Cutting benefits doesn't make people get jobs
Harpymarx has details of some new research which has found that threatening to cut lone parent's benefits has a 'negligible' impact on whether or not they try and get a job. The research was based on interviews with both lone parents and with employment advisers, and was commissioned by the government.
The main reasons why lone parents didn't attend 'work focused interviews' were ill-health, caring responsibilities and forgetting the appointment, not deliberate avoidance or because they were 'workshy' or lazy.
The people who were more likely to have their benefits stopped because they didn't attend these interviews were more likely to suffer from ill health, and to have children who suffered from problems including behavioural difficulties, epilepsy, cerebral palsy and severe asthma. They were more likely to be in debt, and they were more likely to be unaware of their financial situation, including the actual amount of benefits that they were receiving. Some of those who had their benefits cut were unable to read the letters that the Jobcentre sent out, and others didn't open the letters because they thought that they would be yet more bills.
The financial coping strategies of the lone parents who found their benefit payments reduced usually involved reducing spending. The spending that was reported to be affected often related to the purchase of basic provisions, such as food, phone, electricity, gas, nappies, taking their child to playgroup, paying other bills, Christmas club payment.
The report goes on to suggest a number of ways that the current system could be improved. These include technical but important changes such as better outreach support involving compliance officers, re-naming the 'Work Focused Interview', and improving the process by which it is decided whether or not individuals are classed as vulnerable. It's worth noting that most lone parents who were interviewed did think that there were positive things about taking part in interviews which helped them find work, particularly the calculations which showed how they could be better off in work.
Three major barriers which keep lone parents on benefits and stop them getting jobs are ill health, lack of childcare and debt. The government's own research shows that there is a vicious cycle at work here. Lone parents who are sick, or who can't get childcare, or who are in debt, are the ones least likely to attend interviews or take up help to find work or training. Then they get their benefits cut, which increases their debt, makes it even harder to find childcare, and makes them more unwell.
Both New Labour and the Tories want to extend the idea of cutting people's benefits if they don't comply with all the rules, even though this has a 'negligible' impact on whether people work but a significant impact on preventing sick children getting enough to eat. If they actually wanted to cut the number of people on out of work benefits and help people get jobs then they should concentrate on knocking down the barriers that actually stop people working, with things like free, accessible childcare and social fund grants to keep people away from the loan sharks and stop people getting into debt.