I worked for DWP for many years, in various roles including management and adviser positions, and can verify that Jobcentre Plus did and do talk about benefit sanction targets/expectations.
Benchmarks did exist, but there was no pressure to meet them until around October 2010. Prior to 2010, sanctions were rarely discussed and staff from my experience did not feel under pressure to make referrals to the Decision Maker.
A benchmark is “a standard by which something can be measured or judged” so does not precisely imply a target. A benchmark level is not a target directly, but indirectly policy to meet a benchmark level is a target that is set to meet the minimum standard.
CAB staff reported that their caseloads began to increase significantly to year ending 2011; this was during the same period when the 6% benchmark/target was enforced.
Ruth Owen said at the time, “targets create perverse behaviour” and hence the reason targets/benchmarks were removed from staff appraisal objectives.
However, targets were still discussed, despite staff being informed there were no Stricter Benefit Regime measures. In my district the target/benchmark at the time was 6% of the live load of unemployed people on the office register.
Furthermore, initiatives were introduced that were not always intended to help people, but to achieve the 6% target. I felt this behaviour was unethical and I decided to resign from a job I once enjoyed, because I was extremely unhappy with the new ethos and the welfare agenda. The situation has worsened since my departure.
Following the Guardian’s DWP whistle-blower story sanctions took a dip from July 2011, but they began to rise again during 2012 and have continued to rise significantly ever since.
This can only happen if staff are being encouraged and are expected to make more and more referrals to the Decision Maker (870,793 claimants were subject to an adverse decision to lose their benefit during an 8 month period in 2013); the highest level since the Baldwin government’s campaign against the unemployed in the 1920s, which saw disqualifications of over 2 per cent per month for the very similar, not genuinely seeking work from October 1928 to March 1929 and in April-May 1929. This reason for disqualification was ended by a Labour Party backbench revolt resulting in abolition in March 1930.
> Labour Party backbench revolt – there’s something you don’t hear nowadays… especially not on behalf of the unemployed.
In all my years as a public servant, I have never witnessed the bureaucratic excessiveness which currently exists within the welfare system today.
The impact of the harsher regime, which also includes longer sanctions (which range from 1 month to 3-years), is devastating for claimants who are already under enormous financial pressure and emotional strain; claimants must now contribute to Council Tax, which has resulted in a circa 4% cut in a claimant’s income and in some cases there is the Bedroom Tax to pay too, resulting in a further 19% cut on average.
In addition, benefits have not increased in line with the cost of food and utilities. The EU advice to the UK is, benefits are inadequate.
The sick, the unemployed and those on low incomes are now paying for the failures in the banking system.
The system was and can never be perfect, due to the ever-changing demands of ministers. However, I believe it is now failing many of the people it is intended to help and support, particularly the vulnerable. The support on offer is often insensitive to a claimant’s needs and many people are referred to multiple courses inappropriately at the tax papers’ expense.
To cite one example, an older claimant with arthritis (which Jobcentre Plus knew about) was referred by Jobcentre Plus to attend an unpaid work opportunity that entailed travelling on 3 buses for 90 minutes each way and then to spend up to 30 hours per week picking up cans.
It is, therefore hardly surprising that claimants find the current regime bewildering, frightening and confusing. The professionals, including claimant representatives, are frequently dismayed by the irrational and insensitive treatment our clients are subjected to by, Jobcentre Plus as well as the private contractors delivering the welfare programme.
The reason I initially became involved was due to my family and friends being hurt by the system; I felt I had to assist and things snowballed from there.
The current regime has led to my increasing anger and lack of confidence in the organisations administering the current welfare policies; the people I help feel the same. A number of vulnerable claimants I assist physically shake and/or perspire with fear when they cross the threshold of the Jobcentre or the Work Programme provider premises.
It must feel like a cruel game of Russian Roulette – “will I, won’t I get my benefit stopped today” and for those people who have had their benefit sanctioned wrongly for doing more than is required of them by law, their anxiety is further heightened.
In my view and from experience sanctions do not work; they create excessive anxiety, which is not conducive to productive job search. When I assist a claimant achieve a more relaxed agreement and fairer treatment, they tell me they feel less stressed and undertake more productive and quality job search; many with several disadvantages have found work.
