Citizens Advice Scotland (CAS) welcomes the opportunity to respond to the Social Security Advisory Committee's call for evidence on the Universal Credit Claimant Commitment.
As people generally seek advice when something’s gone wrong or when they are facing hardship, our evidence on the Claimant Commitment generally focuses on the problems arising from an unsuitable Claimant Commitment (e.g. stress, financial hardship, sanctions and impacts on the claimant’s physical and mental health), not necessarily the details of the Commitment itself. Therefore, CAS does not seek to suggest levels of overall suitability and effectiveness of Claimant Commitments. Instead, the evidence we offer focuses on where Claimant Commitments are unsuitable for our clients in some way, and the impacts thereof.
In order for a Claimant Commitment to be effective in supporting people into work, our evidence suggests that it must be:
- Clear, straightforward and well communicated to the claimant, so that they understand exactly what is expected in exchange for benefit
- Appropriately tailored to and an accurate reflection of the claimant’s individual circumstances, with proper consideration for potential restrictions
- Accompanied by appropriate support to comply with conditionality, such as digital support, particularly for those for whom digital job searching and claim maintenance will never be appropriate
- Part of a holistic system that supports, rather than compels, jobseekers into sustainable and meaningful employment, not just ‘any job’
- Flexible in allowing claimants to prioritise jobs which are full-time, long-term and well suited to their skills, interests and personal circumstances.
Without the above, the claimant may be faced with both unrealistic and inappropriate jobseeking requirements. This may have a range of unintended consequences, including distancing the claimant from the labour market, detrimental personal impacts on the claimant (such as on their health) and even sanctions. In some cases, it may also lead to claimants dropping out of the benefits system altogether, which could result in serious financial hardship.