First published on Guerilla Policy on 20/3/14.
In November 2013 I interviewed the DWP whistleblower known as the Jobcentre Mole, who used Twitter to expose corruption and advise DWP victims. In the interview the Mole revealed the existence of sanctions bonuses and competition between JobCentres to sanction the most people. Now another whistleblower who tweets from the @JobcentreMole account tells his story, revealing that job centres use sanctions to reduce the number of JSA claimants and make it look like unemployment is falling. (All emphases mine).
Your partner Mole revealed that advisors are given bonuses for sanctioning and there is a list system to force Job Centres to compete with each other to sanction the most people. Could you describe when you saw bonuses being given out or when you saw advisors being blamed for not sanctioning enough jobseekers?
“Staff were getting marked as ‘must improve’…because they had not [sanctioned enough jobseekers].”
Well, there is an annual bonus payment in place and it is supposed to be performance related. Basically staff have two reviews per year, an interim & then a final about every six months. Staff are “reviewed” on their performance over the previous 6 months by their line managers. The final reviews will be coming up shortly, btw. The reviews are basically conversations about what you have achieved over the period, evidence you supply of examples of good customer service, say. The line manager then makes an assessment and gives you a performance marking: Excellent, Good or Must Improve.
Excellent and Good means you will be paid a bonus. There are mainly 2 staff grades in a JCP office which deal with customers. Band B staff mainly do the signing part and administration support. Band C staff are mainly advisors or line managers to band B’s. Band C are generally thought of as being a junior manager grade, god help us as this is where most of the dead wood is, & the grade above! The bonus payments are approx £360 & £520 for B and C respectively, so we are really talking about a fortune here when the head of DWP Robert Deveraux allegedly was paid a £20K bonus.
6 months ago band B & C staff were getting marked as “must improve” and it is true to say that many band C staff admitted that it was because they had not done sufficient DMA action on jobseekers. (DMA is basically instigating the sanctions). Here though is the stupidity of this system, when staff were asking the line managers how many DMA referrals they had to do the answer was “there is no target”.
I must explain here that the grading system was being screwed with by senior managers as there were rumours that they were trying to cut the number of bonuses paid due to media focus. So the ordinary staff member got it in the neck again, a lower than inflation pay rise for 4 years, and now a bar raising exercise to attain a meagre bonus.
As you can imagine morale is very low in the offices, so much so that the managers are setting up work groups to try and find ways for staff to engage with the department. This is the truth, if you wrote it as part of a comedy script people would say you were mad.
At all staff meetings DMA is always mentioned, the number of actively seeking or the number of refusing employment, always mentioned along with being told that our off flow targets are going thru the roof. As though we can’t make the connection that it is DMA which is generating the false impression that unemployment is falling and employment is rising!
Anyone sanctioned still has to attend to sign as they have to sign for their National Insurance contributions. So each offices register will look on paper as though it is reducing, but the number of people attending each day isn’t dropping! Talk about Orwell’s ministry of truth!
I must say that in my office, we are not told about neighbouring offices sanction rates. I can see that it would go on as some managers have an agenda all their own. Civil Servants are supposed to be non political, but I have heard managers quoting popular political sound bytes and this culture is obviously filtering down to the front line staff.
It was a project that led you and the other Mole to set up the @JobcentreMole Twitter account. Was the project something you felt was unfair to jobseekers?
“I have heard and read statements which senior management have issued which have mimicked the politicians’ statements.”
My self and the other staff member worked on an initiative together for about [Slutocrat has chosen to redact this information to protect the identity of the Moles] and became friends. He has a longer service record than I have, and he would deal with the questions regarding the conditionality and regulations. I am more for combing the Internet finding stories in the media which highlight the departments incompetence. Due to unforeseen circumstances my friend is unable to contribute to the account at this time.
