Steve Webb: Lib Dems will introduce “fair warning” for job-seekers who break benefit rules before sanctions imposed

webb 01The Lib Dems are taking advantage of the quiet weeks in August to drip-feed a number of new policies likely to make it into the party’s general election manifesto. Alongside reforms to police stop-and-search and fairer funding for Wales, Lib Dem work and pensions minister Steve Webb has outline plans to introduce a ‘fair warning’ before benefits sanctions are imposed against job-seekers who break the rules. The Guardian reports:

The Liberal Democrats will pledge in their general election manifesto to introduce a new “yellow card” system to give job seekers who break benefit rules a final warning before sanctions are imposed.

Amid Lib Dem concerns at a dramatic increase in sanctions in recent years, the party will say that benefit recipients should be given “fair warning” before they forfeit their benefits.

In another sign of their determination to differentiate themselves from their Tory coalition partners, the Lib Dems will say the system needs to be reformed after a trebling in sanctions.

Under the current rules, claimants can lose four weeks of benefit for something as simple as missing one appointment at a JobCentre Plus office.

The Lib Dems say that over the past decade the number of sanction referrals has increased from around 60,000 a month in the early part of the last decade to around 170,000 today. Sanctions can be imposed if job seekers fail to meet simple conditions such as writing a CV, applying for enough jobs or turning up to interviews.

The party points to figures which show that in 2013 around 6,700 sanctions were overturned each month – 15% of the total – on the grounds that the original decision was flawed. In many cases the claimant provided extra information which helped to overturn the sanctions.

And Steve wins the prize for most mentions of ‘stronger economy, fairer society’ in one quote:

“The Liberal Democrats believe in offering opportunity for everyone in order to build a stronger economy and a fairer society. That’s why we are reforming the benefits system to make sure that work always pays. It’s absolutely right that when we pay people benefits that there are expectations of them and consequences if they don’t meet those expectations. But the process needs to be fair and clear. There are too many examples of cases where people have been penalised unfairly. The Liberal Democrats want to build a fairer society and that’s why we think that before people’s money is taken away, they should get fair warning.”

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  • Joshua Dixon 13th Aug '14 - 3:01pm

    Here is a fairer suggestion, actually improve accountability and regulation of JCPs. Also, move the appeals process to before any withdrawal of benefits. A yellow card is nothing more than a threat and can have just as many damaging consequences on claimants as removal of benefit can.

  • Why was this not done on your watch? The front bench cheered all the unfair changes in that first budget. Please do not even use the word pledge, it rings hollow.

  • Great idea – if only the LDs were in govt so that they would make these changes now.


    Ok, sarcasm mode now off but seriously, this is nonsense ! The LD MPs have sought to vote for every benefit reduction going but Webb & Clegg thinks the electorate will forget the part they played in the previous 5 years ??

    Good luck campaigning along the lines of ‘well, we didn’t really like what we signed up to for the last 5yrs but the big boys bullied us & this time we’re not going to let them – pwomise’ ! I know – why not get all your MPs to stand alongside a JSA claimant outside a job centre & sign a pledge !!

  • Stephen Campbell 13th Aug '14 - 5:32pm

    Sorry, I don’t believe you.

    First of all, you aren’t going to win the election. Secondly, if there is another coalition with the Tories, this most definitely will not happen because you’ll (once again) fail to stand your corner and fight for your voters. And you’ll most likely have even fewer MPs as leverage when it comes to negotiations with the Tories.

    This amounts to “we voted with the Tories for these sanctions, but we’ll stop them if we’re in government in 2015. We really mean it this time! Honest!”

    And then you simply won’t do it. Like the mantra of an abusive partner who has been shown the door: “it won’t happen again, I promise! I’ve changed!” Are you going to sign a pledge, too?!

    Also, repeating “stronger economy, fairer society” is nothing more than ad-speak and PR nonsense. People are sick and tired of meaningless slogans that could have come from any party.

  • Stephen Campbell 13th Aug '14 - 5:34pm

    Just saw your post, @MartinB. Had I refreshed the page earlier, I wouldn’t have needed to post my comments as you’re pretty much saying what I was thinking, only more eloquently 🙂

  • Stephen Hesketh 13th Aug '14 - 5:37pm

    “The Liberal Democrats will pledge in their general election manifesto to introduce a new ‘yellow card’ system to give job seekers who break benefit rules a final warning before sanctions are imposed.”

    Setting aside what appears to be an improvement on the existing situation, I would like to know how ministers KNOW what will be in the next manifesto?

    Have we abandoned wider democratic consultation and the (non-NC bubble/non-Westminster) institutions of the party?

  • Stephen Hesketh 13th Aug '14 - 5:55pm

    Stephen Campbell 13th Aug ’14 – 5:32pm : “Also, repeating “stronger economy, fairer society” is nothing more than ad-speak and PR nonsense. People are sick and tired of meaningless slogans that could have come from any party.”

    This I must agree with. The sooner we revert to actually being the party of ‘Fairer economy, Stronger society’ the better.

  • A sensible and fair idea.

    But, as others have already said, why didn’t we do it earlier? This is the kind of thing Lib Dem voters were looking for from the party in government, but which it has consistently failed to implement, letting through too many mistakes, as with the cack-handed implementation of the spare bedroom subsidy policy.

    How much credit will we get for promising to close the stable door on benefits unfairness once the horse has bolted?

  • Nick Collins 16th Aug '14 - 4:12pm

    @ Stephen Hesketh: What about “fairly strong economy, strongly unfair society”? That sounds a more honest aspiration for a partner in this coalition.

    @ Caractatus: Spot on. How can you continue to support this party? I am ashamed to have been a member of the Liberal Democrats.

  • Stephen Hesketh 16th Aug '14 - 9:10pm

    @Nick Collins 16th Aug ’14 – 4:12pm

    Nick, I am really sorry that NC’s ‘anchored to the centre’ version of liberal democracy has left you feeling as you do – particularly against the party and our true philosophy. The fact that you were once a member but have felt forced out by Clegg and his allies is to be much regretted. Might I suggest however that deep down you probably still recognise that our radical left of centre heart is still very much alive and beating and that in the not too distant future we will once again become the party of the ‘fairer economy and stronger society’ I have previously alluded to.

    How much we can recover under a new leader remains to be seen. We have clearly had our claim to be different from the rest well and truly smashed due to the breaking the tuition fees pledge and not only agreeing to but in being seen to enthusiastically support some objectionable Tory policies.

    As you know a radical Liberal Democrat can give any labourite etc more than a run for their money when it comes to a green egalitarian libertarian vision for the future development of our society.

    Yes we, as a party, have been let down and yes our party leadership have let our supporters down in several areas – but might I suggest that this is without doubt to a lesser degree than have the members and supporters of the Labour party who have been let down by every single one of their governments since the days of Ramsey Macdonald.

    This is why Liberal radicals must stand and fight. Far more is at stake here than simply the future of the Liberal Democrat party.

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