Under a new ‘three strikes and you’re out’ rule due to be announced later today, unemployed people who refuse to take up offers of work will lose their unemployment benefits for three years.
The sliding-scale penalty will be triggered automatically on the third occasion that claimants on Jobseekers Allowance turn down a job offer, fail to apply for a suitable post or do not agree to undertake community work. For their first “offense”, claimants will lose benefits for three months, while payment will be removed for six months for their second infraction. The sanctions will be mandatory and there will be no right of appeal.
At the moment, claimants can lose their £64.45 per week payment for up to 26 weeks at the discretion of staff, but receive hardship payments of between £40 and £45 instead.
A new “claimant contract” will also be revealed, under which the coalition government will pledge to provide more intensive, customised support for the unemployed in return for placing more obligations on them to seek work.
The measures, which are expected to be introduced in 2012, will be included in a White Paper due to be unveiled today by Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith. But Bob Holman, an academic and community worker for Glasgow, who Duncan Smith says was his greatest influence in trying to reduce poverty, criticised the move, telling the Guardian that the measures would force people into “degrading” jobs.
“He seems to be regarding [unemployed people] with disrespect and saying you’re not really a part of society. We’re going to force you to do these, what are really degrading jobs, which won’t equip them for anything, but in a way are punishing them for not working and in a climate in which jobs are hard to get,” Holman said.
The White Paper will also outline plans for a universal credit that is intended to replace a patchwork of benefits and tax credits for people of working age and remove financial disincentives to work. It is not expected to come into force until 2013-2104.
Duncan Smith will argue that “root and branch” reform is crucial because five million people are trapped on unemployment benefits, while nearly two million children grow up in homes where no one works. He will also claim that the new universal credit system will make 2.5 million of the poorest better off and cut the number of workless households by 300,000.