Jobseekers receiving universal credit (UC) woke to the news today that the time they are allowed to limit their work search to their preferred field will drastically reduce. Rather than having three months, they’ll have a meagre four weeks. After those four weeks, changes brought in under the ‘Way to Work’ campaign mean that UC jobseekers need to apply for and accept any job they can. Anyone deemed non-compliant will face sanctions and reduced income. The legal basis for this is not clear at this stage.
People reeling from redundancy, for instance, will find their well-honed skills, qualifications and years of experience in their chosen line of work count for nothing in the ‘any job at all costs’ UC regime. If a chef with twenty years’ experience can’t find work in another kitchen within four weeks, well, the message seems to be that all previous job experience is dispensable and the chef needs to be ready to become a warehouse worker or a lorry driver or a care assistant: to fill any role available, as required. Being unemployed and on UC brings many strains. This approach seems likely to only increase them.
In any case, we know from our Your Work Your Way project that job-hunting for any job is time-consuming and rarely easy. The project’s personal support coaches – who provide tailored employment support – say that job-related experience is often needed to get a specific job, regardless of the sector or pay scale. For example, a care assistant vacancy may require experience, and a current DBS certificate (which costs money).
But even if a care home is willing to pay for a DBS check—which may take weeks to process—and employ someone with no experience, is it desirable for unqualified and possibly reluctant workers to be forced to accept a job caring for vulnerable people?
This approach also assumes that the only thing standing between a jobseeker and a job is a willingness to look to other sectors. We know that there is much more to it than that: will the job fit around school hours? Is suitable childcare available? Does it offer flexibility? Does it pay enough and provide guaranteed hours? Have people received the training and support they need? The government should be focusing its attention on these structural issues rather than making life harder for people already facing an uphill struggle.
The Your Work Your Way personal support coaches work hard to help people realise their job goals. They explore aspirations, and help navigate barriers such as inadequate childcare support. We believe this approach is much more likely to lead to sustainable employment, bringing long-term benefits to workers and employers. Threatening sanctions to hastily shoehorn people into inappropriate roles is short-sighted and won’t help address the barriers people face taking on work and the underlying problems in the labour market.