New Government campaign to fill job vacancies. The Department for Work and Pensions’ ‘Way to Work’ campaign aims to get 500,000 more people to fill mounting job vacancies by the end of June by encouraging Universal Credit claimants to search for work in new ‘booming sectors’, such as social care and construction. DWP secretary Thérèse Coffey said: “As we emerge from Covid, we are going to tackle supply challenges and support the continued economic recovery by getting people into work. Our new approach will help claimants get back into the world of work quickly, while helping ensure that employers get the people they and the economy need.”


Sanctions-led approach. The mechanism by which unemployed people are encouraged to seek work is through the benefit sanctions system. Claimants will now only have 4 weeks (down from 3 months) to find a job within their preferred sector. If claimants fail to make “reasonable efforts” or turn down job offers from any sector, they risk reductions in their benefit payment. 


The UK labour market. Analysing the Government’s proposals, the FT’s Sarah O’Connor noted that “The reason the UK has a shortage of workers is not because jobseekers are too picky. It is because an army of people have left the labour market altogether.” The Way to Work programme targets those who are able to work but are either unemployed or on low wages. But the Institute for Employment Studies’ Tony Wilson points out that there are not large numbers of people who are short term unemployed: only about 130,000 jobseekers claim for less than three months. The much larger problem is a 600,000 increase in people who have dropped out of the labour market altogether, are no longer looking for work and therefore do not receive any support.


Low pay and in-work poverty. Critics of the Way to Work policy have pointed out that it does not address the numbers of those in low paid jobs who have to rely on the benefit system to top up their incomes. The IPPR’s No Longer Managing report on the rise of working poverty found the chance of two parents in work (one part time and one full time) being in poverty have doubled over the past two decades. The authors argue that social security reform must come alongside a wider plan to tackle the root causes of low pay, such as unaffordable rents, expensive childcare and insecure jobs (See ITV’s coverage). 


Proposals for welfare reform. 

Weekly Updates

Regulation

Lord Agnew resignation. Conservative peer Lord Agnew resigned last week as Minister of State for Efficiency and Transformation over what he described as ”desperately inadequate” efforts by the Treasury to tackle fraud. Over the course of the pandemic, £5.8 billion has been stolen via fraudulent claims as part of the furlough, self-employed income support and Eat Out to Help Out schemes. Only £1.5 billion of this sum is likely to be retrieved. 


International corruption. Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index (CPI) ranks countries based on perceived levels of public sector corruption using a scale from 0 to 100. According to the index, the three least corrupt European countries were Denmark, Finland and Norway and the most were Bulgaria, Hungary and Romania. The report cited weak procurement rules used to speed up purchases during the pandemic were a huge cause of corruption.

Energy

Russian gas. A Russian invasion of Ukraine could reduce energy supplies to Europe and put further strain on energy prices, reports the New Statesman’s Philippa Nuttall. Russia accounts for 43% of Europe’s imported gas. Experts warn that an invasion could derail plans to synchronise Ukraine’s grid with Europe, with significant implications for energy transition and the phasing out of coal. 

  • Net zero as foreign policy? Conservative MP Henry Smith writes in Conservative Home that as well as tackling climate change, net zero will also reduce the UK’s reliance on gas from Russia. Although Russian gas makes up far less of the UK’s energy supply than it does in other EU countries,”‘this does not mean the UK is safe from this malign use of energy markets to cause harm”, Smith argues. 


Green Homes Grant. Data from the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) shows that the Green Homes Grant has resulted in savings of £1,200,000 per year for low-income households, with most savings from solid wall insulation & heat pumps. Coining a phrase, Shadow Minister for Energy and the Green New Deal, Alan Whitehead, said that this was “proof [that] retrofit is the future”

Housing

Financialisation of housing. The Greens/European Free Alliance in the European Parliament have published a report on the ‘financialisation of housing’. The study examines the ‘growing footprint’ of residential landlords in European residential housing and the effect this has on affordability, overcrowding and transparency in the housing market. Recommendations include the introduction of a European Housing Fund, a ‘Red Flag Rule’ ensuring housing is ring-fenced from any regulatory easing initiatives, and a mandate for central banks to react to housing inflation through tighter regulation of mortgage lending. 


Land and property taxation. The Scottish Land Commission has made recommendations to Scottish ministers on property and land tax reform. Recommendations include bringing all land onto the valuation roll, considering a Land and Buildings Transaction Tax and reforms to increasing the role of land values in the tax system need to have a strong level of public understanding and consensus. 

Inflation

Measuring inflation. The Office for National Statistics (ONS) has said that it will do more to capture the impact of price increases on different income groups. The head of inflation statistics at the ONS said in a blog that ‘one inflation rate doesn’t fit all’


Price controls. The debate around price controls continues to gather traction, with economist James K. Galbraith calling for ‘strategic price policies’ in the US. He looks at the history of price controls and pricing ‘guideposts’ and argues that such measures could be introduced to tackle ‘sky-high drug prices’

Tax

Conservatives support greater taxation of wealth. Centre-right think tank Bright Blue has come out in support of wealth tax reform. In its report Rightfully Rewarded, it proposes that the Government “should increase taxes on an individual’s wealth… to offset in part the losses in revenue from lowering taxes on work, as well as respond to rising wealth levels and the increasing role of luck and inheritance in life outcomes.” (Guardian coverage)


Cost of living support distributed by Council Tax bands? The Chancellor is reportedly considering offering financial support for the cost of living crisis by targeting Council Tax bands. The IPPR’s Henry Parkes argues that council tax bands are a poor predictor of income levels; he calculated that 5 million low-income people would miss out on the tax break, whilst a quarter of top earners would benefit. (Twitter thread summary.)