Benefits, back-to-work and the unemployed: what Lib Dem members think

Lib Dem Voice polled our members-only forum recently to discover what Lib Dem members think of various political issues, the Coalition, and the performance of key party figures. Some 650 party members have responded, and we’re publishing the full results.

70% say: withdraw unemployment benefits IF job offers refused without ‘good reason’

In principle, do you support or oppose withdrawing benefits from unemployed people who refuse offers of work without good reason?

    70% – Support

    21% – Oppose

    9% – Don’t know

The overwhelming view — held by 7-in-10 of those Lib Dems who responded — was that in principle withdrawing benefits to those who refuse offers of work without good reason was reasonable. However, that support was heavily caveatted by many in their comments:

It’s more complex than that. Impact on children of targeted families who are innocent of wrongdoing themselves? Impact on crime, if people turn to that to replace benefit income (more expensive to keep someone in prison than on benefits)? Where’s the research on these and other related matters? Necessary before making an informed decision.

What is the offer? That is the key question. If the offer is an offer of work that is not menial work for no money as has been the case for some people then I could well support the withdrawal of benefits. If the benefit recipient is a single mum of a young child then I would definitely not support withdrawal of benefits.

If people are able to, they should be encouraged to do voluntary/community work or some other vocational/practical/educational activity and not be penalised for this. The idea of “shirkers” is objectionable. People should be given encouragement, support and motivational opportunities where possible to meet needs and aspirations…..

where the heck are the unemployed supposed to get money to help with bills etc. Slavery has ended and yet we are bringing it back in.

ATOS says I’m fit to work despite the fact that I can’t walk well and have a lot of pain. So I have to apply for a lot of jobs I wouldn’t pass the medical for in a million years. What’s the point?

For those that genuinely refuse to work, but there’s a fine line. I don’t believe that the majority of those unemployed fall into this group.

I think a better way would be to end the high marginal loss-of-benefit rates, to encourage work. For all our shouting about cutting taxes for the low paid, it is your net spending power which matters, not just tax allowances. The rich would never work for the sort of marginal increments they expect the poor to be grateful for.

I don’t know what “without good reason” means. Probably different things to different people. I realise that it is not a good idea to give people money when they have no intention of doing anything to merit getting it, but on the other hand, I don’t want to go back to the days of the workhouse.

The problem always is: who/what determines locally what are good reasons in an individual’s case.

it is how “good reason” is being interpreted – very badly and too harsh. I see a lot of bad decisions leading to unnecessary hardship

A nice, loaded question that the Daily Express would be proud of. Define “without good reason”; what are reasonable offers of work? Phone sex lines? Abattoirs for veggies??

It is difficult to set a blank as people circumstances are different, also they may lose money by taking the job, or be impractical due to transport and care expenses. If you have young children you need to produce a salary before you can work and keep any money.

Its really time to change the ethos of benefits, from the stick to the carrot. Claimants should receive a guaranteed minimum dole which can be topped up according to their engagement with the jobhunting task. Isnt this the kind of incentive which we are told works in employment?

Depends on what offers of work – personally I have had 0 & neither have my over-50 friends! But if they want us to clean loos for tuppence – is this a benefit to the country of 3 degrees each and 35 years of professional experience?

Within reason. There’s no one size fits all solution. In some cases, withdrawing benefits just leads to homelessness and therefore a much bigger call on the UK taxpayer.

‘Compulsory’ unpaid work experience: Lib Dem members split

Do you think the government should or should not be able to require unemployed people to do unpaid work experience or risk losing benefit?

    45% – Should

    46% – Should not

    9% – Don’t know

Last month the Court of Appeal ruled that the department for work and pensions’ back-to-work programmes were legally flawed; but accepted the principle that qualification for benefits depended on claimants’ ‘cooperation’ with such schemes. Lib Dem members in our survey were almost equally divided on the issue: 296 voted against the principle, 294 voted in favour. Here’s a sample of your comments:

I am not averse to people being encouraged to devote some of their time to voluntary work but it should be voluntary work for voluntary bodies, not profit making ones.

In very limited cases eg youth unemployed with no work experience

With the caveat that compulsion doesn’t work. Beware the danger of “free” labour replacing paid jobs. use the carrot, not the stick.

But only for charities/community benefit – not for private companies

It may be unpaid, but work experience will make them more attractive to employers, so will help them.

BUT only part time – you need to be free to attend interviews. Plus the work should be PAID by the companies on top of benefit – not free slave labour

Too many graduates think they are too good for menial work – or even call centre work which is a decent job! Bad for them and bad for the country.

