What’s the issue?
Over 12 months, an independent panel of respected public experts in public policy and equality has been considering evidence behind growing concerns about the impact that changes to the benefit system have had on women.
The panel focussed its attention on the recent changes to Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA). It has examined evidence from a wide range of independent sources including desk-based research, qualitative interviews, regional focus groups, submissions from an open ‘call for evidence’ and a one day ‘live-hearing’ session with women affected by the policy, academics, NGOs and service providers.
The report Where’s the Benefit – An Independent Inquiry into Women and JSA finds that changes to benefits are jeopardising the safety, and mental and physical health of women and their children. The impacts particularly affect vulnerable groups: lone parents, women who suffer violence at home and women who have difficulties with English.
These groups of people are being expected to meet near impossible conditions in order to receive a basic benefit. When those conditions aren’t met they face losing some or all of their benefits as the system is not taking account of their specific circumstances.
As a result of these reform some groups of women are becoming poorer, less financially independent, and in some instances increasingly vulnerable to destitution and abuse. Overall, many of the changes brought in hit women harder and thus risk widening the inequality gap between women and men.
Two main concerns are around the increasingly restrictive conditions that must be met to qualify for the benefit and the use of sanctions that are applied when those conditions are not met, leading to loss of benefits.
- Lone parents, 92% of whom are women, are not always given the flexibility to which they are entitled to enable them to balance job seeking with looking after children. Examples include claimants being pressured to apply for shift work and evening jobs, or threatened with a benefit cut if they did not meet an advisor at 4pm: school pick-up time
- The high number of sanctions given to lone parents are significantly more likely to be overturned than for other groups, suggesting that they are being administered incorrectly
- Women who have experienced violence are being sanctioned for attending vital appointments, such as counselling sessions and court hearings; and are not routinely told of the leeway they can receive to protect their safety
- Women who do not speak English to a high level are having particular difficulty understanding and adhering to the conditions attached to their benefit. Many are not receiving the language support they need to move into employment
- Women are not being informed that they are eligible for hardship payments once they have been sanctioned, leading some to turn to pay-day lenders and food banks, in order to survive and provide for their families
- Jobcentres should provide specialist advisers who can give claimants with additional needs the information and support they need
- A call for better understanding of those experiencing domestic violence and an improvement in the way the system operates, ensuring it fits in with the government’s overall strategy for tackling violence against women and girls
- Staff in job centres and running return to work programes should be fully aware of the way conditions can be varied to allow for special circumstances
- The appeals process should include a swift informal process that is undertaken within days and a much quicker process for the appeal proper that is simple and easy for claimants to navigate and understand.
You can buy your own copy of the report here