In-work progression in Universal Credit Contents



47.Conditionality in welfare requires people to behave in a certain way to access benefits. Such conditions tend to be enforced by penalties known as “sanctions” that reduce, suspend or end such access.124 The DWP’s in-work progression pilot will test the extent to which conditionality and financial sanctions encourage claimants to increase their earnings.125 It is the first time that all claimants of in-work benefits below an earnings threshold will potentially be subject to sanctions. These could be imposed if a claimant fails to satisfy agreed actions such as attending an appointment, participating in a training course or applying for a job. Such actions will be set out in individual UC Claimant Commitments.126 The DWP said that failure to meet in-work requirements without good reason would result in reduced UC payments “as a last resort”.127

48.Matthew Oakley, senior researcher at the Social Market Foundation, a policy think-tank, supported extending conditionality to in-work UC claimants to encourage them to engage with support.128 Several organisations, however, cautioned that there was limited evidence of the particular effects of conditionality on in-work claimants and called for a full evaluation.129 Our predecessor Committee recommended “the Government does not proceed with in-work sanctions until robust evidence is available from the pilots to demonstrate that in-work conditionality can be effectively applied”.130 The Government partly accepted the recommendation, but said UC claimants outside the pilot will continue to be subject to the current light-touch regime until it had enough evidence from the pilot.131 We heard calls for the publication of data on sanctioning of in-work claimants.132 Pauline Crellin said sanctions were “an integral part of the trial” and said the DWP intended to publish statistics once it had “meaningful data”.133

Appropriate conditions

49.Witnesses concurred with our predecessor Committee that conditionality is most effective where claimants lack motivation or have negative attitudes towards employment.134 Barriers to pay progression for people who are already in work are more likely to relate to structural or personal circumstances, as outlined in Chapter 4.135 The DWP’s research found the majority of UC claimants working 30 hours per week were looking for ways to increase their hours (86%) and their income (77%).136 Remploy added that, for some disabled people, being in employment is a huge success and in-work conditionality should reflect this.137 Prospects Services said the DWP must therefore give “considerable thought and sensitivity” to setting conditions for claimants already demonstrating desirable behaviours and motivations by working.138

50.Some witnesses believed that in-work support should be entirely voluntary,139 while others said sanctions might only be appropriate for continual breaches of the terms of a Claimant Commitment.140 ERSA suggested limiting conditionality to “requiring individuals to engage initially with the in-work service”.141 Other witnesses drew attention to potential inconsistencies between sanctions and claimants’ ability to work. Business in the Community (BITC), a business charity, commented that a sanction could limit a claimant’s ability to travel to work.142 The University of York said claimants might miss Jobcentre appointments because of work commitments.143 The Association of Employment and Learning Providers (AELP), a national trade association for skills and employment providers, said applying financial sanctions in a scheme designed to increase an individual’s income was “pointless”.144

51.A number of witnesses suggested in-work conditionality must also reflect the local availability of work. Some sectors are characterised by unpredictable hours or limited part-time work.145 Pauline Crellin confirmed that Work Coaches should consider shift patterns and the availability of additional hours in setting reasonable in-work conditions.146

52.We heard varied calls for conditionality to account for personal circumstances. Individuals eligible to participate in the pilot with disabilities, health conditions or caring responsibilities147 may be unable to increase work commitments.148 Barnardo’s were among those who argued that individuals who had recently moved into work should be given time to establish themselves into their new role before being required to find more work.149 Other witnesses recommended taking into account training and study commitments in setting in-work conditionality.150

53.Work Coaches are required to consider the individual circumstances of claimants involved in the pilot, including caring responsibilities, mental and physical health, travel to work, and skills and motivation in agreeing a Claimant Commitment.151 The Minister told us that as in-work conditionality “is much more focused on the individual” than for out of work claimants, inappropriate conditions and financial sanctions would not be imposed.152

