scots need not apply,’ he told the Daily Mail.

His quest for a wife led to a big sympathetic feature in The Sun by reporter Georgette Culley who ” auditioned” to be his wife and stayed overnight in Maunsel House. The feature is here.

He let out his other property Woodlands Castle only to find it then became the centre of a massive police investigation when a huge cannabis farm was found in the roof. Questioned by the police he denied any knowledge about it.

A Vietnamese man, Trung Nam Pham, 39, of no fixed address, was arrested after the drug bust. He appeared before Taunton Magistrates’ Court last June and was remanded in custody pending a crown court hearing.

Sir Benjamin with Daniel Hannan, then an MEP. at Woodlands Castle. From his old website

Sir Benjamin is on the right of the Conservative Party. During the Brexit campaign he hosted a lunch for Daniel Hannan, then a Tory MEP for 84 people in Woodlands Castle to promote Vote Leave.

Now he is waiting his appeal – has not paid the two women any of the compensation – though he says he has made up their wages and the statutory maternity pay. His wedding business – at £3000 a time -has collapsed – first hit by Covid 19 and then by the prohibition order from Devon and Somerset fire services.

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The 200,000 men in their 50s and 60s who can’t get jobs

Boris Johnson in full flight in the Commons. Picture credit: Jessica Taylor House of Commons

This blog has consistently highlighted the cases of 50s born women who in waiting for their delayed pension have either had to fall back on benefit or struggle on in work with serious health issues.

Now in the last two years – almost since the Covid pandemic started – the same problem is hitting men born in the 1950s and 1960s as they wait until they can claim pensions at the age of 66.

The official figures compiled by the Office for National Statistics comes just as Boris Johnson has been found out again for lying five times about the record number of jobs created during the pandemic.

Boris Johnson’s ” incorrect job figures”

The BBC’s Reality Check Team revealed that Ed Humpherson, from the Office for Statistics Regulation, had sent one of the prime minister’s advisers at Downing Street a letter saying it was “incorrect to state that there were more people in work at the end of this period than the start”.

Mr Johnson has been mixing up the number of people on payrolls, which has gone up with the number of people in work, which has not. They are not the same thing – the payroll number excludes self-employed people, In fact the number of people in work had fallen by 600,000 to 32.5 million – a point taken up by Justin Madders, Labour MP for Ellesmere Port, and Shadow Health and social care spokesman. He criticised the PM for providing in accurate information to Parliament.

An analysis by Rest Less , a digital community which acts as an advocate for people aged over 50, reveals startling increases in people over 50 on the dole queues

Latest figures released by ONS show that half the men who have been on the dole for more than 12 months are over 50. Comparable figures for the 18-24 age group is just 27 per cent.

While the proportion of both men and women who have been on the dole for more than a year has risen from 34 per cent to 41 per cent. This compares with a rise from 14 per cent to 25 per cent for the 18-24 year old group.

DWP plans crackdown on unemployed benefit claimants

Stuart Lewis, Founder of Rest Less, commented: “Our analysis shines a light on the many individuals who have so much to contribute to the workplace, but who are being left behind by the recovery. Unemployment amongst people aged over 50 is up 23% compared with pre-Covid levels. The fact that half of all unemployed men aged over 50 have been unemployed for more than 12 months is shocking and a timely wake-up call to government and industry that we need to do more to ensure that our post-pandemic jobs plan supports people of all ages.”

And some of the cases are heart wrenching and are very similar to the plight of 50swomen trying to get jobs while being forced to live on Universal Credit.

Plight of Chris Long

One example is Chris Long from Bedfordshire.

He will turn 60 in March. According to a report from Rest Less:”  He has been out of work for the past three years.  Chris has worked in a variety of roles over the years, most recently as a forklift driver but previously in a security role and in mental health and addiction services.  He has a broad skill set as a result.

