Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Welfare bill won’t work, key advisers tell Iain Duncan Smith” was written by Daniel Boffey, policy editor, for The Observer on Saturday 15th September 2012 23.37 Europe/London

The work and pensions secretary, Iain Duncan Smith, has been warned by his own advisers that a vital element of his flagship bill to simplify the benefits system is "unworkable and unfair".

Plans to force part-time workers to seek greater hours of employment or risk losing their benefits have been condemned as unrealistic at a time of prolonged recession by the social security advisory committee, a Whitehall body in charge of monitoring the reforms.

Its concerns come amid growing controversy over Duncan Smith’s proposed plans for a universal credit, which is due to replace the current range of welfare benefits with one monthly payment.

Earlier this month, David Cameron attempted to reshuffle Duncan Smith to the job of justice secretary as fears over the progress and costs of the universal credit circulated in parliament. However he was rebuffed by the minister, who is determined to see his reforms through.

Seventy organisations wrote to the Commons work and pensions select committee last week, raising a host of potential objections to the universal credit, including doubts about the ability of the government to successfully deliver the IT necessary to unify benefit payments or use real-time wage information to ensure that work always pays better than welfare.

Those working with the vulnerable said the insistence that the system be wholly internet-based will leave many unable to access benefits, and claim the government does not have a plan B.

There are also major concerns that the decision to pay out benefits just once a month will push vulnerable people into the hands of payday lenders as they struggle to budget.

The Observer has learned that the advisory committee, appointed by the government, has focused its criticisms on the pressures that will be brought to bear on Britain’s burgeoning part-time workforce. It has told Duncan Smith that the vulnerable in part-time work are likely to be punished for economic circumstances not of their making.

The government’s proposals would affect anyone earning less than they would in a 35-hour-a-week job on the minimum wage. Part-time workers could lose money for not applying sufficiently frequently for vacancies, not attending job interviews for a better paid job within 48 hours of being directed by a jobcentre, or not taking up a full-time job within 90 minutes from home – although the government says each case will be assessed on its merits.

In its response to Duncan Smith’s white paper on universal credit, the committee condemned the plan as "unrealistic in the current economic climate", adding: "With high underemployment – currently over one million part-time workers in the UK want to work more hours – sanctioning clients who cannot increase their hours seems to be both unworkable and unfair.

"We cannot see how in-work sanctions can be policed and are concerned that customers working short hours may be penalised as a result of labour market conditions, rather than as a result of their response to the conditionality regime applicable to them."

Critics have also pointed out that many members of the part-time workforce would have to alter childcare arrangements in order to work longer hours, which may leave them worse rather than better off. It is expected that women, more of whom work part-time than men, would be disproportionately hit by the reforms.

The Children’s Society has called for the government to provide more information on how the policy will work. Charities have also suggested that constant interviews and applications made elsewhere could adversely affect existing employer-employee relationships.

Last week it was revealed that the number of people in part-time work rose by 134,000 to 8.12 million, the highest level since 1992, when these figures began to be collected.

This figure includes 1.42 million people – a record number – who would like to work full-time but are unable to find such employment.

Dame Anne Begg MP, who chairs the influential cross-party work and pensions select committee, said Duncan Smith would face a grilling on the issue when he faces her members on Monday. She said: "The universal credit is about making work pay, so there’s the carrot – we don’t need the stick at a time of economic recession, when people would take on more work if they could".

Gavin Kelly, a former deputy chief of staff in Downing Street and now chief executive of independent thinktank the Resolution Foundation, which is set to launch a report on the impact of universal credit on the working poor, said: "Very little is known about how this will operate in practice, the numbers of people affected. This is likely to become an issue of mounting concern for working households already struggling just to get by."

Gillian Guy, chief executive of Citizens Advice, whose organisation receives government funding to offer advice on benefits and debt, said she feared her staff would struggle with the expected flood of people affected by the changes: "We are heading into a perfect storm. Given the times, this is a massive reform to throw into the mix."

A Department for Work and Pensions spokesman said: "Individuals will get support for the first time to increase their hours in work and will see a clear increase in their income when they do – instead of losing out as they do in the current system. However, we will not expect someone to work full time where caring responsibilities, or illness, means it isn’t right for them.

"The welfare system needs to be reformed. The recent employment figures show the private sector continuing to create jobs so it is important that we are helping people not only to get into work, but who are already in work and would want to work more hours to do so."

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Comments
  • Celia September 16, 2012 at 3:48 pm

    I thought the idea was to allow people to take on these mini jobs that are supposed to be out there. this will just stop them from doing so if they are going to constantly harassed to find more hours… How the fuck do you manage 1/2 a dozen jobs of 4 or 5 hours a week?

  • Dave Rowlands September 16, 2012 at 4:41 pm

    It’s the next step to abolish the minimum wage, work for your benefits to benefit your employer and this millionaire ruling party will no doubt have shares and tax havens to hide the fact they are making millions out of the suffering of the working poor.

    If you can’t get more hours then do the right thing – “Work for nothing, help the rich get richer so they can screw you from all sides”.

