Tagged: Jobseeker’s Agreement

Exposed: Jobcentre Benefit Sanctions Culture Revealed – Whistleblower

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.

Performance expectations” serve as a foundation for communicating about performance throughout the year. They also serve as the basis for assessing employee performance. When a business and an employee set clear expectations about the results that must be achieved and the methods or approaches needed to achieve them, you establish a path for success.

Report to the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions Iain Duncan Smith (pdf).

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

http://welfarenewsservice.com/exposed-jobcentre-benefit-sanctions-culture-revealed-whistleblower/

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Jobseeker Sanction Advice

 

 

This looks to be very useful – and interesting to see they give Jobseeker Agreement advice too… bad Agreements can set you up for sanctions if you’re not careful.

The lovely wibbly wobbly old lady

Posting this because people may find it useful

Link to the site here:-   http://jobseekersanctionadvice.com/

Jobseeker Sanction Advice Home Page

Job-Centre-ImageHello and welcome to the website of the J.S.S.A.

Now we wouldn’t blame you for wondering, who are JobSeeker Sanction Advice?

So let us give you some background information.

The organisation is ran by Denise Symonds, Andrea Nicholson and Jean Calvert.

One thing we’re most certainly not, as is made clear throughout this site, is to have any connection whatsoever with any government agency, neither are we solicitors, so, with who we are NOT out of the way, let’s focus on who we ARE.

We’re a small network of 3 disgruntled ex, Department of Work and Pensions civil servants who left the service for a variety of reasons, not least of which was our dissatisfaction with the pressures being placed on staff to achieve what many of us saw as targets…

View original post 979 more words

Jobseeker’s Agreement Fun & Games – part 5

I’m indebted to A6er, who seems to have found an answer to a question left hanging in Jobseeker’s Agreement Fun & Games – part 4.

In a letter to my Jobcentre’s manager I asked :

Independent advisers.  Should I feel it necessery, I assume there would be no objection to my having  an independent legal adviser accompany me to any Jobseekers Agreement negotiations. I would be grateful if you could confirm this.

Their reply :

Jobcentre interview are discussions between the claimant and their Personal Adviser. The interviews are usually completed unaccompanied and legal advisers would not normally be present a these negotiations. However, please note if you have  any concerns during you interviews that you can suspend the interview if you wish to seek independent legal advice and we will make another appointment to continue the review at a later date.

A bit ambiguous, you might think. They’re not actually saying you cant, they do seem to be saying “we dont want you to”.

However, A6er has located an up-to-date Freedom of Information request and reply from the DWP on the whatdotheyknow.com site.

View the full document at : https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/196795/response/486014/attach/html/3/Response%20634.pdf.html

The highlights, as they apply to this case –

DWP Central Freedom of Information Team
Annex A 
 
e-mail: [email address].  
gov.uk
 
Our Ref: 634 
 
 
634/ 
24 February  2014 
Annex A 
 
 
Dear  F. Walker, 
Thank you for your Freedom of Information request which we received on 10 February 2014. 
 
You asked:  
 
I’d like to know what the rules on taking support to jobcentre appointments, in particular signing on are. 

I suffer from anxiety and my doctor has given me a note saying I suffer from anxiety and should have someone at all jobcentre appointments. 

My advisor was unhappy with this and I would like to know if I am allowed support or not. 
 
Claimants accessing Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) benefits and services can have someone to accompany them to act on their behalf.  
 
DWP will treat the person acting on behalf of the claimant with the same customer standards 
as the claimant. 

> That’s a bit harsh, isn’t it ? Judging by the sort of customer standards this claimant has witnessed…

The person acting on behalf of the claimant is expected to maintain the same 
behaviour standards as the claimant and treat our staff with courtesy.  
 
Claimants can have a variety of people accompany them such as Representatives, 
Appointees, Corporate acting bodies or Personal acting bodies. 
 
Guidance for staff includes the information provided below: 

Representatives.
 