” Around the same time as Covid hit three years ago, Chris became unwell with a health condition which was later diagnosed as lung disease for which there is no cure, only symptom management.  He had to give up his job as a result.  Some days, Chris has trouble walking up and down the stairs but there are other days where he feels fit enough to work.  It has proven difficult for him to find work whilst he looks after his health and, in his own words, he says ‘I just don’t know where I fit anymore’.

Chris is currently on benefits but needs to get back to work for financial reasons.  He lives with his partner, who works, and they have an 8 year old daughter to support. “

Given the Department for Work and Pensions is now cracking down on anybody on Universal Credit who has been out of work for more than four weeks and won’t accept any job by reducing benefits the picture for him is bleak.

What employer is going to take on someone on who can’t get up the stairs unless they happen to have a policy of employing disabled people.

What appears to be happening is a double whammy for people over 50.

On the one hand the government is boasting about how successful their jobs programme has been – with the Prime Minister lying about the statistics.

On the other it looks like now both men and women who have health issues over the age of 50 ( and who doesn’t) and find it difficult to stay in work are being confined to a twilight existence until they get their pension which is being remorselessly made later and later in their lives by an uncaring government.

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Tech Savvy – Will Travel: The rise of the digital nomad

Digital Nomad pic credit: Wikipedia

Last year was the year when Brexit limited the right of millions of people to travel and work across 27 EU countries – ending not only the freedom of movement for people to come to the UK but also go abroad.

The situation has also been made much worse by the global Covid 19 pandemic which saw a huge shutdown across the globe where people could not go on holiday or visit countries for work.

While all this was happening there was an almost unnoticed countervailing trend which is seeing massive new opportunities for the young and tech savvy to leave the UK and the US and work elsewhere.

Countries across Europe and much of the rest of the world are falling over each other to attract bright young entrepreneurial and tech savvy people to come, live and work there with special visas and tax incentives and ignoring normal restrictions – including the new ones imposed by the EU after the UK left – to stop people staying there.

Post Covid 2022 could be the year of the rise of the digital nomad – that young, free wheeling person who with a laptop can run a business anywhere from any country.

This phenomenon was highlighted this weekend on the website Dispatches Europe which has just launched an updated guide to cope with growing number of countries now offering opportunities.

The link to the guide is here. Basically much of Europe is covered plus the range of places goes from the Arctic Circle to the Caribbean.

For the most adventurous the most extraordinary place is Svalbard – a Norwegian island nearer the North Pole than Oslo ! You do not even require a visa to live there -only an address and a job – and you can stay as long as you like. It is cold -in the summer the sun shines for 24 hours a day and it is totally dark all winter. Intriguingly for a place with only 2000 residents it is nearly as diverse as London with 70 different nationalities finding their their way there. Watch the video below and seriously watch out for polar bears.

At the other end of the spectrum is the former Portuguese Cape Verde Islands nearer to the Equator than Lisbon. This year the authorities have released visas to attract Europeans and Americans to go and set up businesses there. just created Remote Working Cabo Verde, a tax exempt digital nomad visa designed to attract 4,000 foreigners, The visa is just 54 Euros valid initially for six months but extendable for up to a year. A video is below.

In the Caribbean visas have been set up for Aruba and Curacao, both self governing parts of the Netherlands and in the EU, the new Republic of Barbados, ( expensive visa costing nearly £1500) Bahamas and further north in Bermuda ( though the latter is aimed at high rollers – they can include staff and chauffeurs- and is expensive). So far 400 have come.

I wrote up a piece on Aruba when I visited it two years ago on a cruise – it is almost in South America as it is only 22 miles from Venezuela. It is a fascinating desert island. The link is here. The only thing you have to beware of is you can occasionally find a boa constrictor in the bath – but Aruba’s pest control are used to dealing with them. ( some foolish person brought them to Aruba and they have escaped and bred)

Curacao promotion aimed at the US market

An even more ambitious digital nomad project is planned for Italy where they have over 2000 ghost villages in the country and want to attract remote workers there- the fund could top 1 million Euros. So far one Tuscan village has jumped the gun- Santa Flora is offering 200 Euros a month rent subsidies for apartments there – and wants people to decide to settle a buy a home. So you can swap our drab winters for vineyards and olive groves.

