An article in the latest edition of the British Medical Journal condemns the ‘coercive and punitive’ use of psychological tests and training on benefits claimants, as the DWP moves closer to treating unemployment as a mental health issue. Claimants are even being forced to attend highly questionable Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP) workshops.
Power of positive thinking
The authors of the report look at the misuse of psychology and the role of psychology professionals in helping to force claimants on the work programme into mandatory training and unpaid work.
In particular, claimants are encouraged to believe that they are unemployed because of their own shortcomings, especially a failure to think positively and strive to be better.
Those who do not engage with psychological programmes can find their JSA or ESA sanctioned for ‘lack of motivation’.
As a result of this approach, claimants are bombarded with positive thinking messages not only on training courses but also by daily texts and emails, such as:
Nobody ever drowned in sweat
Go hard, or go home
It’s always too soon to quit
The sin isn’t falling down but staying down
Success is the only option
Smile at life
This can be the greatest, most fulfilling day you’ve ever known. For that to happen, you have to allow it
Some claimants, however, far from feeling uplifted by these ‘motivational quotes’ have described feeling anger, humiliation and depression. For claimants with serious health conditions, exhortations such as “Nobody ever drowned in sweat” could even be life-threatening.
The boss of Britain’s largest welfare to work provider believes that claimants are better off in low paid, insecure temporary work “rather than sat at home watching Jeremy Kyle” according to the Telegraph newspaper.
He also argues that the government have to get the “people who are technically unfit to work, back to work” and believes that the appointment of Maximus to carry out medical assessments will lead to a surge in work for his company.
Andy Hogarth runs Staffline ,which bought out A4E last month in order to become Britain’s largest provider of welfare to work services. He believes that if the government is to succeed in its aim of cutting £12 billion from the benefits budget it will have to get people off employment and support allowance and back into work.
“For a government looking to save £12bn from welfare one of the things they have to do is get the people who are technically unfit to work, back to work, which sounds a bit brutal on the face of it, and that is exactly what a lot of welfare groups are saying, but in reality they can work.”
According to the Telegraph, Hogarth believes that his company will get an extra 2.5 million people referred to his company over the coming years as a result of Maximus taking over the work capability assessment from Atos.
Hogarth appears to believe he is particularly suited to working with the sick and disabled claimants because of his own life experiences.
When he was in his thirties, Hogarth sold a successful business for an undisclosed sum of money and then spent a year at home with “deep depression”, finding it difficult to leave the house and splitting up with his girlfriend.
He overcame his depression by going back to studying and retraining in his mid thirties.
According to the Telegraph, Staffline has grown rapidly with turnover increasing from £100 million ten years ago, to £503 million last year and aiming to hit £1bn within two years.
Much of its income comes from placing “up to 35,000 workers each week in temporary jobs, such as food processing, factory assembly lines, and picking items in warehouses.”
Hogarth believes that jobcentres only work “if you are a well motivated guy”. And while some local authorities don’t approve of his company putting people in minimum wage temporary jobs, Hogarth thinks they are mistaken, explaining:
“I personally think they are totally wrong, I think a temporary job, even if it is just for a week, is better because it then gives you a step to better pay, rather than sat at home watching Jeremy Kyle.”
Hogarth expects to have to deal with “kicking and screaming” from claimants and from pressure groups and admits that “It is hard to justify to welfare groups the profits we make . . .” .
But he claims that only 20p in every pound they make is paid as dividends to shareholders.
Rather than simply being there to make money, Hogarth assures Telegraph readers his staff “are genuinely here to help people”. And, in a gesture that would delight Norman Tebbit, they generously “buy a lot of bikes so that people can get to work”.
In separate news ERSA, the umbrella body for welfare to work providers, says that the “backdrop of continued austerity and welfare reform” looks like offering their members a great opportunity.
The leases on many Jobcentre plus offices come up for renewal in this parliament and ERSA hope that the government will take the opportunity to privatise the whole jobcentre network and its services.
Which would, of course, mean many more Andy Hogarth’s having the opportunity to drag claimants “kicking and screaming” into a better life.
See the Telegraph for the full story.
Source – Benefits & Work, 26 May 2015
Plans leaked to the BBC reveal that the Conservatives are considering cuts of up to £80 a week for sick and disabled claimants if they win the election.
The leaked documents show that the Conservative party commissioned research into how much could be saved by measures including:
Taxing disability living allowance (DLA), personal independence payment (PIP) and attendance allowance (AA), saving a predicted £1.5 billion a year.
Abolishing contribution based ESA and JSA entirely, so that only claimants who pass a means test can claim these benefits. According to the BBC, DWP analysis suggests 30% of claimants, over 300,000 families, would lose about £80 per week, saving a predicted £1.3 billion a year. In fact, some families would lose more than £80 per week if these benefits were abolished.