A customer representative is any person or organisation acting on behalf of or making 
enquiries for the customer. The representative could be helping a customer in several ways, 
including progress chasing, helping them make a claim, seeking an explanation of entitlement 
and how it has been decided, representing them with a reconsideration or appeal, or helping 
them manage their finances. This can be at any stage of the customer’s business with DWP. 
Representatives may include: 
  advice or welfare rights organisations 
  professionals such as social workers, community nurses or doctors 


  family members or friends 
A representative is not an official appointee (Attorneys, Deputies), who should be dealt 
with as if they were themselves the customer. Please note

Yours sincerely,  
DWP Central FoI Team

There is quite a lot more than you can – and should – review at the link above, but this extract proves that yes, you can have a representive with you, and the inclusion of  advice or welfare rights organisations would seem to fit the category of independent legal adviser.

So – was I lied to by the Jobcentre, or do they just not know their own rules?

And which of those options do you think is worse ?

Jobseekers Agreement Fun & Games – Part 4

With a little time to wait before my next appointment, it was time to stir the pot a little and write a letter to the Jobcentre’s manager. Not a complaint or anything, you understand, just a request for information, a defining of terms…

Anyone can do this, or a variation of it. Part of the reason is to find out how much they know, part is to give them the impression that you know more than them and that you may be planning something.

Always request that they reply in writing, so that you have something that may be used in evidence at a future time. If you don’t, they may phone you instead. Get everything in writing !

Dear Sir / Madam,

I am currently negotiating a new Jobseekers Agreement at your Jobcentre, having recently finished Work Programme.

There are one or two points I don’t quite understand, so I would be grateful if you could supply answers – in writing – to the following questions at your earliest convenience.

1 – The status of the Jobseekers Agreement. It seems to me that the Jobseekers Agreement is a legal contract, and as such will be bound by the conditions of English common law pertaining to such contracts.

Could you confirm this, or, should you believe this not  to be the case, supply details of the legislation which removes a Jobseekers Agreement from the constraints of contract common law.

2 – Role of Jobcentre advisers. I would suggest that the role of an adviser is to advise, the title seems self-evident.

Bearing this in mind, if, hypothetically, during the negotiation of a new Jobseekers Agreement, I was to consider  the views of an adviser but then to reject them and decide on a different course of action, his/her role would be at an end – they advised, I considered and decided otherwise.

2 (a) Would I be correct in this summise ?

2 (b) If the adviser decided  not to accept my decision and then to actually try to  reverse it against my will, what would be an acceptable course of action for me to take ?

3 – Independent advisers.  Should I feel it necessery, I assume there would be no objection to my having  an independent legal adviser accompany me to any Jobseekers Agreement negotiations. I would be grateful if you could confirm this.

This third one was actually added as an afterthought, but it’s not a bad idea to put it in as a bit of misdirection – and anyway, it’s a valid question.

So the above was handed in to the reception at my local Jobcentre, around midday. Now get this – I got a reply THE VERY NEXT DAY !

Anyone who has ever tried to get information out of the DWP will  suspect me of stretching credibility here,  but true it is. Usually it takes weeks, often you have to resubmit your request, sometimes several times.

Not that the reply was particularly enlightening –

Thank you for your letter of [date] regarding your Jobseekers Agreement and the role of Jobcentre Adviser.

I am unable to provide you with a full response at present as I need to make further enquiries.

Well that doesn’t tell us much… or does it ?  It does actually seem to imply that the Jobcentre manager knows neither the legal status of a contract his workers try to enforce or, even more worrying, the role of the advisers he employs.

That was the end of the rapid response episode. It took about 3 weeks for a proper reply to arrive  (all punctuation, spelling, etc, as received) –

To respond to your concerns;

Firstly, the Jobseekers Agreement (JSAG) is a document to be agreed between the claimant and their personal adviser. It is purely a tool to set out the claimant’s availability for work and the jobsearch activities they intend to take that is hoped to offer the best prospects of securing employment.

Secondly you are quite right the role of the adviser is to offer advice and support to claimants but it is also their remit to ensure that the JSAG is realistic taking into account both the claimants skills, experience, capabilities etc as well as using their knowledge of the local labour market.

If however an agreement cannot be made about your JSAG your case would be refered to an independent decision maker for consideration. This could result in loss of Jobseekers Allowance at some stage.. If however, you are not satisfied with any decision made regarding your claim to Jobseekers Allowance you can ask for it to be explained or reconsidered or you can appeal to an independent appeal tribunal.

