Right to work welfare sanctions

Following on a from highly critical Irish News article about the Steps 2 Success programme,  the Right to Work: Right To Welfare group are finding it very difficult to get answers to questions in relation to this publicly funded programme from the Department for Communities. 

All of the questions below have been asked of the Department in the last few months. In each case Department officials have not provided the information. They have told us that they either don’t have or won’t release the information  because it would take too much time and cost too much money The response is worrying and leads to Is the Department for Communities telling us that it is not monitoring how many people are financially sanctioned during their time on its mandatory government work programme, Steps 2 Success?

 Is the Minister for Communities unaware of how many children are being impacted by sanctions which stop their parents’ income?

Do the officials in charge of running the social security system and helping people back to work not know what age groups are most impacted upon, how long sanctions are being imposed for and which Steps 2 Success providers and regions are sanctioning people the most?

  • How many individuals have had their money reduced or stopped once or more than once for not attending a meeting? (Department  won’t tell us the number of individuals, only the number of sanctions)
  • How many children have been impacted upon by a parent’s money being stopped for not attending a meeting? ( Department says it would cost too much money to find this out)
  • How long have people had their money stopped for? ( Department says it would cost too much to find this out )
  • How many young people aged 18-24 have had their money stopped? ( Department says it would cost too much to find this out)
  • Which areas of the north are imposing the highest number of sanctions? Department says it would cost too much to find this out)
  • How many of those jobs that people got were zero hour contract jobs?  the Department says it doesn’t record this information)
  • What’s the average cost is of creating a job through Steps 2 Success? ( Department says its ‘management systems are not sufficiently sophisticated to measure the cost per job at this stage in the programme’ adding that information is unlikely to be available until the end of the programme in 2019)

However, from the limited information provided we do know some things in relation to Steps 2 Success, summarised below.

  • Only one in four people on Steps 2 Success got work at the end of the programme
  • Only 15% of people who got a job were still in work 6 months later
  • Since 1 October 2014 to 31 August 2016 a total of 5333 sanctions were imposed on Job Seekers claimants taking part in New Deal/Steps to Work/Steps to Success programmes. 
  • The vast majority of these sanctions, 3,830, have been for ‘failure to attend an interview’ with a Steps 2 Success provider
  • On at least 5 of 8 key performance indicators set for Steps 2 Success providers by the Department for Communities, providers have been scored as either ‘unsatisfactory’ or ‘needs improvement’

The Department of Communities says that the aim of Steps 2 Success is “to help eligible benefit recipients find and sustain work”. Clearly the programme is failing to do this.

As highlighted by the Irish News, the latest official figures show that only one in four people got into work at the end of the programme, and that only 15% of people who got a job were still in a job 6 months later. Yet participants are forced to go through this failing programme, which is unlikely to help them, at the risk of sanction, with approximately 15% receiving a sanction. This happens despite the fact that there is little evidence that compulsory participation in employment programmes leads to positive change in the behaviour of participants.

While thousands of people on benefits have their last pennies taken from them the private providers who fail to meet government’s targets appear to incur no financial sanction or penalty. This privatisation of social security and job support without accountability has lead to extreme hardship for many families. The Scottish Government has already taken steps to protect Scottish citizens from the ravages of the sanctions regime. They plan to make all employment programmes voluntary once responsibility for these programmes is devolved next spring.  

While Scotland is crying out for these powers our local Assembly already has them and isn’t using them. The Right to Work: Right to Welfare group have developed the People’s Proposal  which, if implemented, could protect adults and children from arbitrary financial sanctions which lead to poverty and hunger. Local MLAs have the power to act now in defence of the most vulnerable. It’s a matter of political will.