Cutting the number of people getting carer’s allowance by 40% by only awarding it to those eligible for universal credit (UC), saving a predicted £1 billion.
Limiting child benefit to the first two children, eventually saving £1 billion but very little in the short-term.
Other plans include replacing industrial injuries benefits with an insurance policy for employers, regional benefit caps and changes to council tax.
The Conservatives deny that these proposals are party policy.
A spokesperson for Iain Duncan Smith told the BBC that:
“This is ill informed and inaccurate speculation.
“Officials spend a lot of time generating proposals – many not commissioned by politicians.
“It’s wrong and misleading to suggest that any of this is part of our plan.”
However, the Conservatives still refuse to say what benefits they will cut.
Earlier this week Benefits and Work suggested that working age claimants would lose an average of £19 a week under Conservative plans. We pointed out that some would lose less and some might lose much more – but we hadn’t realised quite how much more.
Would you be affected by these cuts and could you cope financially if they were imposed?
Source – Benefits & Work, 27 Mar 2015
Tory minister Hugo Swire mocked claimants at last month’s £1,500 per place ‘black and white ball’ to raise funds for the Conservatives. His callous jibe was secretly recorded for the Channel 4 ‘Dispatches‘ programme.
Swire, an Old Etonian, was acting as auctioneer whilst guests made bids for a bust of Margaret Thatcher, a weekend’s pheasant shooting and a shoe shopping trip with Theresa May, amongst other lots.
Whilst encouraging a bidder at Iain Duncan Smith’s table to increase his bid, Swire is heard to say:
“£60,000. Iain, persuade him. He’s not on benefits ,is he? Well, if he is then he can afford it. £55,000?”
Swire went on to joke that:
“It’s quite naff to have Bentleys and Rolls Royces and Ferraris, because anybody could have them
“In the good old days of MP’s expenses we could have them too. But we don’t any more.”
In the exceedingly unlikely event that Mr Swire is reading this: in reality a Jobseeker’s Allowance claimant would need to save every penny of their payments for 16 years to come up with £60,000.
Funny that, isn’t it?
Source – Benefits & Work, 24 Mar 2015
An undercover Universal Credit adviser was ordered not to inform claimants about vital hardship payments, the Daily Mirror has reported.
The undercover adviser, working for Channel 4 Dispatches, was told not to advise claimants about the existence of emergency cash funds available to jobseekers struggling to make ends-meet.
He was also instructed not to inform claimants about the availability of advance payments, which can be paid while their Universal Credit claim is being processed by decision makers.
Claimants can apply for a one-off grant from the ‘Flexible Support Fund’, which can be used to help them move into employment.
However, a trainer told the undercover report not to inform claimants about the fund unless they specifically asked about it.
When he questioned the motives behind this stance, he was told:
“If we did, everybody would want one, yeah, and it’s a very small budget, so we don’t talk about it.
“It’s a bit like Fight Club – we don’t discuss what happens in Fight Club. So you don’t talk about flexible support fund either… so the work coaches usually bring this up…”
New Universal Credit claimants often have to wait several weeks for a decision to be made on their claim. During this time they are typically expected to support themselves.
However, advance payments and other hardship funds are available to people who may experience financial difficulties during this time.
Universal Credit merges a number of existing benefit into one single monthly payment. The flagship scheme has been dogged by delays and software problems since its conception.
The reporter, who was working in a DWP service centre, was also told not to tell claimants about hardship funds in the event of their benefit payments being ‘sanctioned’.
“You don’t offer it unless you think they’re in dire straits”, the trainer said
“The whole idea is the punishment, that’s what you’ve got to suffer but if you can’t manage, we’ll consider doing something for you.
“So they’ve got to say, ‘well I can’t manage without my standard allowance, so I need some help’ and you go ‘right, there is a hardship possibility’.
“You don’t advertise it but if they say, ‘I can’t manage’, they don’t have to say, ‘I need a hardship payment’, they say ‘I can’t manage’ and you say, ‘well I can’.”
A spokesperson for the DWP said:
“Service centre workers are there to provide administrative support over the phone, not to build the close relationship with the claimant that our work coaches in Jobcentres do.
“At a new claim interview our work coaches inform claimants that budgeting advances are available ”
“Work coaches can identify if the locally-administered flexible support fund can help someone overcome barriers to work – not service centre workers.”
Defending Universal Credit, the spokesperson said:
“Universal Credit replaces the complex myriad of means-tested benefits to simplify the system and make work pay.
“It is already transforming lives with claimants on Universal Credit moving into work faster and earning more.
“When fully rolled out it will make three million people better off with a £7 billion boost to the economy every year.”
