'Government penalising unemployed in devastating online policy'
15 February 2013
The government is "forcing" people to apply for jobs online, causing huge challenges for disadvantaged people who are not able to use the internet, Citizens Advice Scotland has warned.
In a heavily critical report, CAS said it agreed getting people online was a good thing. But the government was accused of restricting how people could apply for jobs instead of offering a supportive role.
Evidence collected showed instances of people being penalised at the Jobcentre for not applying for jobs online. This was even found to have happened when people had applied for jobs in writing or by phone due to their inability to use a computer.
Sarah Beattie-Smith, a CAS spokesperson, recalled that a significant number of people were still not online and that in Glasgow two thirds of the lowest income households did not have home broadband.
"The government's digital strategy forces benefit claimants to apply for their benefits online – regardless of whether they have reliable internet access or whether they have the skills and abilities to use it," she said.
"The same is true of unemployed people: in order to qualify for Jobseekers Allowance you are now expected to only apply for jobs online. And if you apply instead for jobs in writing or face-to-face, for example by responding to a card in a shop window, you can actually be penalised for not using a computer."
The government should encourage and support people instead of compelling them to use the internet, which was a restrictive measure, Beattie-Smith argued.
"When it comes to jobseekers, surely it makes sense to let people use every means possible to find work, and not constrain them in any way," she said.
"This process of forcing people to use the internet comes along with the deep cuts and significant changes that have been made to the welfare system. It's just another step in that process, which has the potential to be devastating for the most vulnerable people in our society."
The report also said that claimants should be able to access benefits them in a way which suits their needs, resources and capabilities.
UK ministers have been trying to drive public services online in under a digital by default policy. This is intended to drive down the cost of public services, with online transactions with the public believed to be up to 50 times cheaper to run.