Other countries planning to attract digital nomads include Spain and Croatia has just started a scheme – allowing you to be based on the Dalmatian coast and able to rent a place for 350 or so Euros a month. The visa is for one year in this EU country and digital nomads are exempt from income tax. They have to earn over $31,514 a year (just under £23,200), to qualify.

Compare all this to London and the UK. The UK does not seem to have any special digital nomad visas relying on a normal visa application to work here. It is regarded as an expensive country, housing costs are through the roof, public transport and fuel is expensive, though its cities are well known for cultural and night life. The best city for a digital nomad is said to be Newcastle-upon-Tune which has a good night life and is cheaper to live than elsewhere.

What seems to be clear from all this is that for many young people – the attraction of all round beach life ( unless you go to Svalbard), cheaper accommodation, combined with high speed internet and for young as opposed to old people, not too expensive health insurance make it a one way bet.

Boris Johnson has made much of claims of ” Global Britain” and the wonderful future he promises all of us. But looking at all these offers abroad I think clever young tech savvy people will see the wonders of a global life and opt to leave the country as soon as possible.

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Finally shopworkers to get more protection: Tougher law for those who attack them

In the dying days of last week’s Parliament the government finally quietly agreed that shopworkers alongside other workers who serve the public should get greater protection from abusive customers.

USDAW campaign poster

Ministers are using the Police, Crime and Sentencing Bill to make it an aggravated offence to assault or abuse people who are serving the public. At present it is up to the judges’ discretion whether it is under the present sentencing guidelines.

It follows years of campaigning by USDAW, the retail workers union, to get more protection for shopworkers and growing evidence, sadly, of more violence, abuse and threats, from customers to staff.

The government chose the House of Lords to amend the bill last Wednesday night.

Baroness Williams., minister of state at the Home Office: Official portrait

Baroness Williams of Trafford, a junior home office minister, said: “The amendment places in statute the aggravating factor applied by the courts in cases of assault where an offence is committed against those providing a public service, performing a public duty or providing a service to the public.

…..”This includes assault occasioning actual bodily harm, wounding with intent to cause grievous bodily harm, malicious wounding and threats to kill, as well as an inchoate offence in relation to any of these offences. These are the assault offences most likely to be experienced by front-line workers. Importantly, the provision also allows the court to apply the aggravating factor to any other offence, where the court considers this factor relevant.”

“This amendment will reinforce in statute the seriousness with which the courts should treat these offences. It will send a very strong signal to the public that assaults of this kind are totally unacceptable. The Government want to ensure that all those who serve the public can feel protected from abuse when working.”

Baroness Trafford added: “

“During the pandemic we have all seen some appalling stories of how shop workers have been treated. USDAW has been really good in standing up to that.

I pay tribute to John Hannett, the former general secretary of USDAW, to Paddy Lillis, the present general secretary, to the staff and to the many hundreds of thousands of USDAW members who have not let this issue rest. I also pay tribute to some really good employers, the supermarkets that understand the problems their staff have. The Co-op, Tesco and many others have stood up and backed the union and its members. This amendment has also been led by the work of Daniel Johnson MSP in Scotland. He got his Private Member’s Bill through last year. “

Lord Vernon Coaker, official portrait

The move was welcomed by all peers include Lord Coaker, who as Vernon Coaker was Labour MP for Gedling in Nottinghamshire, and an USDAW member, who proposed a specific offence to protect shopworkers resulting in one year’s imprisonment.

The union itself described it as ” a step in the right direction” after years of campaigning for it.

Former Tory minister Baroness Neville-Rolfe said: ” That is against a background of 455 security incidents a day, according to the BRC,[British Retail Consortium] and very few prosecutions.

Inadequate police response

“The police response to these incidents has historically been inadequate. We need to ensure that the police have the right resources and can put a higher priority on prosecuting these retail crimes. This is particularly important given the role of retail workers in enforcing Covid restrictions such as masks, but also in addressing knife crime and shoplifting23>

She succeeded, in getting a promise from the minister to review how the new measures were working in a year’s time.