Source – Welfare Weekly, 12 Mar 2015
The Government has been accused of cruelty and running a ‘postcode lottery for benefits‘ after it emerged a rural district had by far the highest proportion nationally of Jobseekers Allowance claimants being sanctioned.
A report by homelessness charity Crisis said 15.4 per cent of jobseekers in Richmondshire, North Yorkshire, had been sanctioned, making claimants there three times more likely to have their benefits stopped than in its southern Yorkshire Dales neighbour Craven.
It found just 6.2 per cent of claimants in Richmondshire’s northern neighbour Durham had been sanctioned, while 10.9 per cent of claimants in Hambleton had had their benefits stopped, giving that area the tenth highest rate of sanctions in the country.
Crisis said evidence was mounting of “a punitive and deeply flawed regime”.
In 2012, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) introduced sanctions of between one week and three years if a claimant fails to comply with jobseeking requirements, such as attending interviews or undertaking work-related activity.
Senior pastor Ben Dowding, of the Store House foodbank, in Richmond, said he was surprised the area had topped the national sanctions table and that staff at the town’s Jobcentre – the only Jobcentre in the district – had often demonstrated compassion rather than being strict on claimants.
> Although presumably not so compassionate that they don’t keep sending his foodbank customers.
“Statistics only tell one side of the story, but having worked with the Jobcentre staff, they have always proved to be very caring individuals.”
Councillor John Blackie, leader of Richmondshire District Council, said he believed the area’s high sanction rate reflected jobseekers’ problems reaching the Jobcentre or work, adding that it took claimants in Hawes five hours of travelling and waiting to sign on in Richmond and return home.
A DWP spokesman said Jobcentre staff took claimants’ personal circumstances into account and said there could be a number of factors that had led to Richmondshire having the highest proportion of sanctions.
He said: “Sanctions are only used as a last resort for the tiny minority who refuse to take up the support which is on offer.”
> As ever, the only people not asked for their opinion appear to be the unemployed, especially those who have been sanctioned. However, the original story received this comment:
When claimants apply for jobs it goes on a jobsite how many . My daughter applied for 17 one day but only 2 registered she took a picture of the jobs she had applied.
The next signing on Richmond said you only applied for 2 jobs – she said no look at this picture proving I applied for 17. So the system was not working correct but guess what sanctioned.
The staff at Richmond must be on good bonuses.
Source – Northern Echo, 11 Mar 2015
The House of Bishops of the Church of England have told Christians they have a duty to vote in the general election and condemned the demonising of benefits claimants and the targeting of the least well off for cuts.
In a 52 page letter to the people and parishes of the Church of England published today, the Bishops say
“Unless we exercise the democratic rights that our ancestors struggled for, we will share responsibility for the failures of the political classes. It is the duty of every Christian adult to vote, even though it may have to be a vote for something less than a vision that inspires us.”
In a clear attack on the language used by politicians and the media about benefits claimants, they add that:
“It is particularly counter-productive to denigrate those who are in need, because this undermines the wider social instinct to support one another in the community. For instance, when those who rely on social security payments are all described in terms that imply they are undeserving, dependent, and ought to be self-sufficient, it deters others from offering the informal, neighbourly support which could ease some of the burden of welfare on the state.”
The Bishops also point out that austerity has not been experienced equally by all:
“It has been widely observed that the greatest burdens of austerity have not been born by those with the broadest shoulders – that is, those who enjoy a wide buffer zone before they fall into real need. Those whose margin of material security was always narrow have not been adequately protected from the impact of recession.”
Source – Benefits & Work, 17 Feb 2015
Jobseekers could be forced to “sign on” every week to continue receiving benefit payments, under new plans being considered by the Government.
Currently, only benefit claimants who are deemed not to be doing enough to find a job are required to visit a Jobcentre every week.
Trials in East London and parts of the West of Scotland, where claimants signed on every week instead of every fortnight after the 13th week of their claim, found that unemployed people spent “at least an average of 2.6 fewer days on benefits than fortnightly signers”.
Other approaches to the analysis suggest that jobseeker’s spent an average of six fewer days on benefits, but the DWP said they have “less confidence in the higher figure”.
However, the DWP is said to be taking the findings “very seriously” and could eventually force all of the UK’s 1.91 million Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) claimants to sign on every week.
Researchers also tested “speed signing” in other parts of the UK, where claimants had shorter fortnightly jobsearch reviews.
“Flexible signing” was also trialled, giving Jobcentre Plus Work Coaches the flexibility to change how often JSA claimants were asked to sign on.
Speed signing had “no effect”, while flexible signing resulted in one day more on benefits. A figure which the DWP says isn’t “statistically significant”.
Pilots lasted for 52 weeks following random assignment. Participation ended sooner where individuals were referred to the Work Programme or where they ended their claim for Jobseeker’s Allowance.
