‘I can’t just take any job’: Universal credit claimants express anger at DWP ‘get any job now’ policy

·4-min read

Universal credit claimants are to be given just four weeks to find a job in their preferred sector or face the prospect of sanctions, under plans announced by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).

It forms part of an effort by work and pensions secretary Therese Coffey to help people “get any job now” and a new government drive to get 500,000 jobseekers back into work by the end of June.

Under the existing rules, claimants are given three months to find a job in their preferred sector, before facing the possibility of benefits sanctions.

The new system – dubbed “Way to Work” – will mean jobseekers are forced to widen their search outside their area after just four weeks.

They will face the possibility of sanctions if they are deemed not to be making reasonable efforts to secure a job in any sector, or if they turn down an offer of employment, according to the DWP.

A spokesperson for the department said the process would aim to “get people who are ready to work into that first job or back into a job, so that they can look for a better job and secure a future career”.

But the move has prompted alarm among people claiming universal credit and those who have done so in the past. Here they tell The Independent why.

Caitlin Yeung, 24

After graduating, Caitlin struggled to find a job and had to go onto universal credit. She got a place on the government’s Kickstart scheme and is now in a full-time marketing role (Kickstart)
After graduating, Caitlin struggled to find a job and had to go onto universal credit. She got a place on the government’s Kickstart scheme and is now in a full-time marketing role (Kickstart)

You receive your first payment after five weeks, but now they’re saying that you’ll only have four weeks to look for a job in your field, which doesn’t make sense.

As someone who knows the process and has been through it, those three months to look for what you actually want to do really do make a difference.

I don’t think it’s been very well thought out. They’re thinking how are we going to fix this quickly, without thinking about the long-term effects it will have not only on the claimants themselves but on the economy.

If people are pushed into jobs they don’t want to do, they’re going to come out of them just as quickly because they’re unhappy and it’s going to affect their mental health.

Katherine, 31

This announcement shows that, unfortunately, the policymakers responsible do not have a grasp on the realities of finding work, let alone on the added complexities of finding work as a woman with a conviction.

Since my release from prison, I have been laser-focused on rebuilding my professional reputation and career. It took me approximately a year and a half to achieve that, and this was certainly not for lack of trying.

I was offered numerous jobs throughout that time, but as soon as I fulfilled my legal responsibility to disclose a criminal conviction when asked, those job offers were quickly withdrawn. [Way to Work] places blame on the jobseeker and, for those with convictions, is just another punishment.

River Olivia Rose, 40

After three years of being homeless because she was unable to claim universal credit without proof of an address, River is now claiming and is looking for work (River Olivia Rose)
After three years of being homeless because she was unable to claim universal credit without proof of an address, River is now claiming and is looking for work (River Olivia Rose)

The DWP’s new plans have really worried me. I have a job interview coming up with the probation service which I would love to get, but if I don’t get it will they be forcing me to work in McDonald’s?

I have complex needs and mental health issues and I need to work in a sector that’s suitable for me. To find this will take time. I can’t just take any job.

Decisions like this will just put more stress on people who are already under strain. Prices are going up but the income is getting lower. I think it will have a massive strain on people’s mental health.

Sonja Ferguson, 47

After four months of struggling to find a job in her field while on universal credit, Sonja decided to retrain and is now studying criminology and psychology as well as working part-time (Sonja Ferguson)
After four months of struggling to find a job in her field while on universal credit, Sonja decided to retrain and is now studying criminology and psychology as well as working part-time (Sonja Ferguson)

Four weeks is not long enough to find work, especially if you take into account the time some companies take in their recruitment process from application to first day.

For me, like many others, I claimed universal credit not out of choice but necessity and my career is something I have worked hard to achieve. My job is not just about earning a wage but it also means I can give back to my community, improve my mental health and feel valued for what I do.

To be forced into a job that potentially doesn’t give me that is a way of saying I don’t matter and have nothing to contribute.

Being forced to take a job at minimum wage, zero hours or temporary contracts, or in a sector that doesn’t suit an individual’s skill set, will only cause more long-term problems for both employees and employers.

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