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

by Stephen Tall on March 31, 2013

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 Tall is Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, a Research Associate for the liberal think-tank CentreForum, and also writes at his own site, The Collected Stephen Tall.

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