Since Jobseeker’s Allowance isn’t even enough to live on, many people have real problems managing to get to job interviews. This is the sort of thing where the Flexible Support Fund is meant to help with – only the SFS is notoriously elusive. John, who we met outside the buroo today, has been unemployed for three years and is currently on the Work Programme with Triage. He has a job interview coming up and asked for help to get some new clothes for it. Triage had refused and sent him to the Jobcentre, and the Jobcentre had told him that the fund was not for people on the Work Programme. Despite this he had been sent to find suitable stuff in Primark, but when he came back and requested a £30 voucher to buy it, he was told he could only have £15. As he didn’t have the other £15, this was no help anyway.
Work Programme providers are supposed to help with travel expenses, but I can’t find anything about clothing grants; and once on the Work Programme you aren’t supposed to get help from the FSF, so it’s not clear what people are meant to do. A budgeting loan, even if you were given one, could take two weeks to come through.
And it seems that the FSF isn’t helping that many people not on the Work Programme either. A 2015 Dispatches Programme exposed DWP advisors being told not to let people know about the fund, and a House of Commons briefing paper from March 2016 [H of C Briefing Paper on Flexible Support Fund] found other problems. In 2014-15 only £72 Million of a possible £136 Million was allocated, allowing the DWP to drop the total available for 2015-16 to £69 Million. Allocations from the fund are discretionary, in line with national policy and locally decided priorities, but advisors are told to apply the ‘tabloid test’ and ask themselves how they would defend their decision if it was taken up by a hostile press. This briefing also quotes an alarming extract from Lord Freud, the Minister for Welfare Reform, that from 2017 some money will be specifically targeted ‘to help those affected by the changes to the ESA WRAG and the UC limited capability for work element to attend training courses on gaining practical skills, access mental health support, attend community projects or take part in motivational courses.’ I think we’ve seen enough of the DWP’s ‘motivational courses’; and more DWP meddling in mental health support is very worrying indeed.