Lastly, Jobcentre interview are discussions between the claimant and their Personal Adviser. The interviews are usually completed unaccompanied and legal advisers would not normally be present a these negotiations. However, please note if you have  any concerns during you interviews that you can suspend the interview if you wish to seek independent legal advice and we will make another appointment to continue the review at a later date.

I hope this reply is helpful and that it adresses the issues you have raised. Should you wish to take the matter further please raise your additional concerns in writing which we will forward on your behalf to our District Complaints Resolutions Manager.

Yours sincerely,

(squiggle)

p.p.  Another Name.

What do we gather from this ?  Well firstly, and worryingly, the squiggle who signed the letter appears to be my adviser !  Also, the Another Name p.p.’d  is NOT the  Jobcentre manager, but some other unknown person. Did the Jobcentre manager ever see this reply ?

Otherwise…

– the Jobseekers Agreement (JSAG) is a document to be agreed between the claimant and their personal adviser. 

Well, yes, I knew that, but that wasn’t what I asked.

– It is purely a tool to set out the claimant’s availability for work and the jobsearch activities they intend to take that is hoped to offer the best prospects of securing employment. 

That wasn’t what I asked either.

–  Secondly you are quite right the role of the adviser is to offer advice and support to claimants but it is also their remit to ensure that the JSAG is realistic taking into account both the claimants skills, experience, capabilities etc as well as using their knowledge of the local labour market.

Well, that’s my point – the adviser is trying to make me include on the Jobseekers Agreement jobs which I have never done, do not have the skills or experience for – my point is that that is NOT “realistic taking into account both the claimants skills, experience, capabilities etc”.

It is, however, a set-up for a sanction.

– If however an agreement cannot be made about your JSAG your case would be refered to an independent decision maker for consideration. This could result in loss of Jobseekers Allowance at some stage.

Ah, the stick.  Complain and we will make life difficult.  I might add that the “independent decision maker “ is NOT independent, it’s the DWP’s decision maker.

– If however, you are not satisfied with any decision made regarding your claim to Jobseekers Allowance you can ask for it to be explained or reconsidered or you can appeal to an independent appeal tribunal.

Why are we suddenly talking about Jobseekers ALLOWANCE ? We’re supposed to be discussing the Jobseekers AGREEMENT.

– Jobcentre interview are discussions between the claimant and their Personal Adviser. The interviews are usually completed unaccompanied and legal advisers would not normally be present a these negotiations

Just because that’s what usually happens, is there anything to stop a person being accompanied if they so desire ?

–  if you have  any concerns during you interviews that you can suspend the interview if you wish to seek independent legal advice and we will make another appointment to continue the review at a later date.

Can you ? That’s interesting. I may have to try that at some stage, just to see if it really works.

– Should you wish to take the matter further please raise your additional concerns in writing which we will forward on your behalf to our District Complaints Resolutions Manager.

After having read your complaint, probably copied it, and initiated any cover-up they feel necessery. Paranoid ? Me ?

So – no real answers to direct questions, but this exchange may prove useful at a future time insomuch as it proves  I tried to get answers to definite questions  and they failed to provide them.

To be continued…

Jobseeker’s Agreement Fun & Games (Part 3)

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 ?

Very little.

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 …

Jobseeker’s Agreement Fun & Games (Part 2)

So there I am with an invitation to attend an interview with a Jobcentre personal adviser as part  Post Work Programme Support (PWPS).

“Now you have completed your time on the Work Programme”  I am informed, “your personal adviser will assess the support you will need, based on your needs and skills, to help you find work and stay in suitable work.”

Readers may wonder what the hell the point of the previous two years of Work Programme (WP) had been, if not  to “assess the support you will need, based on your needs and skills, to help you find work and stay in suitable work.”  Apart, obviously,  from making money for a bunch of private companies (Ingeus in my case) who couldn’t organize a piss-up in a brewery.

Anyhow, off I trot to the Jobcentre. I always think it’s a good idea to play it cool on these initial interviews,  let them take the lead. There are good reasons for keeping your powder dry during these early encounters. For one thing, you might be lucky enough to have drawn a decent human being as your adviser – it can happen.

