By Charlie Kimber
Downloading PDF. Please wait... Issue 2790

Cost of living crisis hits, so Tories attack unemployed people

The government is trying to blame people without jobs for economic problems
Issue 2790
Chancellor Sunak visits Soke on Trent where there is a wall sign "levelling up" during the cost of living crisis

Levelling-up? Don’t make me laugh. Chancellor Rishi Sunak (right) visited Stoke-on-Trent last week (Pic: HM Treasury on Flickr)

The cost of living crisis is hitting hard even before the scheduled tax rises and energy price surge set for April. Around 2.5 million households in Britain missed payments such as a mortgage, rent, loan, credit card or utility bills in January.

This was a big increase from 1.7 million in December last year according to the latest findings from Which?’s consumer insight tracker.

Nearly 60 percent of those surveyed said they had recently been affected by increased food prices, and well over half said they had been affected by energy price rises. Some 51 percent of those polled said they had been putting the heating on less often due to energy price rises, and nearly as many had reduced their usage of lights or appliances around the home.

Sandra, who works at a food bank in east London, told Socialist Worker, “We’re seeing new people coming to us who have been just about getting by but now can’t cope. 

“It’s not that they have had a great blow-out over Christmas, it’s because their benefits and low wages can’t cover rising prices. It will be an avalanche of need when the fuel costs go up.”

But instead of controlling prices and boosting wages and benefits, the government is attacking unemployed people. People on Universal Credit (UC) will have to look for jobs outside their chosen field after just one month under plans to push more people into low paid work.

If they don’t they will face punishing sanctions.

Ministers now want 500,000 jobseekers in work by the end of June, with a campaign targeted at those on UC. This would also lessen labour shortages in some areas that can encourage workers to demand higher wages.

Under the “Way to Work” scheme, claimants will be forced to widen their job search outside their area of work after four weeks, rather than three months. So a skilled building worker will be told they have to go for a minimum wage job rather than keep looking for better-paid ones.

The government’s spending watchdog, the National Audit Office, found no evidence that benefit sanctions work. It concluded that they were as likely to force people to stop claiming benefits without getting a job as they were to get them into employment.

The last big sanctions drive occurred between 2010 and 2016 when, at its height, 1 million people a year were sanctioned, leading to widespread poverty and hardship.

On Thursday this week, it became clear the government had blocked the publication of a report on sanctions that it had commissioned itself.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) set up its own internal research on the effectiveness of sanctions in 2019 and explicitly promised to make the findings public. Nearly three years later, as the DWP prepares to enforce a fresh wave of sanctions, it has emerged that the department buried the report and refused requests for it to be released.

It’s overwhelmingly likely that it will show that sanctions are cruel and ineffective.

Work and Pensions Secretary Therese Coffey said, “Helping people get any job now, means they can get a better job and progress into a career.”

In fact it will spread fear and lock people into poverty wages. Coffey is infamous for saying that people facing a £20 a week cut in UC would only have to work an extra two hours a week to make it up. But because of the way benefits are deducted, An extra £20 would require £50+ worth of hours.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak said Way to Work will “support employers to fill vacancies”. A fight for higher wages and against scapegoating of people on benefits is more urgent than ever.

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