OK if work is for charitable/non-profit organisation but not as at present where “slave labour” is available to commercial firms

Work placements are very important aAnd valuable and should be viewed as an opportunity and not a punishment

The way it is being operated is exploitation

Although how this is done is important and if done badly would lose my support.

This is one of the most ludicrous suggestions yet by the coalition.

Why does the DWP claim the right to be able to give away claimants’ labour for free? These kinds of mandatory/coercive arrangements are an uneasy reminder of the authoritarian methods of the Soviet Union.

the precious darling who sued the Government on this needs to grow up and work

It is the same as above, some people may not be able to afford it, as they would need to pay someone to look after their children, elderly relative…

Depends on why they are unemployed (eg for health reasons)

Long periods of idleness is debilitating to the individual so it is the right thing in the interests of that individual not as a punishment.

If benefits are paid then it is not unpaid work.

There should be some form of renumeration, or if it is unpaid I don’t think private sector firms should benefit as this simply displaces jobs away from people they might have hired.

Work placements should attract payment at minimum wage.

Expenses should be covered, and it should only be used in extraordinary circumstances.

They should be paid and taxed etc.

providing the work is with charities or community organisations and not for private companies.

Work experience should be paid – let them keep benefits, and top them up to the level of paid work. That’s the best incentive to get people back into work – show them what they can get.

How close to slavery do we want to go?

But they should only be able to require people to work to the length of hours, in minimum wage, that that work requires.

Unemployment benefit should be a citizen’s salary which, at c£65 should require a maximum of 10 hours work.

But they could require them to do work of ‘national service’, perhaps to help local authorities plug their finance gaps.

If the work experience is going to help them get a job then maybe. Employers should pay a supplement to UB and travelling expenses.

This is two questions which is bad of you. Work experience may be good. It has nothing to do with benefits which may need to be increased if the victim is to actually get to work.

The theory is ok but every example of the practice sucks

  • 1,500 Lib Dem paid-up party members are registered with 647 responded to the latest survey, which was conducted between 14th and 17th March.
  • Please note: we make no claims that the survey is fully representative of the Lib Dem membership as a whole. However,’s surveys are the largest independent samples of the views of Lib Dem members across the country, and have in the past offered accurate guides to what party members think.
  • For further information on the reliability/credibility of our surveys, please refer to FAQs: Are the Liberal Democrat Voice surveys of party members accurate? and polling expert Anthony Wells’ verdict, On that poll of Lib Dem members.
  • The full archive of our members’ surveys can be viewed at
  • * Stephen was Editor (and Co-Editor) of Liberal Democrat Voice from 2007 to 2015, and writes at The Collected Stephen Tall.

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    This entry was posted in LDV Members poll.


    • Rather depends on what the definitions of ‘good reason’ and ‘work experience’ are doesn’t it.

      I cannot believe that the definitions used by either Labour or the Coalition would be the same as mine based on recent experience. The involvement of private sector companies in the support of the welfare program hardly fills me full of confidence.

      There is something innovative that could be done I am sure but it would end up treating the unemployed as human beings – something the Government doesn’t like to do as it removes a useful scapegoat

    • Eddie Sammon 31st Mar '13 - 4:51pm

      “Stopping benefits as a punishment is a stupid thing to do. How are people supposed to live when you do that?”

      How are people supposed to live in a country where the state would be willing to provide everything for all the citizens of Europe? People need to cooperate if they want to live of other people’s money.

    • Eddie Sammon 31st Mar '13 - 4:53pm

      We have hospitals for people who are mentally incapable of cooperating, or we should improve this offering, but we can’t allow people to live in splendid idleness whilst other people work to provide their benefits.

    • Eddie Sammon 31st Mar '13 - 5:16pm

      Geoffrey, finally, I have no problem with people disagreeing with the policy, but I think to make out this is a “REALLY STUPID THING TO DO” is unreasonable.

    • I’m not dissenting from Tony’s point but the question as put, referring to “withdrawing benefits from unemployed people who refuse offers of work without good reason?” is something which has IIRC been the case since I was long-ish term unemployed in the early 90s.

      Given that Unemployment Benefit/Income support/Job Seekers Allowance are benefits to support you whilst looking for work it’s not an unreasonable position.

      What the question maybe should have referred to is the changes to make sanctions apply at an earlier stage and for longer.

