Work longer hours to avoid job centre, benefits claimants to be told

·3 min read
Therese Coffey said the Government was on course to meet a target to get 500,000 claimants into work by the end of June - Jeremy Selwyn/For The Telegraph
Therese Coffey said the Government was on course to meet a target to get 500,000 claimants into work by the end of June - Jeremy Selwyn/For The Telegraph

Benefits claimants will have to work longer hours in order to be released from regular job centre visits under a crackdown to be announced by Therese Coffey.

In an interview with The Telegraph, the Work and Pensions Secretary suggested benefits rules will initially be overhauled so that anyone working fewer than 12 hours a week will have to attend appointments at job centres and look for more work.

Dr Coffey said she wanted to increase the threshold even further in a second stage, which could see the current requirement of nine hours work per week increased by more than 50 per cent.

The overhaul is being driven by Dr Coffey and Rishi Sunak, the Chancellor, after the number of people on out-of-work benefits exceeded five million. At the same time, the number of job vacancies in the UK stands at a record 1.3 million.

Dr Coffey said the Government was on course to meet a target set in January to get 500,000 claimants into work by the end of June – a milestone hailed by Boris Johnson on Saturday.

But the Cabinet minister admitted more needed to be done to get a greater number into work. In her first newspaper interview since being appointed in 2019, she also revealed that she had claimed benefits on three occasions before becoming an MP.

Employers ‘should show more flexibility’

In addition to the Government’s plans, Dr Coffey urged employers to show more “flexibility”, including to accommodate people who adjusted their work-life balance during the Covid pandemic.

She cited the example of employers offering 10am to 2pm shifts for people who wish to take their children to and from school and also suggested more people with caring responsibilities could be encouraged to take part in “remote working”.

In some parts of the UK, more than one in five people of working age are claiming out-of-work benefits. In Blackpool, the figure is 25.5 per cent. In Middlesbrough, it is 23 per cent and in Hartlepool 22 per cent.

Dr Coffey said the plans developed with Mr Sunak would lead to an additional 120,000 in-work benefits claimants having to hold regular conversations with Jobcentre work coaches.

Those working only a little more than nine hours per week were likely to end up more than £100 per month better off, according to internal government analysis.

An opportunity to do more

Dr Coffey said: “Once you get a job, if you’re working at the moment fewer than the equivalent of nine hours a week, we still expect you to be coming in and looking for work and all the rest of it. We’re going to be raising that, I hope very soon. We just want to help people get on in work. So that’s really important.”

Earlier this month, The Telegraph revealed that the change was being considered by Dr Coffey and Mr Sunak. Dr Coffey has faced claims that even 12 hours work a week should not be enough to relieve claimants of the responsibility to find more.

She added: “We’re still working through that – I think there’s an opportunity to do more. The more people that we see in the job centre, dare I say it, the more work coaches we will need.

“So there’s a decision still to be taken. And I believe we can go further than that. But I can't do that without more people fulfilling the role of the work coach, I don't believe. I think we should just get on with the initial bit ... that would be a good stepping point.”