Our government is throwing away hundreds of millions on work providers like Ingeus and A4e. The Herald claims that each provider costs us between 10 million and 50 million per year- and there are over 40 of them. It’s a tad pointless when all these expensive schemes don’t actually help people get jobs. It just lowers their self esteem and perhaps indirectly makes it harder for jobseekers to sell themselves at interviews when they feel humiliated and oppressed or guilty for being unemployed.
Even if Ingeus and A4E could help people into work, what difference does it make to the economy- there are only so many jobs. Choosing some unemployed (those attending the Job Centre) to build up and get jobs doesn’t reduce the unemployment rate; it just means that these chosen few will successfully compete with other unemployed who aren’t yet claiming JSA. The number of unemployed remains the same. And the non-benefit claiming unemployed who lose out to the benefits claiming unemployed will eventually have to claim benefits if they can’t compete for jobs. This isn’t any more beneficial than giving employment to brunettes over blondes or gays over straights. So what is the DWP’s and Iain Duncan Smith’s real goal?
We all know the Atos horror stories (here’s one in video form about how Atos declared a woman with mental disabilities fit for work) and the tales of sanction-induced poverty and homelessness. Could the DWP’s agenda simply be control? The DWP is based on control: what types of jobs you apply for, how many you apply for, where you’ll look for them. Control of the body and physical location is integral to the DWP’s operations (workfare, group sessions, attending Job Centre or work program provider interviews and advisor appointments). The system of ‘agreed actions’ means that even if something isn’t mandatory it becomes mandatory once you’ve agreed to it and you can’t change your mind even one second later. If you don’t do it you get sanctioned.
Being five minutes late to sign on at the Job Centre will mean you get sanctioned for 4 weeks. I found this out a while ago when I decided to test out my new platform wedges. I arrived at the Job Centre and as usual I had to wait for nearly 10 minutes to be seen. “Joel” checked my job search and seemed surprised that I was applying for jobs every day. He said he was pleased that I was looking for work. The Job Centre only requires that you contact 2 employers per week and I would always exceed that every day. Then Joel said “You’re five minutes late.”
I was very surprised as I actually thought I’d get there early as I’d got up and hour and a half earlier than I needed to (my sign on time was early in the morning) and also left the house earlier than usual because it hadn’t taken me as long to try out eye shadow blending as I’d thought it would. But I didn’t say any of this because there is no point telling the Job Centre anything. I just said “Okay”.
Joel is a nice friendly guy. I’m not criticising him. I’m just reporting on DWP policy because it is ridiculous. Joel gave me a letter to take away because I had been late.
I asked him “What is the purpose of this letter?” Joel replied that it’s a warning. I asked “Do you keep records?” He said they do keep records but only for 2 weeks. “If you’re late twice in a row you’ll be sanctioned but if you’re on time next time then we destroy the record,” he said. I asked him for the policy reference but he didn’t know so I looked it up. And you know what I found? Being late can’t actually be sanctioned. Jobcentre “customers” can only be sanctioned for failure or refusal to attend. (The first time means a 4 week sanction and refusing or failing to attend again means a 13 week sanction.)
This means the Job Centre is sanctioning people illegally. No wonder Joel couldn’t point me towards the policy reference – there isn’t one.
But that’s just one example of the Job Centre’s increased control over the movements of its “customers”. Foucalt wrote about state control of the body and it seems to apply to the Job Centre which is now so regimental that being 5 minutes late is now punishable by a 4 week illegal sanction. While some of the DWP’s contractors will allow adviser interview times to be set at convenient times, the Job Centre demands that claimants attend at whatever time the Job Centre wishes.
The Job Centre can change your sign on time with no warning and without telling you and they will refuse to change it back even though you usually babysit at those times (it’s happened to me). An investigator travelled 95 miles to meet me at the Job Centre to ask me questions about the babysitting, my relationship status and bank accounts. He told me I should have informed the Job Centre I had babysat even though I’m not paid a penny for doing it and only babysat occasionally. I had a to sign a declaration that my circumstances hadn’t changed. The investigator was understanding and said he knew I wasn’t deliberately hiding anything from the Job Centre, but the Job Centre has to know about babysitting otherwise it’s like the government is funding childcare for the kid’s mum, especially if she can only work if I provide childcare.
With restart interviews, sessions. job search interviews, adviser interviews and god knows what else for those on JSA, ESA and Income Support, it’s clear that control of people’s movements and schedules is a key tool in the DWP’s agenda of humiliation and control.
When you’re forced to run to the Job Centre out of fear of being late or hurry through treacherous ice as snow blows into your face, all so you can get money to buy food…it doesn’t exactly help your self esteem or your confidence at interviews or your motivation to get back into work. This is control and punishment, pure and simple.