Impossible demands of JSA system ‘making women poorer’

The job-seeking benefit system is making some groups of vulnerable women even more likely to experience poverty, ill-health, exploitation and abuse, an independent inquiry has found.

Where’s the Benefit? An Inquiry into Women and Jobseeker’s Allowance found that aspects of the Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) system is putting some women and their families at risk. Lone parents, women who suffer violence at home and women who have difficulties with English are being particularly hard hit, says the Inquiry.

It was chaired by Amanda Ariss, Chief Executive of the Equality and Diversity Forum, and co-ordinated by the Fawcett Society. It found evidence of failings in both the design and the implementation of the JSA system. For example, it says that although special arrangements should be made to protect claimants who are experiencing violence from a partner, claimants are not routinely told that this is possible. Lone parents, 92% of whom are women, are often expected to look for full-time work involving three hours travel every day even when this makes it impossible for them to also look after their children, says the Inquiry. If they do not meet the conditions, they could face sanctions, often repeatedly, it says.

Amanda Ariss said: “It is deeply worrying that a benefit that exists to support us all if we find ourselves out of work is putting vulnerable groups of women and their children at risk of unnecessary financial hardship, mental and physical ill-health and, in extreme cases, exploitation and abuse. This makes no sense.

“These women are not being provided with the support they need to move into work, which would benefit the women themselves, their families and the wider economy. Instead they are forced to meet conditions that are sometimes close to impossible, with the constant threat of sanctions should they slip up.

“It doesn’t have to be this way. With some modest changes to the design and implementation of JSA we could have a system that supports women to move into quality, sustainable work.”

Fawcett Chair Belinda Phipps said: “The system of benefits for job seekers appears on the surface to be the same: women and men are eligible for the same benefits on the same terms.  But the reality is very different.

“More than 9 in 10 lone parents are women (92%) ; women  are far more likely than men to experience domestic violence and more than 6 in 10 (62%) of workers paid below the living wage are women.

“Women, particularly mothers are more likely to be affected by financial hardship in the home because they act as ‘shock absorbers’, shielding their children and families from the impact of financial hardship.  Every day women in the UK are going hungry so that their children can get fed.

“All of this affects their ability to seek work and to engage with a system that discriminates against them.  That leads to them losing their benefits.”

The Inquiry makes 12 recommendations including that:

– The conditions demanded of claimants should take sensible and appropriate account of the impact of caring responsibilities, language barriers and the impact of domestic and sexual violence.

– Claimants should be told about policies in place to take account of the specific needs of lone parents and of people experiencing domestic or sexual violence.

– All claimants should receive a thorough diagnostic interview after three months of claiming JSA to ensure they are receiving the support they need to move into sustainable, quality employment and are not being required to take up activities that do not contribute to their job search.





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