Unions have condemned the idea, with the PCS union – who include Jobcentre staff among its members – accusing the Government of “punishing the jobless”.
The plan would also require “massive investment in Jobcentres and staff”, said PCS.
A PCS spokesperson said weekly signing “doesn’t appear to be designed to help claimants, it’s just another way for the Government to turn the screw”.
Source – Welfare Weekly, 02 Feb 2015
Ministers have refused to apologise after MPs from across the North East highlighted the “cruel and inhumane” treatment of benefit claimants in the region.
Officials such as Jobcentre staff had been encouraged to strip claimants of benefits for no good reason, MPs said.
In a Commons debate led by Newcastle Central MP Chi Onwurah, MPs highlighted a series of wrong decisions and abuse of benefit claimants.
* Veterans injured in Afghanistan or Iraq stripped of benefits after they were told they were fit to work
* A Newcastle man stripped of benefits because he was accused of failing to seek work in the days after his father died
* A man in Bishop Auckland constituency who was a collecting a sick daughter from school and was accused of inventing a “fictional child”
South Shields MP Emma Lewell-Buck said her constituents had been “humiliated” by job centre staff.
“Constituents of mine have been refused a private room to discuss intimate personal or medial issues … the general attitude of staff is confrontational and sometimes just downright rude.”
Wansbeck MP Ian Lavery said Jobcentre staff provided a valuable service and took their role seriously – but they were under pressure to “sanction” as many people as possible, suspending their benefits on the grounds that they had broken rules or failed to prove they were seeking work.
The debate, attended by Labour MPs from across the North East, followed long-running complaints that benefit claimants are being sanctioned for no good reason.
> Very long-running complaints… its a shame it takes a looming General Election to get Labour’s collective arse into gear, and also leads the cynical to wonder whether the situation will just revert after the election (whoever wins).
But Work Minister Esther McVey infuriated MPs by refusing to discuss whether the criteria for imposing sanctions were fair, despite repeated requests for her to address this topic.
She denied her department deliberately inflames talk of “scroungers”, saying: “I have never put forward a story like that and I never would.”
Ms Onwurah recalled that she was largely bought up by her mother in a single-parent family in Newcastle which depended on benefits.
She said: “I am so glad she did not have to face the sort of vilification and abuse that benefit claimants face now.”
She added: “I want to know what this government is doing to prevent the demonisation of those who are now claiming benefits.”
> That’s easy – nothing. Why would they, it’s their policies that encouraged it in the first place.
What we want to know now is what Labour would do, should they win the next election.
Newcastle East MP Nick Brown said one constituent had been told to go to an office in Felling, Gateshead. He walked to the office – because he had no money to pay for public transport – where he was given a telephone number to call.
People with disabilities, but who were judged to be fit to work, were being trained for jobs it was very unlikely they would be able to do, he said.
> There must be more unemployed forklift drivers in the North East than anywhere. Qualifications that are basically useless because the majority of jobs requiring a forklift licence also specify a period of experience in a real situation, not a poxy do-it-or-get-sanctioned course.
And, in Sunderland at least, they send qualified and experienced forklift drivers on these courses too… Southwick Jobcentre advisers in particular were notorious for that.
Julie Elliott, MP for Sunderland Central, said Jobcentre staff were under pressure to sanction claimants.
“They work hard and are put under enormous pressure. Staffing levels have diminished dramatically since 2010.
“We hear anecdotally about the pressures of informal targets on sanctions – we all know they are in place – from people who are too frightened to say something, so they tell us off the record.”
> Ah… definitely an election looming. Julie Elliott is my MP, but failed to respond to a complaint against Jobcentre staff that I made a couple of years ago. That’s not the way to win votes, Jules – electorates are for the full term of the parliament, not just a general election.
Mrs Lewell-Buck accused the Government of encouraging the public “to think of claimants as spongers or skivers, so that working people struggling to get by will blame the unemployed man or woman next door”.
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 07 Jan 2015
In spite of long-standing evidence to the contrary, including officials calling benefit sanctions ‘an achievement’ and revelations by the Guardian, the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) has continued to deny that it sets targets for its Jobcentre Plus (JCP) employees to impose sanctions (immediate cessation) on benefit claimants.
Although it will no doubt continue to be denied, the issue is put beyond even the slightest doubt by an excellent find by the ‘Same Difference’ blog.
Same Difference uncovered a circular to JCP staff which:
- includes the imposition of sanctions in ‘key performance areas’ that are measured
- refers specifically to targets for benefit sanctions and ‘stricter benefit regimes’
Here is the document:
Internal DWP communications show that sanctions are not just a target but a ‘key performance area’. For Iain Smith etc to claim that their department is not setting JCP workers targets on the number of people from whom they summarily…
View original post 7 more words