Unemployed workers will be forced to take a job in any sector or face swift financial sanctions under a new Universal Credit crackdown aimed at filling thousands of vacancies.
Claimants will be given just four weeks – down from three months – to find a job within their preferred sector.
After that, if they fail to make “reasonable efforts” to secure a job or turn down an offer, they will have part of their Universal Credit payment withdrawn, as the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) tightens its rules.
Ministers want 500,000 jobseekers in work by the end of June, with a campaign targeted at those on benefits.
The government said the data showed that the demand for workers was there, with 1.2 million vacancies – 59 per cent higher than before the pandemic.
Work and Pensions Secretary Therese Coffey said: “Helping people get any job now, means they can get a better job and progress into a career.
“Way to Work is a step change in our offer to claimants and employers, making sure our jobcentre network and excellent work coaches can deliver opportunities, jobs and prosperity to all areas of the country.”
Jobseekers will get more face-to-face time with a work coach, the government pledged, so they could get more tailored support.
Chancellor Rishi Sunak, said: “It’s important that everyone has the opportunity and support to find a good job to help them get on in life.
“That’s why we’re doubling down on our Plan for Jobs with this new campaign to harness the talent of jobseekers and support employers to fill vacancies, find work and create new opportunities.
“Together we will boost this country’s jobs-led recovery.”
Alison McGovern, Labour’s shadow employment minister, said: “This announcement has more to do with trying to save the prime minister’s job than supporting people into work.
“It’s just tinkering at the edges – long-term unemployment is 60 per cent higher than before the pandemic.
“People should be supported into good jobs that match their skills, which would give them a better chance to secure work long-term.”
And welfare experts said the tightening of benefits sanctions will be counterproductive and could end up forcing people into worse jobs.
“Pushing people to apply for any job regardless of its suitability, underpinned by the very real threat of benefit sanctions, is corrosive to relationships between claimants and advisers, and risks pushing people into insecure and unsuitable employment,” Ruth Patrick, a senior lecturer in social policy at the University of York, told The Guardian.
“This is not a way to work, it is a way to policy failure. The government is right that people need and deserve good jobs, but these will not be delivered by compelling people to seek any work, and against a context of continuing in-work poverty.”
One of the UK’s foremost academic experts on benefits sanctions added that there was no serious evidence that sanctions had ever got more people into work.
“It is simply wasteful to force people quickly into roles that can lead to bad job matches, and push people into worse jobs, often with lasting ill-effects for their career and earning prospects. You can’t force square pegs into round holes,” the University of Glasgow research fellow said.
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