    • Joanne Adair 31st Mar '13 - 6:23pm

      If only I could be offered a job to refuse it in the first place. I studied and retrained to gain legal Executive and a legal secretary qualifications. Until 2 yrs ago my family and I were living in Southampton. After undertaking 5 yrs of voluntary work and still not able to secure employment in the South I was offered a position with a small law firm in Manchester. I up routed the family only to find that 3 wks after living in the Tameside area of Manchester that the law firms biggest client had not renewed their contract with the law firm so my job went with it.

      I then started to nag law centres for paid or voluntary employment. I did manage to secure a part time voluntary post with Oldham Law Centre in November of 2011, The day I started with them was the day the Law Centre shut down, due to OMBC funding being with drawn.

      As well as applying for approximately 20 jobs per fortnight, attending the back to work programme, nagging organisations again for voluntary work whilst job hunting, in vane, I now have the council tax payment to contend with. Oh i’m over the moon (SARCASAM) and fed up to the back teeth.

      So as you can see some of us are really trying and getting nowhere. It’s been 3.5 yrs since I qualified as a legal secretary and my confidence and skills are at rock bottom. I achieved the qualifications to not end up in this miserable situation that I find myself in and now I am trapped by those qualifications and voluntary work as that is what my CV is made up of, so when I apply for retail or warehouse work iIdon’t get a look in.

      I also have a 21 yr old who qualified as a mechanic 2 yrs ago and he is also an active job seeker on the back to work programme, and since leaving college 2 yrs ago he has never had an interview. He doesn’t qualify for an apprenticeship as he is dyslexic and doesn’t have 5 GCSE’s grade A-C so just like his mum, he’s stuck too. Life is great at my house, nothing but deprivation and misery. SO YEAH, GO ON THEN STOP THE BENEFITS. that’s about all you can take from us now. From a very angry fed up voter!

    • Liberal Neil 31st Mar '13 - 7:46pm

      It doesn’t surprise me that a large majority of Lib Dems surveyed hold views that are exactly in line the that great 20th Century Liberal Beveridge.

      The third of three principles behind his report was set out in Para 9:

      “The third principle is that social security must be achieved by co-operation between the State and the individual. The State should offer security for service and contribution. The State in organising security should not stifle incentive, opportunity, responsibility ; in establishing a national minimum, it should leave room and encouragement for voluntary action by each individual to provide more than that minimum for himself and his family.”

      And in the summary, para 18, clause vii specifically says:

      “Unemployment benefit will continue at the same rate without means test so long as unemployment lasts, but will normally be subject to a condition of attendance at a work or training centre after a certain period. ”

      This seems to be a fair approach to me.

    • Tony Dawson 31st Mar '13 - 7:52pm

      I wish someone would make Eric Pickles and Michael Gove do some work. The expensive output of their minds’ idle meanderings are costing the Lib Dems as well as the country.

    • Simon McGrath 31st Mar '13 - 9:38pm

      What on earth goes through the head of the 21% who thinks its OK to turn down a job and stay on benefits ?

    • Simon McGrath

      Perhaps those who responded have. like I, little trust in the Government actually being fair in the definitions! This said, though, the question was framed to exclude this as an excuse but some may answer like that anyway.

      Just a question though, what should happen to people who do this? All benefits taken away? Work for nothing? Workhouse?

      I think we are talking of a very small minority of people here (most cases are because the Government’s definition of ‘reasonable’ differs from most peoples) and this will have underlying reasons that will actually require some effort to solve.

      It is easy to be glib about this subject but I fear it is far more complicated as to just give a knee-jerk reaction.

      I must say I find it that there seems to be more strident right-wing reaction on here – one of my problems with the right on welfare is that they see things as so very simple – deceiving/undeserving – without understanding the complexity of many of these cases.

      Not having a ‘good reason’ not to work may actually be an underlying medical condition, severe lack of self-esteem/confidence etc. Not all of us are open to the authorities about our situation.

    • Eddie Sammon 31st Mar '13 - 10:28pm

      “I must say I find it that there seems to be more strident right-wing reaction on here – one of my problems with the right on welfare is that they see things as so very simple – deceiving/undeserving – without understanding the complexity of many of these cases.”

      If you don’t draw the line somewhere between deserving and undeserving then you resort to paying everyone everything. New Labour got welfare and immigration so badly wrong it is quite unbelievable that many Lib Dems are happy for us to pursue the same failed strategy: soft on welfare and soft on immigration. This does not only fail economically, but socially and electorally too.

