What should we have to do for our benefits?

Fri, 09/03/2012 - 16:52 -- nick

We all understand that benefits recipients have responsibilities, but what should we have to do for our money, and how much? Currently all Jobseeker’s Allowance recipients have to do mandatory Work Programme activity after 12 months, or 9 months if under 25 years old. Is that fair?
Do you think there are some unemployed people who would never, through lack of motivation or confidence, laziness or another reason, get it together to do anything constructive towards getting a job, and who benefit from being made to do more? Or is making an unemployed person attend this programme one of the problems they face, taking away their motivation by taking their power to make their own decisions? In your experience is the Work Programme useful enough to justify making it compulsory?
One of the ways of looking at benefits is as a contract between taxpayers and unemployed people. Taxpayers fund benefits, and the belief of some that they are being taken for a ride is one of the reasons behind the government’s decision to try to cap benefits at the average working family’s income of £26,000 (a desire to save money is another reason).
As they pay for benefits they have a stake in how and when they are paid, but how much say do you think they should have in the demands made of benefit recipients? Should we, as individuals and as a site, be reflecting their concerns or trying to change their minds?
We at Unemployed Net have developed our ideas with the belief that unemployed and economically inactive people are usually well-placed to understand our own needs, and that, with low confidence such a difficult challenge of being jobless, letting us set our own job search conditions, training and support needs where possible helps us stay motivated and get work. We also believe that too much of the way we are treated is based on prejudice and misinformation; people have been told that we are lazy or disinterested by media and politicians so often that they believe it, and make judgements based on this.
Unemployed Net’s Charter has made a number of commitments in this area:
-          We understand that it is right that those who receive work-related benefits should engage with services both to show that they are active in their search for work, and to help with that search. Benefits bring responsibilities as well as rights and an organisation that wants to represent benefit recipients needs to recognise this
-          The Government to recognise and take account of the needs of unemployed people as a special interest group, considering the impact of all policies on them. The impact of policies on women is considered in this way
-          Benefits to be provided flexibly, including Jobseeker’s Allowance, Income Support and Incapacity Benefit/Employment Support Allowance, allowing recipients to move on and off them in short time and without losing entitlements. It should be recognised that a job seeker or other benefit recipient who volunteers to move off benefits is fully engaged in looking for work, and this should be helped not hindered. Temporary jobs can become permanent in the right circumstances and help develop skills and CVs, and moves to take them up should be supported by government. Many of those receiving Incapacity Benefit/Employment Support Allowance have conditions which vary in seriousness, being able to work at some times but not at others. Those who volunteer to enter work should be supported, and any obstacles to regaining benefits taken away 
-          The Work Programme to be voluntary, replaceable with self-directed job search unless there is clear evidence that the job seeker has avoided work. The mandatory Work Programme feeds the characterisation of unemployed people as ‘workshy’ and needing to be forced to undertake activity, and in an economy in which there are too few jobs for all unemployed people it is unlikely to be able to support the majority of participants in to work, meaning mandatory attendance is likely to be pointless for many
-          The government to recognise benefit receipt as a protected characteristic, like religion, race and age. This is an appropriate response to the negative media coverage received and negative policies enacted on benefit recipients, and would immediately end some of the most glaring iniquities faced, including access to housing 
Are we right to suggest these commitments? We have tried to balance the rights and responsibilities and would like you to think of both of these parts. We want to represent unemployed and economically inactive people as well as those with an interest in this area and want your views on these issues.
Unemployed Net’s users are invited to comment below, and, once we have received a reasonable number, we will put a report together representing the majority views and significant minority views. This will be sent to the government, Work Programme prime contractors, Jobcentre Plus offices and others with a role in developing policy and delivering programmes for unemployed and economically inactive people, and we will report back on progress.
Please comment using the form below – we look forward to representing you and trying to change the world around us for the better.