My previous Jobseeker’s Agreement (JSAg) had been drawn up prior to my starting WP by one such decent adviser, who listened to my points, agreed they were fair enough and we quickly put together a JSAg we could both live with. Everyone was happy, no conflict or stress.

Thinking about it, I realised that I hadn’t seen him around the jobcentre for some considerable time, so perhaps he was sacked for not sanctioning enough people, or perhaps quit in disgust at the way things were going. He was a gentleman, and there are all too few of them in the DWP.

So, as I say – hold back at first, see which way the cookie crumbles. If your adviser is a wrong ‘un, they’ll think you’re another subservient sanction-fodder and will start to take liberties. Give them enough rope now and later you’ll be able to, if not exactly lynch them, at least give them some severe rope-burns to remember you by.

So I sat and watched him instantly tear into my existing JSAg, took notes and laid my plans accordingly.

He didn’t like anything about it, starting with the three “types of job I am looking for”. Now this bit always annoys me – we’re constantly being told that we must be flexible, willing to consider all types of jobs, etc… then they demand that you limit yourself to three ! Where’s the logic ?  I always point this out to the adviser, then put three jobs I have done and feel confident that,  if I should get an interview for one tomorrow,  I could go along, walk the walk, talk the talk and generally appear to actually know something about the job.

Not good enough for this guy, though. He immediately erased one of my choices and replaced it with ‘Assembly’.  I pointed out (meekly, still playing that role) that I had no prior experience of assembly work and indeed wasn’t even quite sure what it entails. Not important, apparently. He wanted Assembly on there, and that was that.

At this point it might be useful to refer back to an article in the Guardian a couple of years ago in which a DWP whistleblower lifted the lid on some of the tricks advisers use to sanction people. In particular –

He said staff had different ways to ensure they could stop benefits for a set amount of people. “So, for example, if you want someone to diversify – they’re an electrician or a plumber, they may not want to go into call centres or something. What you do is keep promoting such and such a job, and you pressure them into taking it off you, the piece of paper. Then in two weeks you look at the system, you ask them if they applied for it … they say no – you stop their money for six months.

I think that was what this adviser was up to.   (Read whole Guardian article here – http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2011/apr/01/jobcentres-tricking-people-benefit-sanctions  )

Of course, the joke is that my CV is probably one of the most diverse you’ll find anywhere. Starting with A for Archaeology and working through the alphabet to W for Warehouse (my dream job would be in a zoo, so I could really claim an A-Z of job titles) – although it should be pointed out that at no time did this adviser enquire about previous experience or ask to see my CV. I might well be able to work in assembly (whatever it is) for all I know, and I’m not ruling it out you understand – but replacing a job I have a track record record in with one I know nothing about, well it just doesn’t seem to make any sense, does it ?

Except, of course, as an instrument of sanction.

And so it continued – he went his merry way, changing just about everything, ticking boxes, all with no discussion with me. I sat back and watched him have his fun.

Then it was my turn. He printed off two copies of the revised JSAg signed them, then  gave them to me to sign. I took a minute or two to read through it, then said:

“No, sorry, I can’t sign these.”

Wonderful ! You’d have thought I’d just punched him in the face (something I had admittedly been thinking about while watching him deconstruct my JSAg). I think these bullying individuals have become so used to pushing through these dodgy JSAgs that it comes as something as a shock when somebody tells them “no”. Playing the meek role encourages them to over-reach themselves, as they feel there’s nothing to stop them.

The interview time was just about up by now and his next victim was waiting, and so, after a bit of huffing and  puffing he said we’d have to continue this at our next meeting.

 “Fine,” I said, “Look forward to it”.   He looked less than enthralled at the prospect.

As I was walking away I remembered something, so turned back.

“I assume that my original JSAg is still in force ?”

He didn’t seem sure, but then decided “No, as you haven’t signed the new one, you have no JSAg at the moment.”

Hah ! Caught you in a lie !

In fact, until such a time as a new JSAg is signed by both parties, the old one remains in operation. It’s worth remembering that, and asking them the same question. If they tell you no, then that’s something to note down for use in a future appeal.

To be continued…