For this month’s article we would like to take this opportunity to look at the recent announcement by the Chancellor George Osborne to introduce compulsory working and training in return for receiving benefits.
At the recent Conservative Party conference, the Chancellor outlined plans to help the long-term unemployed with the new ‘Help to Work’ scheme, which will see people facing benefit sanctions unless they carry out unpaid community work, attend jobcentres every day or, if they face barriers to work such as drug addiction or illiteracy, take part in a ‘mandatory intervention regime’
Nationally, Citizens Advice has warned that the welfare system must take the needs of those who use it into account. Gillian Guy, our national Chief Executive, has responded to these proposals by saying “The benefits system must not be used to punish the long-term unemployed for circumstances which are outside their control. Caring responsibilities or sky-high transport costs will make it very difficult for many people to attend community work or jobcentres in person every day. It’s vital that the Government provides proper support for those who face extra barriers to work, such as mental illness or mobility problems, and understands that these conditions will sometimes make participation in this scheme impossible. (Nationally) We are already receiving reports from bureaux that benefit sanctions are fuelling a rise in food bank referrals. Helping the unemployed back into work should be a cornerstone of the benefits system, but the Government must remember that without this lifeline, many will be pitched into dire financial straits.”
Locally, at Citizens Advice 1066, we would like to see incentives for benefit claimants to volunteer within the local community, rather than being punished with enforced attendance at job centres and work placements. Last year 20 of our volunteers used their experience working with us to secure paid work, both within and outside the organisation. Our volunteers come from a wide range of different backgrounds including residents in receipt of benefits, and work as receptionists, administrators, advisers, telephone ‘adviceline operators’, trustees and by giving initial interviews known as gateway assessments. There are also many other local volunteering opportunities with local agencies. Hastings Voluntary Action has advertised local volunteering opportunities on its website www.hastingsvoluntaryaction.org, and there is information on local opportunities on the national website www.do-it.org.uk.
If you are worried about how the upcoming benefit changes will affect you, or if you have any other issues such as debt, employment, housing, discrimination, please feel free to visit our volunteers at our confidential drop-in interviews, available between 9am-4pm Monday, Wednesday, Friday and from 9am-1pm Tuesday and Thursday. Our service is free and available to everyone . Telephone advice is available on Tuesday and Thursdays from 1pm-4pm on 01424 721420 and you can also email your enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org (we aim to reply within two working days). You can also find information on a wide range of subjects on our national website www.adviceguide.org.uk..
If you would be interested in volunteering at Citizens Advice 1066 please get in touch by contacting Karen on 01424 452703 or by email: Karen@citizensadvice1066.co.uk.
Services and advice from Citizens Advice 1066 are free, confidential, independent and impartial.