Chris Grayling

The Government has announced an extension to its scheme whereby individuals must complete one months worth of work experience before being given access to benefits.

The Mandatory Work Experience Scheme will see up to seventy thousand people referred to mandatory work each year. The extension of the scheme hopes to close the loophole where some people have signed off from job seekers allowance in order to avoid having to go on a placement, before signing back onto it again.

The Employment Minister, Chris Grayling said "people need to be aware that for those who are fit enough to work it is simply not an option to sit on benefits and do nothing." Apparently the need to work full time for one month has acted as an effective deterrent for those not trying to get a job or "gaming the system". In addition to hopefully discouraging those from signing on in the first place, Grayling explained that the extended Mandatory Work Experience Scheme also hopes to stop people using the benefits system via the back door. "That's why for the extended roll out of Mandatory Work Activity we will toughen up the sanctions regime and make sure that anyone re-claiming JSA will have to complete a full placement or face a further sanction."

Claimants who fail to complete a placement stand to lose their benefits. As a first offence benefits are lost for three months, followed by six months for a second offence. There are stricter sanctions planned for later this year. Official figures have shown that nearly half, forty six percent, of benefit claimants who are sent to to the mandatory work do one of two things. These people either fail to turn up or they sign off from benefits. Most placements are with charitable organisations or benefit the environment.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has carried out its own research which shows that the scheme is not helping to stop people from claiming benefits. In fact it has shown that some people are more likely to transfer to sickness support instead. The DWP do not believe that the scheme helps get people back into work either. Their study looked at three thousand mandatory work activity referrals and concluded that it had had zero effect in helping get people back into work. Grayling defended the scheme explaining that "this was a scheme our own Jobcentre Plus advisers wanted to introduce. This impact analysis only covers the first three months of the programme a year ago and is already out of date. What it shows is we had teething problems in the first three months and, since then, we've taken a number of steps to tighten loopholes and are continuing to do so. It's a relatively new and experimental scheme which is improving all the time."

However, the National Institute of Economic and Social Research (NIESR), which was asked by the DWP to perform a peer review of the research, said Grayling's decision to expand the scheme flew in the face of the evidence that showed it was not working. Time will tell whether or not the scheme can be tightened up enough to prove useful at helping people get back into work and avoid the gaming if the system.

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