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Amended Universal Credit and Jobseeker’s Allowance legislation is ill-considered and may not fully achieve its policy objective – Lords Committee concludes

22 March 2022

In its weekly report, the House of Lords Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee has raised concerns about the Universal Credit and Jobseeker’s Allowance (Work Search and Work Availability Requirements - limitations) (Amendment) Regulations 2022.

This statutory instrument reduces from three months to four weeks the period during which claimants are permitted to limit their job search to the same occupation and level of remuneration as their previous work. All other conditions for the receipt of benefits and imposition of sanctions remain as now – they simply apply at an earlier stage.

Although the policy objective of matching jobseekers to job vacancies as quickly as possible is clear and important, the Committee was not satisfied that these Regulations qualified as emergency legislation or that the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) had a feasible plan for achieving its stated target of getting 500,000 people into work by the end of June.

An evidence session, on 8 March, with Baroness Stedman-Scott, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at DWP did not allay the Committee’s initial concerns.

“Extensive additional evidence still left us with the view that the target is aspirational, its delivery not yet fully thought through, and the Department’s ability to say whether its target has been achieved somewhat uncertain.”

The report highlights issues including;

  • Unjustified use of emergency legislation: The Regulations were brought into force immediately, but DWP was unable to point to any adverse effect that would have resulted from these Regulations conforming to the normal legislative procedure.
  • Incomplete information: The Explanatory Memorandum provided with the Regulations made no mention of the wider programme of interventions, the Way to Work campaign and the reader was left with the impression that this statutory instrument alone would be expected to achieve the target, raising concerns about how frequently sanctions would be applied.
  • Arbitrary nature of target with no clear means of measuring success: The DWP appeared unable to state how progress towards the 500,000 people into work by 30 June target would be measured. No baseline figure was provided. It was not even clear about whether an individual taking a part-time job would count as one unit or a fraction of a full-time equivalent.

In conclusion, the Committee has drawn these Regulations to the special attention of the House on the grounds of inadequate explanatory material and also that they may imperfectly achieve their policy objective.

Commenting, Lord Rowlands, Member of the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee said:

“These Regulations provide another example of concerns raised in our recent report, Government by Diktat, about the poor quality of legislation and supporting materials.

“Regrettably, the Minister’s evidence did not convince us that some of the serious concerns we raised in our 33rd Report were not justifiable. We remain unconvinced that emergency legislation was necessary which, as a consequence, curtailed proper parliamentary scrutiny of a measure that affects the rights of hundreds of thousands of claimants. We also remain concerned that the implementation of the plan did not take into account the regional differences in job vacancies.

“Given the 30 June target date, we question why the Government did not include in the legislation a sunset provision to revert to the original three month permitted period from 1 July. We also suggest that the House may wish to seek a commitment from the Government that they should report to Parliament on the outcome of its campaign to deliver the target of 500,000 people into work by 30 June, including a regional breakdown of the job outcomes.

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