54.We heard concerns, however, that the discretion afforded to Work Coaches, people with a “work-first approach”, in applying in-work conditionality could cause problems.153 Disability charities were concerned that Work Coaches would not be equipped to appraise fairly the work capabilities of people with progressive health conditions.154 While existing DWP guidance mentioned “identifying and addressing barriers to progression”,155 it lacked detail on how this would operate in practice.156 Witnesses told us comprehensive guidance could promote consistency in the application of in-work conditionality and better distinguish it from requirements of out-of-work claimants.157 This guidance might include case studies highlighting what may or may not be reasonable to expect of different types of claimants.158

Involving employers

55.The DWP told us that pilot participants are encouraged to discuss opportunities for more or better-paid work with their current employer.159 Faye Goldman, Campaign Manager for work inclusion at BITC, expressed concern that employees may not be comfortable discussing in-work conditionality with their employer.160 Similarly, line managers may not be equipped to discuss benefit claims with employees, especially if they received limited information from Work Coaches.161

56.Some witnesses advocated involving employers in the formulation of Claimant Commitments.162 Mind, a mental health charity, stressed the importance of ensuring that:

employers understand the pressure being placed on claimants to increase working hours and allow for progression. It will be extremely detrimental to someone’s mental health if they are being pushed to work more hours, but their employer is unable or unwilling to allow this.163

Involving employers could also enable the Work Coach to assess the feasibility of an in-work claimant earning more at their current workplace. Ross James told us, however, that Work Coaches would not update the Claimant Commitment with input from the claimant’s employer.164


57.The case for in-work conditionality backed up by financial sanctions is so far untested. Employed people self-evidently do not lack the motivation to work, and there is strong evidence that their barriers to earning more tend to be structural or due to personal circumstances, rather than motivational. The claimant’s opportunities for progression are also dependent on the needs of the employer. Conditionality is less likely to be effective in these circumstances. Requiring an individual to pay a financial penalty can, in some cases, work against the aim to increase their earnings.

58.We would expect the use of financial sanctions for in-work claimants to be low in comparison to out-of-work claimants. It is a very different kind of welfare. We welcome both the Department’s commitment to follow the evidence on the efficacy of sanctions for in-work claimants and its intention to publish sanctions data. We recommend the Department publish the number and rate of in-work sanctions, by claimant characteristics and JCP district, on a quarterly basis from autumn 2016.

59.We recommend the DWP publish more comprehensive guidance for Work Coaches on applying in-work conditionality. This guidance should incorporate how to account for individual circumstances relating to skills, confidence, health, caring responsibilities, access to both care and transport, and the availability of additional local work, in setting in-work conditions. We further recommend the guidance sets out circumstances when it would be appropriate and constructive to take into account input from an employer in establishing the reasonable conditions of a Claimant Commitment.

124 Watts, B., et al., Welfare sanctions and conditionality in the UK, Joseph Rowntree Foundation, September 2014

125 DWP (IWP0034)

126 DWP (IWP0034)

128 Oakley, M., Employment support for a high-wage economy. Joseph Rowntree Foundation, November 2015; and Garaud, P. & Oakley M., Slow progress: improving progression in the UK labour market, Policy Exchange, March 2013

129 See, for example: Q13 (Tony Wilson), Oakley, M., Employment support for a high-wage economy. Joseph Rowntree Foundation, November 2015, Community Links (IWP0036), Employment Related Services Association (IWP0032), University of York (IWP0029), Remploy (IWP0024), University of Glasgow, Social and Public Health Sciences Unit (IWP0021), Disability Benefits Consortium (IWP0017), Crisis (IWP0015), Citizens Advice Scotland (IWP0012), and Parkinson’s UK (IWP0003)

130 Work and Pensions Committee, Benefit sanctions policy beyond the Oakley Review, Session 2014–15, HC 814, 24 March 2015, para 56