We did not start the Jobcentremole account because we were disillusioned, the feeling we had was that there was a need for it. We were under the impression that there were no other whisleblower accounts, fortunately we have been proved incorrect. I just simply want people to realise that there are staff who work in jobcentres who do actually care about people. One of the biggest issues at the moment for me is that civil servants are supposed to be non political but, I have heard and read statements which senior management have issued which have mimicked the politicians statements. Phrases like “the end of something for nothing” & “a stricter benefit regime” are being used regularly by staff who should know better. Please, be under no illusions, JCP are solely wanting people to “sign off” the unemployment register and they are not interested in why they do it, I personally think there is a serious unmentioned campaign to frustrate people off benefits.
How do advisors and managers keep jobseekers in the dark about their rights to appeal, get travel funding, etc?
“There is a culture of almost secrecy within the department, the steer from managers being that we wouldn’t tell people directly about [funds to help them get into work]”
In the dark? More like deliberately withholding information about services specifically introduced to remove a barrier to a jobseeker getting back into work. You are quite right about the travel funding also, many districts have local arrangements with transport companies which were introduced to help people looking for work reduce travel costs. You are asking why isn’t this information displayed in a prominent position in all jobcentres? Well think about this … When was the last time you ever saw a media campaign or advertisement informing the public about what benefits they may be entitled to? It just isn’t done is it? The department never advertises any benefits. The closest we get at the moment is information about claiming Jobseekers Allowance online. This is being done to force people to claim online, to save money & to pave the way for digitalising our services.
So similarly, there is a culture of almost secrecy within the department, the steer from managers being that we wouldn’t tell people directly about ADF (advisor discretion fund) a fund of money which can be used to help remove a particular barrier to work. Then there is Flexible Support Fund (FSF) another source of cash which can help pay for things like training or travel costs, again with the intention of helping people back into a job. We would only inform about these if a jobseeker asked about them directly. So we don’t tell & they won’t know!
There used to be the return to work credit, which was a payment of £100 for a single person or £250 for a person with a family, which was paid to someone signing off into work. The intention being that the payment would help someone until they were paid their first wage. The coalition scrapped it, so now lots of people worry about accepting a job with a monthly salary as there is no support for them.
Also to anyone reading this who is or has to attend appointments which are not on their signing day, claim your travel expenses!
The appeals process is in place for people to use, again no information about it is ever displayed in an office. One thing I will say here, a lot of buildings aren’t owned by the DWP they are leased from organisations like Trillium. This is going to sound crazy but there are rules about what can and can’t be displayed on the walls, and what size and shape it can be!
It really is like working in a parallel universe at times, you have to leave your common sense at the door.
Have you seen anyone being sanctioned unfairly?
“A sanction can be imposed for…being referred to a vancancy…and hasn’t provided proff that they’ve applied for it”
I’m not an Advisor or a Work Coach as the role is being renamed. I’m therefore not privy to the circumstances behind a sanction. The commonest reason for a sanction is ASE or not Actively Seeking Employment. This is the jobseeker not providing enough evidence of active Jobseeking. Previously, ppl set out the steps they were going to take to find work in a contract between themselves and the Jobcentre called a JSAG (Jobseekers Agreement) The sanction for ASE is applied when a jobseeker hasn’t shown or taken enough steps to find a job.
A sanction can be imposed for RE which is refusing employment. Usually a jobseeker is referred to a vacancy, mainly on the horrible Universal Jobmatch and hasn’t provided proof that they have applied for it.
A sanction can also be applied for missing a mandatory appointment. The JC take the view that a person is not working so they will be able to attend an appointment at any time. When a jobseeker does not attend a doubt is raised about a persons availability to take up employment, this is usually not done to someone who misses just one appointment. It is generally jobseekers who persistently miss appointments who are sanctioned. A form has to be issued if someone misses one appointment and another is re booked, this form warns the jobseeker that they MUST attend, on time, or it will affect their benefit.
I think jobseekers have been given Directions to do an action, like create a CV, and this is beyond their capability. This often resultsin a sanction, and in some cases I think that this can be unfair. What you have to remember is that the Jobcentre deals with all the spectrum of society, and it is widely acknowledged that some people do not & will not ever work. This group have no health issues or mitigating circumstances so, is it right that they can stick two fingers up to society and say “I want benefit but I’m not prepared to meet the conditions to be eligible for it”?