On the Dole Again

So I may have mentioned a couple of weeks back that I’m on the dole again. Furthermore, I’m on the much-heralded Universal Credit system, Iain Duncan-Smith’s brainchild that has been at the centre of controversy for early technical difficulties and IT botches. In fact, if you were at a bad Jobcentre, being on benefits could be hellish under the coalition. I got lucky last time, insofar as the manager there wasn’t one of the ones hell-bent on a sanction regime.

The thing is, of course, (and this point may have been lost while social media commentators were busy bashing the Tories for anything rather than making actual analyses) this sanctions nonsense was happening to people on Job Seekers’ Allowance, not the UC pilot cases. Which leads me to present an alternative conspiracy theory, because although I may have been a card-carrying Conservative on and off, I’m still very much a cynic.

Universal Credit is meant to be flexible. If you’ve got a job, you still get money up to a point. The housing side is paid with the rest of your allowance, so you don’t run into the situation where doing 16 hours of work in a week cuts off your JSA and sweeps your housing benefit out from under your feet with it. You also continue to be on the system for 6 months after you get a job that dries your Universal Credit up, so that if it’s temporary you don’t end up with a lag when you finish because a rapid reclaim (as they used to have with JSA) still takes time. And UC is tracked with your PAYE taxes while you’re working in that six month period, reducing paperwork. Furthermore, the system is amenable to moving appointments to sign on. I never had a bad experience of JSA, but Universal Credit feels like a relief.

So what’s my conspiracy theory? Well, nobody likes change. People get up in arms about upheaval, however well-meaning. Universal Credit does seem to hit the 2010 manifesto pledge of removing the situation where one can’t take a job because one would be worse off in work. So if it’s the Department of Work and Pensions’ aim to beat job seekers with sticks, why is UC so cuddly? Actually, I think the draconian JSA regime as UC was being rolled out wasn’t just the Tories trying to reduce the benefits bill (although I’m sure that aspect pleased George Osborne no end). I’m willing to bet that the real reason was to make damn sure that everyone claiming Universal Credit was as relived as I am to be on the new system, thus avoiding horror-story publicity for the scheme from the likes of the Mirror.

Seeing the system from the inside, it does make me wonder, therefore, whether Duncan-Smith was Captain Hook all along, or whether he was a well-meaning Mr. Smee, made to do the Chancellor’s dirty work as he claimed.

(The answer, as always, is probably somewhere in the middle.)

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~ by Scary Rob on 7 November, 2016.

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