This was backed up by Lord Dholakia, a Liberal democrat peer, who said: “forces such as Thames Valley Police inform local shops that they will not send out officers to deal with shoplifters who steal less than £100-worth of goods. How can this foster trust and build confidence? It cannot; it means that many businesses feel as if they are alone in this fight—a fight that is a risk to their very business.”

Natalie Bennett Green P:arty peer

Green Party peer Baroness Natalie Bennett also pressed the minister whether the change in the law would cover threats over the phone or on line. The minister thought it would.

One extraordinary omission in this debate was any reference to the fact that Therese Coffey, the work and pensions secretary, is about to submit an application from the United Kingdom to ratify the International Labour Organisation’s new convention outlawing violence and harassment at work.

This change in the law speaks directly to both the spirit and letter of the new convention and will certainly be used as an example that the UK is complying with it. Yet it seemed to have passed ministers and peers by. Perhaps this government is so disjointed that Therese Coffey has not talked about it with Priti Patel, the home secretary. Given all the furore on everything else perhaps she forgot to tell her.

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UK intends to ratify new international convention outlawing violence and harassment at work

Step will strengthen rights for women and men facing bullies and workplace sexual harassment

Almost unnoticed and surprising announcement from Therese Coffey

Unless any MP objects next month the UK government will start drawing up a submission to the International Labour Organisation to ratify a new convention outlawing violence and harassment at work.

The announcement hardly noticed by anyone was made by Therese Coffey, the work and pensions secretary, in a written answer to Parliament this month. MPs were told if there were no objections within 21 days a ratification submission to the ILO will be drawn up and it will come into force a year later. This will make the UK the tenth nation in the world to ratify this convention and it is the culmination of two years of work following an initiative started under Theresa May when she was PM.

Rare case of political unity

In a rare case of unity in the present polarised world that characterises the UK, the action has all party backing. It has the support of the Westminster Tory government, the Welsh Labour government, the Scottish National and Green Government and the Democratic Unionist Party and Sinn Fein Northern Ireland government. It is supported by both the CBI and the TUC and has the strong support of many international NGOs, women’s groups, Care International and the human rights organisations like Amnesty International.

The convention took time to draw up and it is – for an exclusively work orientated convention – remarkably inclusive..

Stephen Russell, policy officer at the TUC, says the convention itself is very broad based and also through ILO procedures means the UK will have to produce reports every two years on how it is being implemented.

The convention covers “persons working irrespective of their contractual status, persons in training, including interns and apprentices, workers whose employment has been terminated, volunteers, jobseekers and job applicants, and individuals exercising the authority, duties or responsibilities of an employer.”

It is also covers not just the workplace but also work related trips, accommodation provided by employers, harassment on social media, office parties and other work related social activities and commuting from home to work.

Amanda Brown

According to the TUC and the government the UK had a big role in drawing up the scope of the convention. One of the leading figures was Amanda Brown, deputy general secretary of the National Education Union , which represents teachers. She is on the governing body of the ILO and was on the committee that drew up the scope of the convention.

Therese Coffey said that the government already has the legal framework to meet the requirements of the convention in both criminal and civil law but proposed to go further following recent consultations on sexual harassment in the workplace.

She said she would introduce ” a new proactive duty requiring employers to take steps to prevent their employees from experiencing sexual harassment and introducing explicit protections for employees from harassment by third parties, for example customers and clients.”

The issue of sexual harassment and violence against women has been highlighted lately in the police and Parliament where one former Tory MP. Charles Elphicke, was jailed for assaulting a member of his staff, The House of Lords has also introduced compulsory training for peers after some were accused of harassing women, including Parliamentary staff.

Only Fiji and Uruguay have ratified this, Namibia is next

So far internationally only two countries, Fiji and Uruguay, have ratified it. Another seven countries are in the process of ratifying it, including Greece, Italy, Namibia, Somalia, Ecuador, Argentina and Mauritius. Namibia will ratify it from December 9.

