The government has launched a Way to Work campaign focusing on getting job-ready people off Universal Credit and into jobs.
The premise of the scheme is that with 1.2 million vacancies to fill, demand for workers has exceeded pre-pandemic levels and that those on Universal Credit could provide an instant labour pool for employers along with existing schemes such as Kickstart.
Ministers at the Department for Work and Pensions say they will work with a wide range of employers to “cement positive relationships” and show them the “good quality of candidates coming through jobcentres”. They want 500,000 jobseekers in work by the end of June.
“Booming” sectors like construction, haulage and logistics, and social care will be targeted, and hundreds of job fairs launched. Ministers claimed major employers including Balfour Beatty, Whitbread Group, TalkTalk, Bourne Leisure, Ocado and Kier were already “throwing their weight” behind the campaign.
As part of the plan, people on Universal Credit will have to look outside their sectors after just four weeks, rather than three months for work. If they fail to make “reasonable efforts” to get a job, or turn down employment, they could see their benefit payment reduced.
Work and pensions secretary Thérèse Coffey said: “Way to Work is a step change in our offer to claimants and employers, making sure our jobcentre network and excellent work coaches can deliver opportunities, jobs and prosperity to all areas of the country.”
The British Chambers of Commerce welcomed the changes as companies, it said, were “crying out for people to join their teams”.
But the Resolution Foundation think-tank was sceptical with senior economist Hannah Slaughter saying that the scheme was targeted wrongly. She said: “But those claiming Universal Credit are already flowing off the benefit and into work quickly. This package is therefore poorly targeted at the actual problem our labour market now faces – which is people not looking for work at all.”
Alison McGovern, Labour’s shadow employment minister, said Way to Work was “just tinkering at the edges – long-term unemployment is 60% higher than before the pandemic.
“People should be supported into good jobs that match their skills, which would give them a better chance to secure work long-term.”
The Liberal Democrats called it a “callous move” at time of rising food and energy costs, adding that the government was “attempting to force people into accepting any job going”. Wendy Chamberlain, Lib Dem work and pensions spokesperson, said: “It could see skilled workers forced to accept insecure, short-term employment for fear of having the rug pulled out from under them, and create a cycle of unemployment.”
Quoted on the government’s website, businesses expressed enthusiasm for the campaign. Lisa Taylor, head of resourcing, Whitbread said: “Many of those who have joined us from the jobcentres during our time working closely together have gone on to build a successful career with us or maintain long term employment. At Whitbread, we passionately believe that by working together with Jobcentre Plus we can make a real difference to the lives of jobseekers in this country through our no barriers to entry and no limits to ambition approach, as well as being a force for good in our local communities.”
Cat Pardoe, recruitment business partner, Kier Group, said: “As jobcentres know their local markets well, the quality of candidates has been good; one jobcentre we work with has run events to drive interest in some of our opportunities, which has been hugely beneficial in promoting our roles to a new audience.
“We’ve successfully offered a number of Kickstart placement employees permanent and apprenticeship opportunities at Kier, from construction management assistant, to HR administrators and information security analysts.”