Furthermore, there is a shortage of sufficient and suitable employment opportunities available for everyone. Therefore, a proportion of the population will be unemployed at any given time and no government has successfully eradicated this problem, despite the billions of pounds that has been spent trying to tackle this particular issue.
This leads me to conclude, that most people will take responsibility for their own affairs and require little intervention from the state.
I believe the cost of poverty and administering the sanctioning machine is a further drain on the public purse, due to the wider impact on society; the associated crime such as food theft, increasing debt plus child poverty.
The additional cost to service providers must be taken into consideration too, namely; social services, welfare/debt agencies, food banks, schools, the police, HMCS and the NHS who must pick up the pieces. A number of claimants I help feel suicidal and there has been a recent death reported in the media as the consequence of sanctions being applied.
I am shocked by the very poor treatment of vulnerable claimants. However, more recently I have been assisting professionals who have been sanctioned repeatedly without any justification; these cases have been overturned because the decision was unlawful and/or natural justice, human rights as well as EU law were not applied in many cases.
Other welfare workers mirror my concerns; some of these issues may be addressed by the Mathew Oakley review, but in the absence of the immediate removal of sanctions altogether the process as a whole needs to be examined and in particular the quality and accuracy of decision-making. Examples of poor as well as perverse decision-making are littered all over the Internet by MPs and welfare agencies.
DWP has a duty to get their decisions right first time (pdf) and this must start at the coal face by, the adviser preparing a reasonable and lawful agreement and establishing all the facts fully before raising a doubt. The evidence I have collected indicates that Jobcentre staff and Decision Makers’ fail to follow their internal quality and training manuals too frequently.
“Things done well and with care, exempt themselves from fear.” William Shakespeare
Discretion must also be applied for those claimants who are clearly vulnerable and/or are not wilfully refusing or failing to fulfil their responsibilities.
A client agreed to a Jobseeker’s Agreement (re-named Claimant Commitment) that required them to take 9 steps to seek work; they took more than 40 quality steps, but a sanction was still applied.
Clients have had their benefit stopped indefinitely on the basis that they were not available for work due to the withdrawal of their telephone number and email address from the Jobcentre computer system.
There is no requirement in legislation to provide a telephone number or email address to Jobcentre Plus or the Work Programme to prove availability for work. I have since discovered via Freedom of Information, that this is happening in more than one area.
Claimants are being informed by some Jobcentres and Work Programme providers that everything is mandatory and they are being directed indiscriminately to carry out all activities under a threat of a sanction.
Some claimants are also being mandated to give access to their Universal Jobmatch account or to provide their login details; this is unlawful.
Mandates for non-mandatory activities were only ever issued as a very last resort.
A 57-year-old client who has worked all her life recently told me; “she feels Jobcentre Plus treats her like a school child who cannot be trusted to do her homework without the threat of a severe punishment.” This oppressive regime will not inspire or motivate her to find work more quickly, but it does make her feel angry, stressed and humiliated.
It appears that respect, fairness, reasonableness as well as proportionality have been thrown right out of the window.
The public are told that claimants can access the Hardship fund, but this is not accessible to everyone and many claimants are not made aware of it, because they are not issued with the appropriate paperwork or even told their benefit has been stopped.
If a four-week sanction is applied, most claimants who are over 25 year of age* and not in a vulnerable group (people with health issues, children or expectant mothers) will have nothing to live on for 2 weeks and then only circa £43 for the remainder of the sanction period. This money must cover all their bills, food and travel costs to the Jobcentre, which can exceed £5 in many areas; it simply is not possible.
* JSA rate £72.40 for claimants 25 years and over, £57.35 for 18-24 year olds.
The consequences are several fold; debt which may lead to high interest lending and/or theft not to mention the physical and mental impacts that can significantly affect a person’s ability to seek work effectively or to find the energy or confidence to appeal.
Who would decide to inflict this pain upon themselves, let alone others?
I am also aware some claimants are not receiving travel expenses on their non-signing days, which creates further hardship and more so if they are being forced unreasonably to attend the Jobcentre daily.
These are typical remarks that I read and hear in the course of my voluntary activities to assist claimants:
“I am poverty-stricken. I have no electricity; food and no friends or family close by, can you assist me?”
“I was sanctioned for not doing enough job searches even though I have been told my job search activity is good.”
