Local authorities across England, Scotland and Wales are issuing a call for a radical re-think of welfare-to-work policies.
The Industrial Communities Alliance, the all-party association representing more than 60 local authorities in Britain’s older industrial areas, says that welfare-to-work policies have nearly always been based on the false premise that there are plenty of jobs available.
The Alliance also says that the unemployed are now being blamed for their own failure when the true cause lies with the weakness of so many local economies.
In a new report (pdf), the Alliance highlights disturbing evidence on the failure of current welfare-to-work policies:
- Participants on the government’s flagship Work Programme are almost twice as likely to be sanctioned as to find sustained employment
- The official target is still that only 36 per cent of Work Programme participants will secure sustained employment
- The Work Programme is failing claimants with health problems or disabilities – only 11 per cent of new claimants of Employment and Support Allowance are finding sustained work after two years, and only 6 per cent of claimants transferred across from Incapacity Benefit
In older industrial Britain the numbers out-of-work on sickness and disability benefits generally outnumber the conventional unemployed (on Jobseeker’s Allowance) by two-to-one.
The Coalition Government in Westminster and the Labour Opposition are both considering devolving more responsibility for welfare-to-work away from Whitehall. The local authorities in the Alliance are calling for more fundamental changes:
- A greater emphasis on growing the economy in weaker local labour markets
- A targeted job creation programme to provide routes into work
- A new focus in welfare-to-work on the obstacles of low skills and poor health
- Less emphasis on compulsion, more on working by consent
Cllr Terry O’Neill, Chair of the Industrial Communities Alliance, said:
“Most men and women have a fair grasp of their chances of finding work, and the value of the help on offer. Welfare-to-work should be about supporting them in ways they find relevant and appropriate.
“Too often it has become the mechanism for imposing punitive and unnecessary sanctions, fuelling business for food banks, pay-day lenders and loan sharks.”
Bernard Pidcock, Manager of the Citizens Advice Bureau in Blyth, Northumberland, adds:
“Every day we see decent men and women not only being pushed onto failing welfare-to-work programmes but also being squeezed financially by welfare cuts. This adds up to little short of a vendetta against many of the most disadvantaged in society.”