    Dave

  • kelpimare September 16, 2012 at 4:55 pm

    One of their own members described.them as ” posh boys”. I’d go further, morons, crass, bullying, ignorant, selfish posh boys whose sole.raisin d’être seems to be to provide their friends and families access to the treasury’s millions. Oh. And a free workforce. And the NHS. And without a backward glance.
    Gordon Brown instigated working tax.credits for those who worked a minimum of 16 hours a week. He understood that you can’t penalize workers if their employers wouldn’t give them more hours. THIS abomination of a thick, belligerent government (elected by Nick Clegg….who must be REALLY thick to believe Tory lies and spin….and they don’t have a mandate) do not care about PEOPLE. They only care about their millions and how to get more.

  • Dissabled dave September 16, 2012 at 5:04 pm

    “Part-time workers could lose money for not applying sufficiently frequently for vacancies, not attending job interviews for a better paid job within 48 hours of being directed by a Jobcentre,” So if you arrive home to find that you have been notified today, you have to notify your boss tomorrow that you won’t be in work the day after, leaving your boss no time to arrange cover.

    So someone in a part time job has to keep taking this time off, at very short notice, to attend these interviews within 48 hours. And how long does the Government think that these part-timers will keep their current part-time jobs if they keep doing this? You might get away with it once, but after two or three goes, I reckon you would be given your P45 and be told to piss off.

    Equally, to avoid this situation, no boss is going to take on a part-time worker who is capable of earning more because they will always be off doing what the Jobcentre wants, rather than being in working, and will disappear at the first opportunity.

  • DAVID A SHAW September 16, 2012 at 7:08 pm

    Duncan Smith is so full of himself that if his god spoke to him he still would not listen. He is a Fascist disaster on legs, and this mess will be the end of his political career.

  • pete September 16, 2012 at 7:23 pm

    you know that sound, of water gurgling , when you flush the toilet – that’s iain duncan smith that is …..

  • jeffery davies September 16, 2012 at 7:59 pm

    was his father involved with the nazi party as hes trying very had to rid us of life jeff3

  • ODIN September 16, 2012 at 8:44 pm

    In the name of all that is Holy, We must get rid of this evil, evil bunch of psychopathic public school bastards, if we don’t we are all in deep deep shit, but how? how do we do this? surely the European Court of Human Rights must be notified. The British people are very slow to anger but when we are pushed too far I would not like to be in the shoes of these rich shits. New Labour is not without blame the old school Labour politicians would be disgusted with Blair, Brown and Milliband they do not have the welfare of the British people at the heart of their policies, which is what Labour always did.

  • Humanity2012 September 17, 2012 at 3:10 pm

    Politicians are Out of Touch and Clueless

    Redistribution of Wealth from Rich to Poor Now

    We Need a Better Government Now and a Long Time Before

    The British Public have been Worse than Docile

  • Humanity2012 September 18, 2012 at 11:58 am

    Gormless is my Assessment of this Slavefare Bill

    Stealing from the Poor and Vulnerable is a Crime against Humanity

    We Need Opposition to All this Idiotic Madness Not Just Slavish Acquiesance

    Never Trust a Politician All too True

  • roger Allnot September 18, 2012 at 1:36 pm

    Get real, people. Have you seen the latest Social Attitudes survey? More than half the British population now believe that more people would stand on their own feet if benefits were less generous – compared with just over a quarter (26%) in 1991.

    • JJ September 18, 2012 at 2:57 pm

      You are an offensive TROLL. Have you got nothing better to do with your time than go around sticking the boot into disabled people? Sickening!

    • jeffrey September 18, 2012 at 8:16 pm

      ok so if the survey said all black babies should die its right,you are what we call in the autistic worl a stupid NT talk without thinking or checking what you say.. jeff ..

  • Sue September 19, 2012 at 7:45 pm

    A phrase I have heard ofter regarding the new Universal credit is that it is “a car crash waiting to happen”. The computerised system is going to throw things into chaos. Here is my experience of Computerised system for Child Benefit at the moment.
    My Sons is 16 and has started 6th Form College for a 2 years Alevel course. I received a letter from Local Council saying Council Tax credit has stopped because Child Tax credit had stopped. It took me three months of writing letters get Child tax credit reinstated, then Council said they also need a letter confirming my Child Benefit continuing. I tried to ring them but it is now just automated messages promoting online service. I went on line and found the appropriate form which I proceeded to complete, I came across the question Date of Exams? Now I know he will take exams in 2014 but the college haven’t set exact dates yet, so I estimated approx date. However the computer said “No please enter correct date”. There is no “correct date” yet, but you can’t have a conversation with a computer programme to explain this. Therefore I have been unable to proceed. I suppose I will have to write if I can find an address. Can you imagine this kind of problem multiplied thousands of times with Universal Credit. Also those who have not got internet access according to IDS will go to the Job Centre to get help. So presumably Job Centres are going to be kitted out with computers and enough staff to deal with all those who are not computer literate. As they say “a car crash waiting to happen”. With many left without benefits for weeks.

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