While the UK has ratified four UN conventions covering the rights of the child, eliminating all forms of discrimination against women (CEDAW), racial discrimination, and the rights of the disabled, but has not introduced all encompassing laws to implement the conventions.

When Scotland tried to implement in full the ratified UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, Boris Johnson instructed lawyers to go to the Supreme Court to block the move and succeeded. Similarly the government is not keen on implementing CEDAW in full with a Women’s Rights Bill.

Jocelynne Stutt

Jocelynne Stutt, president and patron of CEDAW in Law, said:
” This is a step in the right direction but does not go far enough in sexual harassment cases. There is harassment of tenants by landlords, there is rampant harassment of students in education, and sexual harassment in the home. None of this is covered by the new convention and the UK has not ratified the Istanbul Convention which comprehensively covers sexual harassment and violence towards women.”

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Treasury to save hundreds of millions as DWP scheme to help the young get jobs misses target

This blog often criticises the Department of Work and Pensions for its treatment of pensioners and the disabled. The ministry often responds by saying it is balancing this by helping young people. So how well is it doing on that front?

Not very well according to a National Audit Office report published today. It looks into the running of the Kickstart programme – a jobs programme aimed to take young people aged 16 to 24 off Universal Credit and into work. It has the laudable aim of getting the most unemployable youngsters into a job and off benefit.

Launched in September last year with the aim of helping 250,000 young people and employers get £1500 a person to help them run the scheme and pay the young the minimum wage. Some £1.9 billion was allocated by the Treasury to do the job.

The target was to reach this number by the end of this year. Instead the NAO reveals it has been extended to next March and will only help 168,000 of them. The target was hindered by the double whammy of the pandemic. As the report said; ” Repeated lockdowns meant many of the young people who started to claim Universal Credit at the start of the pandemic were on Universal Credit for over a year before the scheme could get going at scale. As the programme did begin to scale up, the economy was reopening, which increased the risk of government subsidising jobs that would have been created anyway. “

The government’s logo for the scheme

Indeed this was not the only target missed. It was aimed at whose who would find it difficult to get jobs, yet anybody aged 16 to 24 could get a place. The ministry didn’t evaluate what sort of jobs the young people got and whether it was good value for money . It didn’t entirely help the ” levelling up ” process either. The largest number of jobs created were in central London though including poor boroughs like Tower Hamlets and Lambeth. One area in the North East did get a good share but job offers were sparse in rural areas notably Lincolnshire, Cumbria, Norfolk, Powys and the Scottish borders.

The largest number of jobs offered were in admin, the desperate hospitality sector and the retail trade. The lowest number of placements were with law firms, transport operators, animal welfare and beauty treatments.

Firms caught cheating the young

Where company checks were made by local DWP managers there was a disturbing number of firms caught cheating the young by not paying them or putting their health and safety at risk. The report found “As at 20 October 2021, the Department had made 30 decisions to cap an employer or Gateway’s grant, [ limit the numbers a firm could employ]and 165 further decisions to end a grant agreement, including 105 decisions to remove an employer from a grant agreement with a Gateway.”

The DWP did not investigate whether the jobs would be filled anyway without the scheme either.

The result is that by no means all the £1.9 billion allocated by the Treasury will be spent and it is not known whether the rest has been spent wisely.

To be fair to DWP staff the report says the work coaches employed to help young people were enthusiastic about getting young people into work. It notes one or two individual successes including a young person with a criminal record and a drugs problem, getting a job and another unconfident young person getting an enjoyable job..

The report said: “When a Kickstart vacancy in dog daycare came up they wanted to apply, but lacked confidence in their application. Following discussion with their work coach they volunteered for an online course on animal care, after which they were successful in their job interview. Their work coach reports they are really enjoying their job, and would not have succeeded in getting it without Kickstart.”
The NAO praises the DWP for getting the Kickstart programmer off the ground but is not happy aboujt the evaluation of the project by the ministry.

