Vulnerable women in receipt of unemployment benefits are being placed at risk of poverty, ill-health, exploitation and domestic abuse, an independent inquiry has found.
An inquiry into women and Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) found that benefits changes are damaging hard-won gains in equality and putting vulnerable women and their children in danger of domestic violence.
The inquiry, chaired by the chief executive of the Equality and Diversity Forum, Amanda Ariss, found evidence of systematic failings in the design and implementation of JSA for vulnerable women.
Although special considerations should be put in place to protect victims of abuse, including violence from a partner and sexual abuse, many claimants are not told the protections exist.
The inquiry found that some women are expected to meet near impossible job search conditions, in order to continue receiving benefits.
Lone parents, 93% of whom are women, are being forced to spend up to three hours travel a day looking for work, which makes it impossible for them look after their children.
When they inevitably fail to meet the strict conditions, vulnerable women are faced with the prospect of having their benefits docked through punitive sanctions. Some woman are having their benefits completely removed.
The inquiry found that the JSA system fails to take into account specific circumstances of many women’s lives and has made a number of recommendations, including:
- Specialist advisers should be available to support claimants such as lone parents, women experiencing domestic and sexual violence and women with difficulties speaking and understanding English. These advisers could ensure that the policies already in place to protect vulnerable women are followed in practice.
- The conditions demanded of claimants should take sensible and appropriate account of the impact of caring responsibilities, language barriers and the impact of domestic and sexual violence.
- Claimants should be told about policies in place to take account of the specific needs of lone parents and of people experiencing domestic or sexual violence.
- All claimants should receive a thorough diagnostic interview after three months of claiming JSA, to ensure they are receiving the support they need to move into sustainable, quality employment and are not being required to take up activities, at a cost to the public purse, that make little or no contribution to their job search.
Inquiry Chair Amanda Ariss said:
“It is deeply worrying that a benefit that exists to support us all if we find ourselves out of work is putting vulnerable groups of women and their children at risk of unnecessary financial hardship, mental and physical ill-health and, in extreme cases, exploitation and abuse. This makes no sense.
“These women are not being provided with the support they need to move into work, which would benefit the women themselves, their families and the wider economy. Instead they are forced to meet conditions that are sometimes close to impossible, with the constant threat of sanctions should they slip up.
“It doesn’t have to be this way. With some modest changes to the design and implementation of JSA we could have a system that supports women to move into quality, sustainable work.”
Chair of the Fawcett Society, a leading charity campaigning for women’s rights and gender equality, Belinda Phipps said:
“The system of benefits for job seekers appears on the surface to be the same: women and men are eligible for the same benefits on the same terms. But the reality is very different.
“More than 9 in 10 lone parents are women (92%); women are far more likely than men to experience domestic violence and more than 6 in 10 (62%) of workers paid below the living wage are women.
“Women, particularly mothers are more likely to be affected by financial hardship in the home because they act as ‘shock absorbers’, shielding their children and families from the impact of financial hardship. Every day women in the UK are going hungry so that their children can get fed.
“All of this affects their ability to seek work and to engage with a system that discriminates against them. That leads to them losing their benefits.”