Three Strikes

Iain Duncan Smith-Nightingale House-March 2010

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Over the weekend, I was listening to This Week in Westminster and I was curiously concerned by Conservative MP, Nick Boles who appeared on the programme, assertion that no-one would be affected by the ‘third strike’ of the ‘three strikes’ benefit sanctions to hit those who refused jobs that were offered because, and I’m not quoting verbatim but something along the lines of no-one in their right mind would turn down three jobs that were offered to them if they didn’t have support either by their own financial means or a partner supporting them.

Sanctioning the workless to three years without benefits for turning down three jobs was something so far out of his own concept for comprehension that he didn’t and couldn’t address the question of ‘what happens when a family have no means to support themselves because they are subject to these sanctions?’.

For me, this was a concern. Of course people who don’t work and are offered jobs and can work, should – but there are so many variables and subtleties that this seems like either a gross oversimplification or we haven’t seen (and the coalition haven’t shared with their own MPs) the complex contingencies that will be in place to prevent child poverty growing as a direct result of these sanctions.

The ‘three strikes’ goes something along the lines of if you turn down one job, benefit is withheld for three months, two jobs increases this to six months and after the third offer, the sanction is for three years.

Iain Duncan-Smith confirmed yesterday that this will apply to parents equally and having children will not stop these measures being taken.

Again, everyone wants to work  but I think we really need to examine who makes these judgements and the governments assertion that this will not be a discretionary role and that everyone will be subject to the same guidelines. The fact that there is no room for discretion worries me. What counts as a ‘refusal’ to work? This is all the more crucial as the move from Incapacity Benefit to Employment and Support Allowance continues on apace and there are many well-documented cases of poor decisions being made by the ESA – evidenced by the  high rate of successful appeals against their rulings (the BBC quotes a 40% successful appeal rate)  about who is and who is not ‘fit’ for work.

There are many details about what counts as an ‘offer of employment’ that need to be resolved and how much choice anyone will get about the area that they might wish to be working in or whether that will have any relevance. Apart from these details, my concern is that it will be children who will suffer as a result of potentially living in households where there is no legal income.

My fleeting experience of working with benefits in general is that often the most vulnerable and voiceless are terrified out of claiming what they may be entitled to and people who ‘defraud ‘the system’’ know exactly what and how to claim. The measures to prevent families being driven into poverty need to be clear and there needs to be an examination of the potential effect that these policies will have on children and people with disabilities and ill-health, whether those categories are accepted by ATOS or not.

(Incidently,  if you go to the ATOS link, you see at the bottom a list of numbers with the request ‘Please do not give these numbers to patients – if that doesn’t tell you a lot about accessibility and also stupidity (seriously – they put that document on a website and then tell ‘practitioners’ not to give it to patient) then I don’t know what is).

One thought on “Three Strikes

  1. Absolutely.
    I have (thank god) only once in my life had to have anything to do with the benefiots system on a personal basis, when I had to claim Unempoyment Benefit for a period of about 3 months, after I left university.(about 16 years ago) I recall being given details of a particular job and then scolded when I ‘refused’ to apply – despite explaning that the job (a) involved working directly with something I am violently allergic to (b) was 25 miles away and I had no transport) and (c) as the ad made it v clear that the hours were non-negotiable, would actually be impossible to get to using public transport. (At the ame time, I was told that I must not take on the voluntary work which I’d been offered as I would not then be considered to be available for work, despite the fact that the work, while unpaid, gave me relevent experience and increased my chances of finding the type of work I was qualified for, and the fact that the voluntary organisation was aware of my situation and happy to confirm in writing that I was free to leave at any time if I found paid work and that I was free to attend any interviews etc which might be offered.

    I have grave concerns that the proposed system won’t have the flexibility to take into account these sorts of issues when determining that someone has ‘refused’ work – and it seems to me that this ttpe of issue will be worse for anyone with children or other caring resposbilities who might easily find themselves classed as having ‘refused’ work if they have to turn down an interview or job offer because they cannot find / afford child care. I would hope that, as a muinimum, the rules will allow for penelties only where someone ‘unreasonably’ refuses.

    And I would like to see some indication that some (hell, than ANY) thoght has been gievn to childnre and other dependets who will suffer as a result of their parent/care being penelised.

    Are families going to find themselves facing child protection issuesas well – allegations of neglect becaue children can’t be fed? Removal into foster care of children whose parents can’t afford to look after them, on the basis that they are likely to suffer significant harm? Back to the workhouse m, with a vengence.

    I do think that there is some scope for expecting people to take on jobs which re available even if these are not in thier preferred field, but I would like to see some flexibility – perhapd a set period of time to find work in the area you want, during which you won’t be penelised if you turn down uncongenial work.

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