Purnell’s welfare plans ‘may fail due to over-emphasis on sanctions’

Social care charities have warned that today’s government welfare reform green paper may fail to help vulnerable benefit claimants into work through an over-emphasis on sanctions rather than support.

Publishing the paper, work and pensions secretary James Purnell said the proposals were “based on a simple deal: more support in return for greater responsibility” for benefit claimants.

Concrete plans include the abolition of incapacity benefit by 2013, with all claimants moved on to jobseeker’s allowance (JSA) or the new employment support allowance (ESA), in which recipients deemed able to work must take-up support to seek jobs.

Crack cocaine

The government will also make benefits for people with crack cocaine or opiate problems conditional on accepting treatment and taking steps towards employment. It will force people who have been on JSA for a year to do at least four-weeks’ full-time work in return for the benefit and transfer their cases to providers who will be paid according to their success in finding claimants work.

Proposals included for consultation would go further in tying benefits to work-focused conditions: it proposes making people who have been on JSA for at least two years work full-time for the benefit; making those who receive ESA seek work and apply for appopriate jobs, and making lone parents with children over five and ESA claimants undergo training.

Scope chief executive Jon Sparkes said the charity had “deep concerns about the tone of the reforms”. He added: “Disabled people face a myriad barriers in finding employment, including negative attitudes from employers and inadequate social care support. Punitive measures against individual disabled claimants will do nothing to remove these barriers.”

Aggravate conditions

Mental Health Foundation chief executive Dr Andrew McCulloch said that most of the half-a-million incapacity benefit claimants with a mental health problem wanted to work and had hitherto received inadequate support to do so. But he added: “The emphasis needs to be on supporting people into sustainable and appropriate employment. There’s no point pushing someone into a job that they can’t maintain in the long-term, or that may aggravate the condition that kept them out of work in the first place.”

Turning Point chief executive Victor Adebowale said people who misused drugs needed a “stepped” approach to find work. He said: “Although some people are ready to get straight back to full-time work, for others this would be too great a leap. It wouldn’t work for employers and would be likely to push them back into drugs and crime. This approach threatens to raise the cost to the public purse in the long-term, not only through benefits but also through other health, social care, and criminal justice costs.”

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