· 3 min read · News

New Way to Work government policy unfit and unethical, experts warn

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The Department for Work and Pensions' (DWP) new jobs programme Way to Work has faced media backlash for its methods and many in the sector fear it will be counterproductive in the long term.

Launched yesterday (27 January) the scheme aims to get 500,000 unemployed people back into work by the end of June, as part of the post-pandemic recovery effort.

The government plans to meet this target by pushing work-ready Universal Credit claimants through the system more rapidly.

Instead of searching in their preferred sectors for three months before being encouraged to seek others, under the new guidance, claimants will have to search for work outside of their area of expertise after just four weeks or suffer sanctions. 


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Work and pensions secretary Thérèse Coffey said: “Helping people get any job now, means they can get a better job and progress into a career.

“Our new approach will help claimants get quickly back into the world of work while helping ensure employers get the people they and the economy needs.”

Julie-Ann Keeble, head of HR at consultancy LHH, told HR magazine that while it is good to encourage people to try new things, such a method may result in employers being burdened with employees who aren’t particularly keen for the role.

She said: “My concern would be whether employers will invest the right resources in employees that have been forced to take a role that doesn’t interest them or suit their personal circumstances – for example, if they have to travel a significant distance to work at their own cost. 

“All employers want motivated and engaged employees but for some, it may feel like a risk to invest in someone who could potentially move on quickly.”

Part of the programme will involve jobseekers being given more time with career coaches, a move Neil Carberry, chief executive of the Recruitment & Employment Confederation (REC) praised.

He said: “Universal Credit claimants will certainly benefit from increased time with work coaches. 

“But pushing someone into any vacant role, without taking into account their skills or experience, is counterproductive both for the candidate and the business. 

“Solving the current shortages will require a deep understanding of the issues in the labour market and a long-term strategy that joins up skills, industrial and economic policy to help people transition into jobs that best match their potential.”

Some charities have raised worries about the threat of sanctions being imposed on those who would prefer to work in an area they are experienced in.

Katie Schmuecker, deputy director of policy and partnerships at the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, said: “Good jobs should offer a reliable route out of poverty, but today’s announcement won’t help to deliver that, and completely misses the point.”

She added that the policy will only apply to around 130,000 people – roughly one in 20 of those without work and on Universal Credit – far from the government’s target of 500,000 by the end of June.

There are currently around a million and a quarter job vacancies in the UK, a record high. Unemployment, however, is at one of its lowest ebbs since records began, at just 4.1%, meaning that companies are struggling to fill roles.

While there may be many vacancies in the market at the moment, Schmuecker said, they may not match up with jobseekers’ location, skill level or flexibility requirements, and the threat of sanctions, she added, is no way to change that.

She added: “If the government is serious about tackling poverty then it also needs to take urgent action on the rising cost of living, which has a disproportionate impact on low income families both in and out of work.”

While the policy claims that people in work are on average £6,000 better off each year than those without work, Schmuecker’s fear is that people reluctant to work outside of their area of expertise will be unduly punished.

“The threat of sanctions comes at a time when the cost of living is soaring,” she added.

 

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