“I am being forced to participate in an activity that does not support me back to work and makes my health condition worse, but Jobcentre Plus/the private contractor refuses to listen to me.”
There are some good people administering the welfare system, but I believe from the available public evidence that they are being placed under pressure (reference: PCS conditionality questionnaire) to implement the very harsh conditionality regime and, as a consequence a perverse culture is cultivated.
A personal Freedom of Information request can reveal improper behaviour. Further, there are several research papers that counter the government’s view about the effectiveness of benefit sanctions.
Poor treatment and service can also result in Jobseekers claiming sickness benefit (Employment Support Allowance) to escape the stress of attending the Jobcentre or the private contracted provision; this outcome is classified as a positive off-flow and during the period of a sanction Jobseekers are not counted as unemployed, because they are not in receipt of
I would urge all claimants to appeal every sanction and make a complaint to their MP at the same time about their poor treatment. I would also urge the unemployed, the sick, low paid and the agencies that witness first-hand what is happening to come together to stop this merciless treatment.
British people are in the main, compassionate and civilised. I also believe most people would be as horrified as I am if, they witnessed first-hand the consequences of the punitive measures being meted out to fellow citizens in order to attain performance measures and/or to frustrate people off the unemployment register.
When I talk to people about welfare many people are in favour of the government’s tougher stance via enhanced conditionality.
However, when I explain how the welfare policy is being administered and the human impacts, they are shocked.
I also find it very distressing that poverty related diseases are also on the rise in the UK, placing further pressure on the NHS. I am sure many readers of this story will be equally disturbed by these findings.
The UK ‘is the first country to face UN inquiry into disability rights violations‘.
I am not politically motivated and made a conscious decision not to vote in the past 2 elections. I am simply a very concerned UK citizen who is struggling to comprehend why fellow human beings are being treated so appallingly and why the gap between the haves and have-nots is continuing to widen. The current regime simply cannot be allowed to continue in a society which claims to care for the welfare of all its’ citizens.
It makes me want to weep the depths which have been plunged. The increasing volume of very poor quality decisions made by local Jobcentre staff and DWP Decision Makers’ is of great concern.
If everyone appealed and complained many more sanctions would be overturned, thus making their very existence unjustifiable.
> I agree wholeheartedly with that last sentiment. It’s not always easy, barriers will be put in your way, but from personal experience the mere fact of winning an appeal against an unjust decision is a real boost.
Sender has requested anonymity.
Source – Welfare News Service, 02 Sept 2014
Following the recent/continuous denials from Central Government about there never having been targets imposed in Jobcentre Plus offices for Advisers and sanctions, I wish to strongly disagree with the official line.
What I can confirm is that every Wednesday morning, the office would not open until 10am as we would have an open office meeting and during this various topics were covered: changes to policy/procedures etc, and also raised was the District League Table.
This was a table that listed all of the offices in the District (Wallsend/Blyth/Whitley Bay/North Shields amongst others) and has usually headed up by S Smith the most senior manager in the office.
We were originally informed that we had to reach a target of 1 sanction a week and once it was realised that this could be reached by lunchtime on the Monday, this was increased to four a week.
This was submitted sanctions – not those sanctions that actually took effect after a decision maker had made their judgement. So the stupidity was that you could suspend a customers benefit at your desk (with them in front of you), submit the paperwork to the Decision Maker, who could then either decide to implement the sanction to decide that there was no case to answer.
The end result was that Advisers were suspending benefit on the flimsiest of reasons – simply to hit targets. Never mind the fact that this annoyed the customer – thus raising the risk level to staff and security staff and also wasting the advisers time, the decision makers time, the customers time.
So to summarise – whichever MP is stating that targets were never implemented, is either:
A) Lying – to keep on message and protect their career.
B) Has been misled by those who are there to support him/her – to protect their careers they say whatever the MP wants to hear.
Mr P Black
Source – Welfare News Service, 06 Aug 2014
“In case they’ve grown back” (picture at top of post) may be meant as humour, but something very similar has actually happened with Atos. See – https://unemployedtynewear.wordpress.com/2013/12/11/atos-expecting-miracles/
The government wouldn’t do it – so an influential Parliamentary committee has decided to launch its own inquiry into Employment and Support Allowance and the Work Capability Assessment that determines eligibility for it.