    • Eddie Sammon

      I agree with you to some extent but the line between the two is a grey and fuzzy one and is not one that can be easily defined.

      This takes skill, compassion and a touch of steel. The views on some on here and in the current Government do not seem to think this

      I know people working in this area and they are tough cookies – much more so than the alpha-male egoists in the banking sector – but they have a very difficult time with most of the cases as there is often a history of abuse, lack of self-esteem, illness or addiction.

      I have no real answers but I understand the question is hard – some seem to think that ‘take away all their benefits’ is all they need to say without examining what lies below

    • Eddie Sammon 31st Mar '13 - 11:40pm

      Bcrombie, I am also against the overuse of sanctions, I would be worried about the kind of system a Conservative only government would introduce.

      I only mean to be deeply critical to those furthest left in the party. There are too many people in the party who believe in unlimited welfare and global completely open door immigration. Such a combination would lead to civil war and in my opinion the party needs to dispel these members. They should be treated the same as members of Militant in the 1980’s Labour Party.

    • Simon Shaw

      I agree but the definition of ‘reasonable’ has to be well…reasonable. This is where I have my worries as Government’s of all colours have not got a good track record in this area

      Eddie Sammon

      Going a bit far I think…civil war, Militant! I think this demonisation of the ‘foreigner’ and ‘shirker’ is doing at least as much harm as the policies you complain about. I personally think that you are setting up some straw men as I see very little call for unregulated immigration and unlimited welfare!

      We have neither and will never have neither – what we do have is a shift to the right on all aspects of social policy taking us to a more US system – and we know how well that works don’t we! The immigration question is one that seems to bother you a lot but I think you are probably in the wrong party if you want a similar policy to UKIP

    • jamessandbach 1st Apr '13 - 8:32am

      And who makes the decision to “withdraw” benefits – a petty DWP/JCP official working to a set of targets of worse still following what some computer software recommends – what has happened to the compassionate strand of liberalism?

    • jenny barnes 1st Apr '13 - 8:57am

      “we can’t allow people to live in splendid idleness whilst other people work ”
      Ah, the magic jobs tree. It’s strange, don’t you think, that every time there’s a recession/ slump in the economy, a wave of feckless idleness sweeps across the working classes (all 99% of them) and all they want to do is sit on the couch in their spare bedrooms watching sky tv on huge televisions while smoking and drinking? And demanding gastric bands on the NHS because they’ve eaten so many horse burgers and haven’t moved for weeks.

      If you remove people’s access to the means of production, they can only work when there are jobs for them.

    • Simon McGrath 1st Apr '13 - 9:04am

      @jenny – amazing how people from E Europe seems to find jobs …

    • Michael Parsons 1st Apr '13 - 9:06am

      I once met a former senior civi servant who left in the 1940’s because the original benefit proposals would require direction of labour if they were to work effectively.
      But they were also acconmpanied by a commitment to maintain a high and steady level of Aggregate Demand so as to maintain full employment (ie reduce it to about 2.5% , to allow feely for job-changers). As to the ‘ubndeserving poor’ the idea of State support for those on hard times is precisely to get away from the degrading conditions of being patronised as a “charity case”, attending the required forelock-tugging saessions etc.;save me fromn charity is likely the most heart-felt prayer of the poor: State support is designed to recognise the dignity of a citizen. And here’s the clue to a solution: State resources presently are directed towards the welfare benefit of the Banking and Finance sector as first call, a sector that has criminally amassed liabilities equal to many times our total national output and so are impossible to cope with. If we re-directed that spending (there is absolutely no shortage of money, as the QE squanderbugs have demonstrated) to sustaining our citizens in productive, well-paid jobs many of the apparent moral dilemmas would fade away; though the resulting increased use of fuel would necessitate taking a big stick to the more instransigent greenies. And of course some direcion of labour to the new or recovering industries would be needed, along with building decent homesand social, recreatrional and medical facilities there as well. But what is State direction but replacing the “carrot and stick” m otivation of labour under brutal free-market conditions by a more humane system?

    • Eddie Sammon 1st Apr '13 - 1:54pm

      bcrombie, my views on immigration are nowhere near to those of UKIP.

      Jenny, I don’t have negative attitudes towards the those on welfare.

    • Peter Davies 1st Apr '13 - 1:55pm

      Anyone who can’t work out how not to be offered a job they don’t want is probably doing the country a favour by staying at home with the curtains drawn. Unfortunately many can’t work out how to do it without first wasting the time of the potential employer and of civil servants who should be trying to get people into jobs they do want.

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