Gareth Davies, head of the NAO

Gareth Davies, the head of the NAO, said:

“At the start of the pandemic, DWP acted quickly to set up Kickstart to help young people into work when youth unemployment was predicted to rise significantly.

“However, DWP has limited assurance that Kickstart is having the positive impact intended. It does not know whether the jobs created are of high quality or whether they would have existed without the scheme. It could also do more to ensure the scheme is targeted at those who need it the most.”

A similar view is expressed by Meg Hillier, the Labour chair of the Commons Public Accounts Committee.

So once again a good idea is spoiled by a ministry that does not evaluate whether its programme – one of the most expensive run by the department costing around £7,000 per participant,- is doing its job.

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Exclusive: Benefits watchdog wants tougher punishment for jobless and disabled claimants after DWP bungles new sanctions system

New sanctions to be imposed in Jobcentres

From November 3 the Department for Work and Pensions introduced a new tough regime for people claiming the new Jobseekers Allowance and the Employment and Support Allowance. They will like those already on Universal Credit have to sign up to a ” claimant commitment ” to undertake whatever work coaches at the DWP demand from them to get a job, Failure to do so leads to a rising number of financial penalties ultimately leading to the withdrawal of all benefits.

The new regulations like the ones dealing with domestic abuse should have been scrutinised by Parliament but the main body that vets them is the little known Social Security Advisory Committee,(SSAC) a watchdog which is expected to see whether the benefit regime is fair and equitable.

Minutes and correspondence released by SSAC show that it has been doing its job since September and is currently involved in discussing the new regulations with Mims Davies, the employment minister.

Mim Davies, Parliamentary undersecretary at the Department for Work and Pensions

But people might be surprised to know that SSAC’s main focus has been on increasing the penalties on claimants rather than reducing them.

The reason is that the watchdog spotted that the tabled regulations had a big loophole which, in their view, made them less effective. The hideously complicated benefit system means that there are people who claim both Universal Credit and Jobseekers Allowance or the Employment and Support Allowance. Where they claim both the new regulations say only one penalty can apply on Universal Credit alone – and the Jobseekers Allowance and the Employment and Support Allowance remain untouched.

SSAC want the penalties to apply to both.

Dr Stephen Brien

Dr Stephen Brien, the chair of SSAC wrote to the minister: “in circumstances where the value of UC element of the benefit was lower than the sanctioned amount, the claimant would be in a more favourable position than a claimant solely in receipt of either UC or a new style benefit who would be impacted by the full force of the sanction. As it is possible that the UC element of a dual claim
could be zero, this presents a significant inconsistency.”

He went on: ” the Committee is of the strong view that this inconsistency be reviewed and addressed at the earliest opportunity.” The ministry went ahead with regulations as they stand and is still discussing what it should do while it looks at the effectiveness of the new sanctions.

Since the sanctions system depends on the views of the DWP work coach it looks like the fate of many claimants will decided by individual civil servants. Now it so happens that SSAC has done some serious work on the ” claimant commitment ” rules under Universal Credit which decide whether sanctions will be applied.

The report two years ago is a somewhat idealistic document which expects a parity of esteem between the civil servant handing out the sanction and a desperate claimant getting the benefit. It says the commitment should be accessible, clear, tailored to the claimant’s needs and the state of the local labour market, and agreed by both the claimant and the DWP. It also says claimants should be properly informed.

Real world not the same as the idealistic picture of claimant commitment

However in the real world SSAC found it was pretty mixed picture. It found some good practice but also examples of lone parents not being informed of their right to reduced work searches, re-assessment interviews lasting just ten minutes and “not all work coaches are using discretion fairly or reasonably and opt for generic, rather than tailored, actions. We saw examples of work coaches copying and pasting actions from a shared document which had become standard in their local Jobcentre.”

As usual the DWP itself didn’t seem to have an overall picture of what was happening as it couldn’t be bothered to put together a national picture. So it is rather strange that the present SSAC committee is concentrating on punitive measures. Or is it?