I will be submitting evidence to this inquiry and I strongly suggest that, if you have a story to tell, then you should provide evidence as well.
According to the Parliament.uk website, the decision to undertake an inquiry from today (February 6) was made in light of recent developments including the publication of several reviews of the WCA, expressions of concern from DWP regarding Atos’s performance in delivering the WCA, and the introduction of mandatory reconsideration.
Submissions of no more than 3,000 words are invited from interested organisations and individuals.
The Committee is particularly interested to hear views on:
- Delivery of the WCA by Atos, including steps taken to improve the claimant experience
- The effectiveness of…
View original post 708 more words
Ok… round 2. I’ve now discarded the submissive attitude adopted for the initial interview and now its time to enter angry, cynical bastard mode (admittedly this seems to be pretty much my default state nowadays).
The adviser was allowed to play his hand in the first interview, and he proved himself to be one of those who would, if given the opportunity, steamroller the claiment into signing a Jobseeker’s Agreement (JSAg) designed to set them up for sanctions, presumably with no qualms about the ensuing hardship their actions would cause.
Remember this, and remember it well – it’s YOUR life they will be disrupting, possibly destroying. They will continue on their merry way, drawing their rather good wage and probably basking in the praise they get for hitting their sanction targets at your expense.
So what are YOU going to do about it ? Because its only YOU who can do anything about it.
Luckily its not so hard as you might think – or might be encouraged to think. Of course it helps if you’re a naturally stroppy person. Actually, I’m not, and once upon a time I’d have probably have allowed them to steamroller me too, but the passage of the long, hard years, etc – basically I’ve learnt how to play the part, studied how they play their parts, learnt the facts that they should know but so often seem ignorant of – pretty inexcusable when that knowledge should be central to the proper execution of their jobs, but there you go. It’s something you can use.
Knowledge is power, and can give you a little leverage – it’s up to YOU how you use it to best effect.
Archimedes said “Give me a firm place to stand, and I will move the Earth.” That’s a little ambitious perhaps – I’d settle for helping a few more cracks appear in the edifice – it may not be as dramatic as burning down the Jobcentre, but chipping away here and there has its effect.
Not much of one if it’s just me, but what if YOU join in, and YOU and YOU ? And all the other YOUs who accept having deadly JSAgs foisted on them without argument, then whinge about it afterwards ?
If everyone refused to sign sub-standard JSAgs at the initial appointment and took the adviser to a second session, that would instantly impose extra strain on the system – and probably on the advisers too. More cracks for you to insert your metaphorical crowbar into.
But its down to YOU to act in your own best interests. All I can do is record how I’ve gone about things – hopefully it may inspire YOU and give YOU a few ideas.
Anyhow, enough about YOU, how was I getting on back at the Jobcentre ?
Mr Submissive safely back in his box, Mr Bastard takes to the stage. As the adviser’s only previous experience of me is as the former, this apparant change of personality may throw him a bit.
Incidentally, I find it useful to take a few props along. Print out anything you think you might be able to quote at them, put them in a file, then add enough extra sheets (blank if you like) to give it a bit of weight so that it gives a satisfying thump when you dump it on their desk. If they query it, say “Just a few notes…I’ve been looking into the legal implications” or something on those lines. Leave it vague – let their imaginations fill in the blanks, however erroneously.
A reporter’s notepad is also useful. Put it on their desk to make sure they see it, but transfer it to your lap, out of their sight, to make notes. Actually, you dont even have to make notes – just appear to be doing so. doodle, scribble, whatever, it’s the fact that you appear to be making notes that is important. Once again, encourage their imagination to jump to conclusions. Oh, and dont forget a pen – you kind of lose points if you have to ask to borrow one of theirs.
The notepad can also be used to disrupt their flow, should you wish to. Just say “Sorry… could you repeat that ? I ought to make a note of that,” and then scribble something on your pad for a while.
Mr Bastard also attempts to take control. Mr Bastard is right in from the word go. He points out that the JSAg is a contract and that under English common law there are certain niceties that must be observed if it is to be considered valid, does Mr Adviser not agree ? Mr Adviser has obviously never given a moments thought to the subject, is caught on the back foot, and resorts to umming and ahhing.
