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Coalition Finds New Way to Bash Claimants - Immediate Sanctions

08/04/2014 15:25 BST | Updated 07/06/2014 10:59 BST

The coalition has found a new way to target claimants and increase benefit sanctions - demand that those losing their jobs take action before they are allowed to claim.

Those who believed the government had exhausted its supply of welfare-demonising policies were in for a cruel shock as the Tories reached down the back of the sofa and pulled out another billy club.

Not content with forcing endless cuts and caps on some of Britain's poorest, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) released a press statement today with details on its latest dog's dinner of a policy, saying:

"From 28 April, when a jobseeker has their first interview with Jobcentre Plus, the adviser will review what they have done to make themselves employable prior to claiming JSA. If they haven't done anything, they will be mandated to comply quickly and if they don't they could face a sanction."

This is the first time Iain Duncan Smith, Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, has tried to force sanctions on people for their actions even before they claim.

It fits with his regular pattern though: removing or eroding access to benefits as a way of cutting their costs regardless of the damage they cause.

Last year George Osborne announced that newly-unemployed people would have to wait for a week after losing their jobs before being allowed to claim Jobseeker's Allowance, saying they should spend their first week looking for work.

To millionaires this may sound reasonable; the object is to get back to work as quickly as possible, and no-one really has money troubles, do they?

The reality is quite different. Those who become unemployed are often stuck in cycles of 'low pay - no pay', the last to get jobs and the first to be laid off when the bad times hit, leaving them unable to cope without a week's benefits, let alone the longer delays before a first payment is made.

This contributes to Britain's shocking poverty figures, which show 13 million people suffering and a roughly even split between the working and workless.

The government trumpets its 'successes' in creating work, with minister for employment Esther McVey saying:

"With the economy growing, unemployment falling and record numbers of people in work, now is the time to start expecting more of people if they want to claim benefits. It's only right that we should ask people to take the first basic steps to getting a job before they start claiming Jobseeker's Allowance - it will show they are taking their search for work seriously."

As UnemployedNet has shown, the number of full time jobs actually fell in the last three months and only self-employment registrations - often not accompanied by any real income - turned the figures positive.

This lack of real jobs has not given the Conservatives pause; they are still keen to point at the unemployed themselves as the root of the problem rather than their economic mismanagement as they cut spending too quickly.

They do not recognise that a lack of quality support in jobcentres is a contributing issue of their own making, describing the current JSA method as a 'signing-on' system.

This new policy says that making people develop a CV, set up an email address and register on Universal Jobmatch are needed because there isn't enough rigour in this support.

There are so many problems with this it is hard to know where to start.

Universal Jobmatch has been thoroughly discredited, with the DWP admitting recently that more than half of the jobs on it were fake, repeats or fishing exercises designed to part jobseekers from their money.

The idea that signing up is a positive step towards unemployment is nowhere near being proven.

The lack of IT skills some unemployed people have, and the fact that many jobs still don't need them, means the computer-based nature of most of the new requirements are unfitting, and making them mandatory is setting some up to fail unnecessarily.

The idea of quarterly reviews with jobcentre staff is, on the face of it, a reasonable idea if they help identify new job and training opportunities.

But the government has shown such contempt for unemployed people it can only be assumed that this will be the typical abrasive attempt to find excuses to increase sanctions.

Cuts to DWP staff - a quarter have lost their jobs since 2010 - mean it is doubtful they have the capacity to provide quality jobsearch support in jobcentres in addition to meeting their sanctions targets.

This hare-brained scheme is further evidence of Iain Duncan Smith's desire to ride the unpopularity of the workless to electoral success.

No policy is considered too damaging, and increased poverty - and even deaths in the case of the hated work capability assessment - is no bar to introduction.

The support of unemployed people is vital work.

Dressing it up in the clothes of mandating takes away much of its ability to help, robbing the workless of vital agency and confidence, and far from helping, hinders their chances of getting jobs.

The coalition needs a serious rethink of its whole approach.