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With the the ongoing Cornonavirus outbreak only looking to get worse, thousands of welfare claimants have been looking to the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) for clarity. Universal Credit claimants are worried about what will happen if they are forced to self isolate. The Prime Minister had previously said that benefit claimants won’t be punished should they be affected, now the Work and Pensions Secretary DWP Boss Thérèse Coffey has clarified what that actually means.
Millions of people claiming Universal Credit are required to attend the Jobcentre to see their Work Coach. Any failure to attend without what the DWP deem a valid reason, risks the claimant being sanctioned, thus cutting their monthly payment. Previous sanctions have been applied to claimants in hospital, or those attending a loved ones funeral.
Yesterday, the government website released a statement that Work and Pensions Secretary Thérèse Coffey had given in parliament. At best, it comes across as passive aggressive, at worst, well you can decide for yourself.
“The department is fully prepared for all eventualities and has conducted extensive planning against reasonable worst case scenarios. I have been in discussions with the chancellor and will continue to work across government to prepare.”
Next comes the barely veiled threat of sanctioning;
“If claimants cannot attend their jobcentre appointment in person because of self-isolation, work coaches can exercise discretion, so claimants should engage with them and they will not be sanctioned – as long they let us know before the appointment.”
The DWP boss then goes on to give the most unhelpful and patronising advice to workers who are self employed or on zero hours contracts;
“And as my Rt Hon Friend the Prime Minister set out last week ‘nobody should be penalised for doing the right thing’.”
“That’s why the government’s safety net also extends to those who are self-employed or who work in the gig-economy. They can apply for Universal Credit or new-style ESA. Advances are available for Universal Credit immediately.”
“Madame Deputy Speaker, these are exceptional circumstances and we will support workers to do the right thing for their health and the protection of public health.”
Coffey’s statement shows that the government have no clear plan of action for when more severe restrictions become active. The fact she says Work coaches can use their discretion, is insulting.
Furthermore, to advise self employed and zero hours staff to claim Universal Credit, is beyond ludicrous. To claim the benefit, you are required to attend the Jobcentre at least twice before your claim is active. Then you have five-weeks to wait for your first payment. You can of course get an advance, however you’ll need to attend the jobcentre to do so.
All in all the government have shown they have no understanding of the real world, the real struggles people have and that there’s no plan on how they are going to help some of the most vulnerable.