“Well it is, and it does,” Mr Bastard informs him, and moves on to the next issue.
You might recall from Part 2 that this adviser changed one of my specified employment fields on the JSAg to “assembly”, despite me pointing out that not only did I have no experience in that field, I wasn’t even clear what “assembly” actually entails.
Mr Bastard points out again that he knows nothing of this field, and demands it is changed…but not back to the original job, instead he is willing to allow “Retail” to be inserted instead.
In actual fact, Mr. Bastard’s experience of retail is pretty much limited to working stalls at markets and festivals – still, that’s 100% more experience than he has of assembly. Mr. Bastard also knows that far too many retail jobs are part-time and zero hours, but he wont have to apply for those, as he specifies needing full-time work.
However, the important thing is that Mr. Bastard is seen as willing to compromise and allow the Mr. Adviser to change one of his designated jobs (albeit one that he did not himself designate to start with). Mr. Bastard makes sure Mr Adviser knows that he’s making compromises, that he’s willing to do business. All bullshit really, but this perceived willingness to negotiate will look good should you need to take your case to independent appeal.
Still pushing the illusion of being Mr Compromise, Mr Bastard also states that he’s going to allow the total of 6 compulsory job applications per week to stand – a 100% increase on the existing JSAg. Mr. Adviser upped it from 3 to 6 at the initial appointment.
Six applications a week may not seem much, but taken in the context of the North East’s job opportunities… some weeks it’ll probably mean applying for 5 jobs I know I’m not going to get. The one bright spot is that email means I dont have to waste money on stamps and stationary anymore.
Mr Adviser did attempt to rally behind his assembly fixation – what the hell is is with him and assembly work ? If its so great, why isn’t he doing it ? And, being Mr Bastard, I asked him that very question. He didn’t answer, but stated that assembly was where all the work is locally.
Aha ! said Mr Bastard, who had spent a profitable and instructive 15 minutes prior to the interview printing off jobs from the Jobcentre’s jobpoints.
“Funny you should say that,” says Mr Bastard, “I’ve just been working my way through the top 100 local jobs, and guess how many assembly jobs I found ?”
Mr Adviser is not up to guessing games, but Mr Bastard tells him anyway – “Two !” He dumps the job slips in front of Mr Adviser and goes on to point out that both require previous experience and arcane qualifications, neither of which Mr Bastard – as he has repeatedly pointed out – possesses.
Mr Adviser shrugs. But there’s more – Mr Bastard dips into his other pocket and extracts a far larger wad of job slips. “By way of comparison, in the top 100 jobs on your job points I found no less than nineteen vacancies for self-employed leaflet distributors.”
And that’s the way of it folks – 2% assembly jobs, 19% leaflet distributors. In fact its probably worse than that – had I counted several other door-to-door, catalogue selling, commision based non-jobs in with the leaflet non-jobs, they’d have accounted for at least 25% of work available on the Jobcentre’s (and thus the government’s) own job points.
Its the unpalatable fact that they wont acknowledge – last August the Financial Times highlighted a survey of vacancies by Adzuna.co.uk, described as “a search engine that collects every online job vacancy.”
According to this survey, London and the southeast accounted for 46 per cent of UK vacancies… compared with just 3.3 per cent in the North East.
Anyone having to live on benefits in the North East knows this. Anyone looking for full-time work knows it’s even worse than that – once you’ve weeded out the part-time jobs, the zero hour contracts, and the 25% of “self-employed” scam non-jobs – what’s left ?
We know it , they must know it too, but refuse to acknowledge it, and insist we continue to chase vacancies in which we have neither the specified experience or qualifications, which we know before we even send the application that we wont be considered for.
If you wanted to design a system that seems guaranteed to destroy self-confidence and morale, look no further.
Mr Bastard makes these points, but Mr Adviser is obviously not interested. After all, he has his job, his little bit of power over the plebs, and is fulfilling the the trust invested in him by Iain Duncan Smith admirably.
The session petered out around now, with Mr Adviser saying that he will have to book a double-session for next time, as Mr Bastard has to agree to the revised JSAg or it will be refered to a decision maker.
“WE have to mutually agree on a contract, subject to English common law” Mr Bastard reminds him, and exits, feeling he’s probably come out on top – and still hasn’t signed the JSAg.
To be continued …