The UK government has said that unemployed people will be expected to look for any sort of work, within weeks of first claiming Universal Credit, if they are unable to find a job in their previous occupation.
In an effort to move half a million people into employment by the end of June, the government said it would shorten the amount of time Universal Credit recipients have to look for a job in their own sector, from three months to three weeks.
The government’s Way to Work policy will mean that claimants will have to start looking for any sort of work, in any sector or industry, even if they have no experience, from the fourth week of their claim.
The Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) warned that claimants who do not cooperate will face sanctions.
The new measures come as the number of job vacancies hit record highs of 1.2m, a figure 59 per cent higher than pre-pandemic levels, according to the latest ONS figures.
The new policy was welcomed by the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC), which called for new efforts to be made to upskill the British workforce.
“Our research shows that four out of five firms are struggling to find staff to fill jobs across a wide range of sectors and skill levels,” Jane Gratton, Head of People Policy at the BCC said.
“The world of work is changing rapidly, and everyone needs to be prepared to retrain, update their skills and move to new sectors as jobs evolve.
“But job seekers must have access to careers advice, and support with rapid training and reskilling, to be well prepared for the employment opportunities available in their local area.”
By contrast, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation criticised the government’s Way to Work policy in claiming it misses the point “misses the point.”
The charity noted that the Way to Work policy will only apply to around 130,000 people, meaning the government will not be able to fill the 500,000 positions it aims to fill by June.
Katie Schmuecker, Deputy Director of Policy and Partnerships for the independent Joseph Rowntree Foundation said: “While overall there may be job vacancies available, this doesn’t mean that they will then match up with someone’s location, skill level or flexibility requirements, and the threat of sanctions is no way to change that.”
The Resolution Foundation, said the policy would not address the issues of long-term unemployment and low labour force participation.
Hannah Slaughter, Senior Economist at the Resolution Foundation said: “One of the big economic challenges for post-pandemic Britain is to tackle the half a million increase in people entirely outside of the workforce – particularly older workers and younger men.
“But those claiming Universal Credit are already flowing off the benefit and into work quickly. This package is therefore poorly targeted at the actual problem our labour market now faces – which is people not looking for work at all.”