The present committee under Stephen Brien, who worked for Iain Duncan Smith’s Centre for Policy Studies and now works for the United Arab Emirates funded Legatum Institute is more inclined to want to correct inefficiency in the DWP than to take tough action over the welfare of claimants.

What is deeply worrying is that many claimants – particularly more elderly disabled claimants now looking for work in their 60s and suffering poor health could get some very harsh treatment. They might be lucky and get a really sympathetic work coach or they could be landed with a jobsworth or worse a power maniac who enjoys putting the disadvantaged down. Will SSAC be bothered? Documents referred to in this article can be found on the SSAC website here.

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Dumped at 50? Disturbing figures as furlough comes to an end

Rishi Sunak, will the furloughed over 50s ever get back to work?

On the day Chancellor Rishi Sunak cuts the support to companies using the furlough scheme to 60 per cent of the wages paid to the 1.9 million people still on furlough, some very disturbing figures are beginning to emerge on the make up of the numbers left.

Both the think tank Resolution Foundation and Rest Less report that it is the older generation rather than the young that are not getting called back to work.

While headlines have concentrated on the serious issue of the mental health of the young who cannot find work, official figures reveal a growing problem for the old.

HMRC data shows that younger workers have been leaving furlough most quickly, with the share of under 18 staff furloughed falling from 13 per cent in May to 7 per cent in June, and from 10 to 6 per cent for those aged 18-24. One-in-ten workers aged 65 and over were on furlough – the highest share of any age group. The Foundation has warned of older workers being ‘parked’ on furlough as younger workers return to work as hospitality reopens.

London remains the furlough capital of Britain, with nine of the ten local authorities with the highest furlough rates in the capital, including Newham and Hounslow where around one-in-eight workers are still on the Job Retention Scheme.

Rest Less, a digital community and advocate for the over 50s, analysed Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS) Statistics issued by the government on 29 July and found that the total number of furloughed jobs fell from 2.4 million to 1.9 million between May and June* – a fall of 590,000.

Proportion of over 50s furloughed is rising

Whilst the number of furloughed roles fell across all age groups, the proportion of over 50s on furlough has been steadily increasing this year, rising from 27% in January to 34% in June. In contrast, the proportion of under 30s on furlough fell from 29% to 21% in the same time period.

Both sets of figures show that those over 50 are going to find it harder to get a job and build up enough years to claim a full state pension between the age of 50 and 666 or 67 when they can claim the state pension. Being out of work also means that they won’t qualify for a second work based pension either – possibly forcing them to have to claim pension credit if they can.

Charlie McCurdy, Economist at the Resolution Foundation, said:

“The number of furloughed employees has fallen below two million for the first time as the economy continues to reopen. But that is higher than many expected, and a cause for concern as the scheme is wound down.”

Fresh wave of redundancies

Stuart Lewis, Founder of Rest Less, commented: “The country is reopening, and the total number of people on furlough is falling quickly – by three million since the beginning of the year.  However, the recovery is clearly not working for everyone, with more than 630,000 people aged over 50 still on furlough and waiting to find out if they have a job to go back to.  This is in addition to the 568,000 over 50s claiming job seeking or out of work benefits. 

When the furlough scheme draws to a close next month, we’re expecting it to be accompanied by a fresh wave of redundancies and another spike in unemployment levels – delivering another blow to workers in their 50s and 60s.


Faced with significant age discrimination in the recruitment process, and no Government equivalent to the Kickstart scheme for older workers – the implications of redundancy for workers in their late 50s or early 60s can be significant.

‘Once made redundant, workers over the age of 50 are two and a half times as likely to be in long term unemployment than their younger counterparts. Rather than being able to top up their pensions in those crucial years before retirement, many will find themselves having to dip into what pension savings they do have – leading to a significant drop in long term retirement income for decades to come.”

Yet the government seems obsessed with continuing to raise the pension age when it is becoming clear that the old generation are facing the greatest difficulty in getting jobs. A new generation will be living in poverty with failing health and that poverty will not end when they eventually get their pension.

