Work Programme (Wales)

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 4:07 pm on 1st May 2014.

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Photo of Geraint Davies Geraint Davies Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (Substitute Member) 4:07 pm, 1st May 2014

The Work programme in Wales does not, as has been mentioned, do as well as elsewhere, but my primary point is that it is costing between £3 billion and £5 billion and that there is a programme that works six times as well—Jobs Growth Wales. According to the latest updated report, the Work programme’s success rate has moved from 11% to 15%. At the 11% point, Jobs Growth Wales is getting 40% of people into permanent jobs, 19% into apprenticeships and 3% into other education, which is a 62% success rate. Will the Minister say why, even if it costs more—if not six times more—we do not adopt it if it works, instead of being prejudiced?

I want to ask about sanctions. In Swansea, 65% of people on jobseeker’s allowance have been sanctioned and their jobseeker’s money taken away for four weeks, 13 weeks or 15 weeks because they failed to turn up to some sort of work programme appointment—often because the letter arrived after the appointment. In other words, there was an administrative error. Bearing in mind that someone on jobseeker’s allowance is on just £71.80 a week, they have £10 a day to live on.

If they do not get to an appointment they did not know about, they lose all their money for four weeks and as they can go to the food bank only three times, they are thrust into the hands of loan sharks. People’s desperation is appalling.

What is also happening—I do not want to mix up things—is that extremely vulnerable people are going to Atos. A person called Michael Rainey met me recently; he has a condition called pericarditis, which is the lining of the heart expanding and contracting due to anxiety, and he also has rheumatoid arthritis. He went to Atos and got zero points for his chronic conditions, and because he was forced into work, he was rushed into hospital and nearly died. He has since been sanctioned, so he has no money either.

We have a situation in which people on sanctions are not counted in the job figures, so suddenly they are not unemployed any more. We are also saving money because we are taking away their meagre benefits. Rather than messing around with statistics and claiming that something like half a million people on zero-hours contracts really do have jobs, we should ensure that if, for example, Jobs Growth Wales works, it applies more broadly across Britain and gives people the jobs they need. People want to work, but they are being starved into desperation by this strange system of sanctions and by being made to turn up to jobs that do not really exist.

Finally, I have been involved in this issue, so I know that the number of people going to counsellors and psychotherapists, often because of anxiety due to austerity and these draconian measures, has gone up from about 300,000 in 2010 to 1 million people a year. People are having mental health problems and going for advice—again, that is a knock-on cost to the health service. We really want to deliver proper jobs and proper work schemes. There is best practice at hand, in particular in Wales, and we should notice and take a lead from that.