The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has published its latest claimant count estimate for unemployment benefits. But look beyond the figures, and a picture is revealed of how many estimated people, currently unemployed but not subject to sanctions, will be so under Universal Credit.
The number is around 400,000 claimants, higher than a previous estimate of 300,000. And within this group may well be carers, sick and disabled people.
The DWP: moving the goalposts
The Claimant Count was previously the number of out-of-work people claiming welfare, specifically Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA). But recently, after the Office for National Statistics raised concerns about its accuracy, the DWP changed it. It became the “Alternative Claimant Count”. This was due to the introduction of Universal Credit.
Essentially, the Alternative Claimant Count includes those getting JSA plus people on Universal Credit who are required to look for work.
But what the count also includes are estimates from 2013 onward of people who, if they were on Universal Credit, the DWP would make look for work. These are claimants who under old (“legacy“) benefits would not have had to. They are called ‘additionals’ and the figure is an estimate, based on the notion of the DWP having implemented Universal Credit in full from January 2013.
And here’s the catch.
As the DWP says, these ‘additionals’ consist of:
- People who are not in work but previously claimed Housing Benefit only, not Jobseeker’s Allowance.
- People whose household previously claimed Child Tax Credit, but are not themselves earning more than the Universal Credit administrative earnings threshold; and nor do they have responsibility as the main carer for their child.
- People who are the partner of a claimant of Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) or Income Support, but who do not themselves have caring responsibilities, a disability or a limitation on their ability to work
As the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) said in a February briefing [word.doc download, p4]:
The DWP’s estimates of ‘additionals’ are inevitably speculative, and the actual number of additionals who join the claimant count in the future will depend on labour market conditions at the time as well as on benefit entitlements, administrative procedures and claimants’ own decisions. Nevertheless, the fact that only about 82,000 ‘additionals’ were actually claiming UC [Universal Credit] at November 2018, compared to a hypothesised 366,000 if UC had been fully rolled out, indicates how much further the implementation of the extended conditionality of UC still has to go.
And further to go the conditionality of Universal Credit still has.
400,000 more sanctioned people?
82,000 actual ‘additionals’ in November 2018 represented 6% of the total number of Universal Credit claimants at that time (figures via Stat-Xplore):
The DWP’s most recent estimate of ‘additionals’ yet to go onto Universal Credit was 308,000. This was published on 19 July.
But the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) forecast [xls download, table C6.2] in 2018 that 6.7 million people would eventually be on Universal Credit once the DWP has fully rolled it out.
So, based on November 2018 figures, if the trend continued, this would mean that by the end of the roll out, 402,000 people would be classed as ‘additionals’; subject to sanctions when they weren’t before.
So, why does this matter?
Forced to work
The DWP is effectively forcing people who previously did not have to look for work into the same sanctions-linked regime as those who do. And it’s who’s in this ‘additionals’ group that counts.
Take one subset of additionals, those who:
are the partner of a claimant of Employment and Support Allowance or Income Support, but who do not themselves have caring responsibilities, a disability or a limitation on their ability to work.
DWP figures show as of May 2019 there were just over 14,000 people like this. What it doesn’t say is why these people aren’t working while their partner claims ESA or IS.
Hitting unpaid carers?
To get Carer’s Allowance, you have to be caring for someone who gets Personal Independence Payment (PIP). As I’ve documented for The Canary, the DWP is making it increasingly difficult to get PIP. Between April 2013 and April 2018 the DWP denied around 381,000 people PIP; people who used to get its predecessor Disability Living Allowance (DLA). These people would still be able to get ESA.
So it begs the question: how many partners of these people, previously entitled to DLA, are still caring for them, even though the DWP refused them PIP?
The point being that to be classed as having “caring responsibilities” in the eyes of the DWP you have to get Carer’s Allowance via PIP or meet very specific criteria.
So, these 14,000 people who the DWP are going to force to look for work could well be full time carers to their partners. It’s just that because of the department’s vicious assault on PIP, they’re no longer recognised as one. Or, their caring duties are such they don’t necessarily fit the restrictive and quite frankly outdated criteria.
The same principles could apply to the two other subsets of ‘additionals’.
Hitting sick and disabled people?
The partner of someone claiming Child Tax Credits, who only can work a few hours a week due to fluctuating ill health; ill health that doesn’t fit DWP guidelines for ESA. I know one such person myself.
Or the “people who are not in work but previously claimed Housing Benefit only, this means [they] did not claim Jobseeker’s Allowance”. These could be people who the DWP has refused to give ESA but can’t apply for JSA as they would not be able to work. Essentially, people the DWP has let slip through the cracks.
I also know someone like this. They’re housebound most of the time due to complex physical and mental health issues. But the DWP refused them ESA and forced them to claim JSA. A tribunal eventually disagreed, and made the DWP put them back on ESA. If it hadn’t, they would have ended up coming off JSA due to not being able to cope with work. But then, when Universal Credit applied to them they would have been forced to look for work, or get no welfare payments at all. Not even Housing Benefit.
We are hitting peak dystopian callousness from the DWP. While the numbers mentioned above may seem small, viewed through the prism of the carnage Universal Credit is already inflicting, these figures are another damning indictment of the department and successive Tory governments. The authoritarian, nefarious drive to push as many people into whatever kind of work possible, continues unabated.