Katy Jones and Lisa Scullion give some early findings from this exciting new project
The Welfare Conditionality project has demonstrated the varied experiences of different groups in an increasingly conditional welfare system. In this blogpost we share some interim findings from a new, linked project: Sanctions, Support and Service Leavers, in which we explore the experiences of former Service personnel in receipt of Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA), Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) and Universal Credit (UC), as they attempt to navigate the transition from military to civilian life.
The study involves longitudinal interviews with 68 Veterans living mainly in the England’s North West, North East and London. Based on baseline interviews conducted in 2017, our new report details some of the emerging findings. These findings are wide ranging, raising issues from poorly administered Work Capability Assessments (WCAs) and a frequent disregard of common health issues experienced by the veterans in our sample, to views on the ‘fairness’ of behavioural conditions for those who have served in the Armed Forces. In this post we focus on the appropriateness of support offered to former Service personnel who are seeking work.
Inappropriate employment-related support
The wider Welfare Conditionality project has highlighted ways in which employment-related support is often not matched well to the needs of welfare service users. And in many respects, these experiences were shared by the Veterans in our study. Significantly for this group though, several felt that the training obtained and qualifications gained whilst serving in the Forces had not been recognised by their Work Coaches. As one veteran explained:
The first day I went in to see about signing on, I says, ‘Right, I’ve just come out of the Army, I want to work, what can you do for us?’ ‘Fill this in’. I was like, ‘Oh right, aye, I’ve got this, I’ve got this, I’ve got this’. ‘Well, you can’t use that.’ My driving, my HGV driving, ‘You can’t use that’… Apparently I had no experience… I’ve transported ammunition across war zones and now I haven’t got experience [for] transporting chicken! (UC claimant)
Many described how a ‘work first’ approach, with an emphasis on taking ‘any job’ gave no consideration to their previous work experience, preferences or skill set:
They [Jobcentre Plus] just said I couldn’t choose, I couldn’t turn down jobs, so I’d have to go with anything that was offered, if I did turn down jobs I’d get sanctions… it’s not as easy as that. I’ve got to do certain types [of work], security jobs are perfect for me because it suits my skill set from the Army… But you put me in a factory and I’m no good… [I’m] going to end up back on the dole in three months’ time, if not earlier. (UC claimant)
Other respondents indicated that they spent time complying with the conditions attached to continued receipt of their benefits (for example, using Universal JobMatch to complete and document their job search), even though they believed there were more appropriate routes into work for people with their backgrounds:
Every day logging on to Universal Jobmatch, which to me isn’t appropriate for me because there’s a lot of recruitment companies out there that do ex-Forces, which is better for me. So Universal Jobmatch is a bit of a pain in the backside, because sometimes you log on to apply for a job just so it covers you to show them in the Jobcentre you’ve been looking for work… You have to log on to Universal Jobmatch even though it’s no good to you. (JSA claimant)
Appropriate support – a postcode lottery?
There were some examples of advisers/Work Coaches understanding the issues facing those who have left the Armed Forces. Some interviewees, for example, had been signposted to Armed Forces charities or specialists based in the Jobcentre. However, there appeared to be significant variations in the support offered. In the more positive cases, the Jobcentre had been located in an area where a large number of veterans were accommodated or where there was a Garrison. Staff working in these locations were perhaps more familiar with the issues faced by Service Leavers:
She [Work Coach] [is] actually very sympathetic to military causes and stuff, and she gets a lot of the guys with PTSD, and I think that’s a step forward. That’s what I think a lot of the Jobcentres should do… Once she started getting people from the Army hostel, she actually gives – as I say, she empathises. She’ll go the extra mile to explain stuff. (UC claimant)
This variability is perhaps at odds with the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) commitment to the Armed Forces Covenant.
The research team will be following up with the participants later this year, and a final report will be published in 2019. To find out more about the project, contact Lisa Scullion at L.Scullion@salford.ac.uk