Dumped at 50: The grim post pandemic warning from statisticians

Amanda Speedie – one of the millions who would like to retire but now also hit by the job crisis caused by Covid 19.

While the headlines concentrate on soaring youth unemployment the biggest rise in jobless totals are among the over 50s.

Figures from the Office for National Statistics analysed by the group, Rest Less, a jobs and community site for the over 50s. reveal unemployment has soared among this group by a staggering 33% year on year – the biggest percentage increase of all age groups and significantly more than the national average increase of 24%.The figures below tell the story.

Other figures shows that those furloughed over 50 who will later lose their jobs will be 80 per cent women. See this research here. And for the group I have championed through BackTo60 – the women born in the 1950s – who are now waiting up to six years to get their pension – the prospect of getting a job even if they wanted one will be worse.

But this is not just a tale about statistics. It is about human beings whose lives are being made more of a misery during this nasty Covid- 19 period.

One of those is Amanda Speedie, a resourceful and articulate 61 year old, who lives in Cornwall over the border from Plymouth. She was one of the women who did not find out until 2011 that she couldn’t retire at 60. She has since been dismayed by the failure of the judges decision on the BackTo60 court case. She had also tried using a local WASPI template to see if she could claim from the Ombudsman but that got nowhere.

She told me: ” When the decision was made it passed me by I was too busy bringing up a family, didn’t read newspapers ands rarely looked at TV news. If they had written to me I would at least have known”.

She is now divorced but well qualified-having worked in a variety of roles from estate agency to medical secretary to customer service and admin roles. She worked at one stage as a shift supervisor of the River Tamar toll plaza.

No full time job since 2012

She hasn’t had a full time job since 2012. She survives on two small private pensions – worth £40 a week – and by taking on some gardening work for which she earns £45 a week.  She occasionally takes on sewing repair and alterations which might bring her in an extra £10 or £20 a week. She doesn’t qualify for any of the government payments.

Her real passion is to become a writer .Amanda studied for a BA in English with Media Studies and graduated with the MA in Professional Writing in 2007.

She has however some very strong views about what women in their 60s should do and that does not include work.

Rishi Sunak: didn’t even reply to letters about 1950s women poverty

” Many women are single, they can’t get jobs and even if they can haven’t the energy to do full time work ( I did a full time job for five weeks and came home exhausted every night and had to give it up) They suffer health issues and lose their energy after the menopause. Older people also face discrimination from employers who are not keen to employ them.”

She has written twice to Rushi Sunak, the Chancellor, suggesting that he introduced an allowance equal to the pension for women in their 60s. She has had no reply.

” Women could then do things they might want to do like volunteering or looking after their grandchildren or take a part time job if they wanted.”

lost generation

What is alarming is that generation born in 1960s are hitting the same problems. Rest Less had another case of a women in her 50s.

Claire Cassell is 54 from Willenhall near Birmingham.  She lives with her husband.  For nearly three years, Claire was working as a receptionist for a legal firm. 

She was furloughed at the beginning of lockdown and didn’t hear anything from her employer until May when she was notified that they were hoping to get back to work soon. 

By July she hadn’t heard anything more and texted her boss to find out if they were going back to work.  He simply replied ‘No’. 

At the end of August, she received an email telling her her role was at risk of redundancy.  She was made redundant on 1 September.  She is entitled to Job Seeker’s Allowance until March but as her husband works, she cannot claim Universal Credit.
Since then, Claire has applied for 200 jobs and has had two disastrous Zoom interviews.  She says she has a lot to give an employer and has 12 years of work still in front of her.

What this suggests is life is going to get much harder for the middle aged – who might have to face a decade or more of impoverished lives – before they get their pension. The government’s solution is to raise the age before you can get a state pension to 67 and then 68, and some pressure groups like Iain Duncan Smith’s Centre for Policy Studies would like it to be 75 asap – knowing he as an ex minister and his wife will retire on a huge state pension provided by Parliament and Whitehall.