132 See, for example, Child Poverty Action Group (IWP0023), and University of York (IWP0029)

133 Q150 (Pauline Crellin)

134 Work and Pensions Committee, Benefit sanctions policy beyond the Oakley Review, Session 2014–15, HC 814, 24 March 2015, para 59; OECD, Activating jobseekers: Lessons from seven OECD countries, in OECD Employment Outlook 2013; Association of Employment and Learning Providers (IWP0033), Employment Related Services Association (IWP0032), Learning and Work Institute (IWP0031), Community Links (IWP0036), Child Poverty Action Group (IWP0023), Gingerbread (IWP0026), and Remploy (IWP0024)

135 See, for example, Employment Related Services Association (IWP0032), Community Links (IWP0036), University of York (IWP0029), Working Families (IWP0040), Child Poverty Action Group (IWP0023), and Boycott Workfare (IWP0020)

137 Remploy (IWP0024). Claimants who are unable to work or earn more due to caring responsibilities or because of health conditions or disabilities are not required to participate in the DWP’s pilot

138 Prospects Services (IWP0030)

139 See, for example, Association of Employment and Learning Providers (IWP0033), Remploy (IWP0024), Child Poverty Action Group (IWP0023), Gingerbread (IWP0026), and Working Families (IWP0040)

140 See, for example, Centrepoint (IWP0005) and Mark Cosens MA MIEP (IWP0004)

141 Employment Related Services Association (IWP0032)

142 Business in the Community (IWP0013). See also: Citizens Advice Scotland (IWP0012)

143 University of York (IWP0029)

144 Association of Employment and Learning Providers (IWP0033)

145 See, for example, Q40 (Emma Stewart), Q52 (David Coutts), Business in the Community (IWP0013), Working Families (IWP0040), Employment Related Services Association (IWP0032), Prospects Services (IWP0030), Community Links (IWP0036), Citizens Advice Scotland (IWP0012), Barnardo’s (IWP0037), Oxfam GB (IWP0016), Gingerbread (IWP0026), Child Poverty Action Group (IWP0023), Crisis (IWP0015), Centrepoint (IWP0005), and University of York (IWP0029)

146 Qq 146-149 (Pauline Crellin)

147 On eligibility, see ref. 41

148 See, for example, Employment Related Services Association (IWP0032), Association of Employment and Learning Providers (IWP0033), Learning and Work Institute (IWP0031), Parkinson’s UK (IWP0003), MS Society (IWP0019), Inclusion London (IWP0011), Mind (IWP0028), Disability Benefits Consortium (IWP0017), Barnardo’s (IWP0037), Child Poverty Action Group (IWP0023), Gingerbread (IWP0026), Working Families (IWP0040), Remploy (IWP0024), Citizens Advice Scotland (IWP0012), Wheatley Group (IWP0008), and Crisis (IWP0015)

149 Barnardo’s (IWP0037). See also: Employment Related Services Association (IWP0032)

150 See, for example, Child Poverty Action Group (IWP0023), Gingerbread (IWP0026), Barnardo’s (IWP0037), and Centrepoint (IWP0005)

152 Qq 151-152, Q156 (Priti Patel)

153 Barnardo’s (IWP0037)

154 See, for example, Parkinson’s UK (IWP0003), MS Society (IWP0019), Mind (IWP0028), Inclusion London (IWP0011), and Disability Benefits Consortium (IWP0017)

156 See, for example, Inclusion London (IWP0011), Parkinson’s UK (IWP0003), and MS Society (IWP0019)

157 See, for example, Q10 (Emma Stewart), Learning and Work Institute (IWP0031), MS Society (IWP0019), Parkinson’s UK (IWP0003), Disability Benefits Consortium (IWP0017), Barnardo’s (IWP0037), and Child Poverty Action Group (IWP0023)

158 Barnardo’s (IWP0037)

159 DWP (IWP0034)

160 Q80 (Faye Goldman)

161 Q81 (Faye Goldman)

162 See, for example, Employment Related Services Association (IWP0032)

163 Mind (IWP0028)

164 Q155 (Ross James)

© Parliamentary copyright 2015

Prepared 06 May 2016