PCS REJECTS ‘BULLYING’ OF THE POOR – as government plans four-week benefit cuts

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THE civil service union PCS said yesterday it was opposed to ‘punitive’ benefit cuts facing the unemployed, single parents and even the disabled, who are now being forced onto the Jobseekers Allowance (JSA).

The PCS is the union representing thousands of staff in Jobcentres up and down the country.

The government will announce plans in the Queen’s Speech today – drawn up by Professor Paul Gregg of Bristol University – to introduce ‘conditionality within the welfare state’.

This is at a time when the government’s own figures confirm that unemployment is rapidly rising to more than two million and is set to hit three million in 2009.

Sanctions against JSA claimants are expected to start with a formal written warning, followed by a fine of a week’s Jobseeker’s Allowance, followed by two weeks, then an investigation into why rules are not being met, and finally four weeks without JSA.

Claimants who have their benefits stopped for a month could even see any future payments transferred to a partner or ‘more responsible’ family member.

‘The best way of helping people back into work is through support and advice, not the big stick approach and bullying people into “jobs’’ which don’t exist,’ a PCS spokesman told News Line.

‘It’s unnecessarily punitive,’ the union’s spokesman added, when asked about the planned benefit cuts.

Under the government’s plans, ‘punishments’ would begin after just one missed appointment.

The government also plans to create a new category of people ‘progressing to work’, including single parents and incapacity benefit claimants not currently required to look for work.

They will have to ‘prove’ that they are taking steps towards rejoining the labour market.

The Brown government plans to create a situation where the only people who are not sent onto the JSA and subject to benefit cuts will be those it considers so chronically disabled that they cannot be forced off their current benefits, full-time carers of the most chronically disabled, and parents with babies less than one year old.

Everyone else would be expected to undertake regular appointments and undergo a set of tasks or have their benefits stopped.

The plan to put all single parents with children aged seven or more onto the JSA is to be extended to cover 600,000 single parents with children aged between one and seven.

A DWP official said sanctions will be imposed on those ‘who refuse to take steps to be job-ready and that have been jointly agreed with their personal advisers in Jobcentres.’

But by 2010, private contractors and charities will be given a much greater role in carrying out interviews with JSA claimants, taking over the work of Jobcentre staff.

The partners of people on benefits with children under seven could also be affected by the ‘progressing to work’ rules, which will include measures to ‘address debt’, ‘confidence problems’, as well as ‘work and skills training’.

Commenting on the government-commissioned Gregg report, TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber said: ‘This approach to welfare assumes a utopian world of unrestricted childcare and widely available jobs where only the lazy opt for life on the dole. The reality is very different.

‘Thousands of people are joining the dole queue every day through no fault of their own.’