The DWP thrives on shame. Its tool for repressing benefit claimants is total humiliation and control, and its security for its controversial policies are lies and vilifying of the unemployed. If it operated otherwise, its punishments for poverty – six month workfares, daily sign-ins, mandatory meetings- wouldn’t be tolerated by either its victims or the rest of society.
DWP shaming, then, is perpetrated by two methods: demonising the unemployed in the media as lazy ‘something for nothing’ scroungers and benefits cheats, and directly towards Jobcentre ‘customers’ in the Jobcentres themselves.
The DWP line
I was repeatedly told that I had to sign in and be subjected not only to this forced attendance, but also to them checking my job searches (which gives them more powers than the police, who cannot just order you into a police station or conduct online surveillance because they feel like it) because they paid me £57 a week. Job searching was my “job”, I was informed, an obligation that I performed in exchange for the less than minimum wage of £57 a week. The Job Centre persistently and deliberately refused to allow- yes, “allow”, because they have all the power over our movements and our bodies, and I won’t pretend otherwise- me to sign in at my usual time which was more convenient for me as I had insomnia. They always said “We give you money so it’s your job to come in. You have to get up early for a job. This is the same.” But it’s not. It’s not the same at all. A job pays you, instead of giving you a pittance that’s not enough to live on. A job treats you with respect (or should).
That’s their line. Six month workfare? Your duty in exchange for £57 a week, barely enough to survive on, and not enough to eat well or pay the bills. Daily sign ons after you leave the Work Programme? Your job. Work Programme Provider or Jobcentre meetings, and sessions? Your obligation.
The line might seem harmless. Unimportant. But what’s behind it? The assertion that authority belongs to the Jobcentre to check your movements, not to the jobseeker to ensure she receives good service from the Jobcentre to help her find work. Another underlying assumption is that welfare is not a right. It is a privelege- and priveleges can be taken away or require reciprocity. (Hence unreasonable sanctions). When welfare is not a right, workfare, unreasonable sanctions, unfair Atos assessments, benefits which aren’t enough to live on, food banks and bullying all make sense. It’s all a part of DWP philosophy.
And it’s lies. All of it.
If welfare didn’t exist…
Think about it for a second. If the government didn’t give people benefits, what would happen? Mass starvation.
- The economy would be affected because people wouldn’t have money to even buy basic necessities.
- There would be an increase in crime, rioting and black market dealing (we’ve already seen a rise in food theft). Because of the demand for cheap food, people might steal it and sell it, and possibly cut it with other substances. Hunger, and their children’s hunger, would drive many to working for gangs in exchange for money or food.
- Mass deaths within about a week of The Great Benefit Stoppage.
- Parents dying would mean orphaned children and therefore an increased burden on social services.
In fact, the cost of removing all the corpses, dealing with diseases and traffic obstructions caused by the piles of dead people everywhere, dealing with the crime, dealing with orphaned children and the costs of the economic losses would far outweigh that of giving the insufficient benefits that the government grudgingly hands over.
It’s possible that if benefits were stopped permanently, Britain would lose its world power status in a few years.
So jobseekers shouldn’t feel ashamed of receiving benefits- the government’s only giving benefits to achieve its own ends. And they’re giving the least that they can get away with. Welfare is our right. We need to be vocal about our right and the fact that we’re not being given enough, as the use of food banks proves.
And in fact it’s the employers who are the benefits scroungers. If a billionaire’s company uses workfare instead of having paid employees, or only pays employees minimum wage (leaving the government to supplement their wages with housing benefit and work tax credit), who is really on benefits?
And lots of people are on benefits, not just the unemployed; for all you know, your Jobcentre’s staff might be on housing benefit or child tax credit, too.
If your Jobcentre doesn’t help you find a job, YOU should shame THEM
Once, I found a Jobcentre-sponsored internship and asked the Jobcentre to refer me. They said they couldn’t- because they hadn’t known it existed and so hadn’t told me about it, and by then I was on the Work Programme and not eligible. I was told “We used to look for jobs for people. Now the government wants you to get off your arse and look for jobs yourself”. As if it was my fault I hadn’t known about it, not their negligence for being unaware of their own program.
They also refused to give me travel funds to an interview because I was on the Work Programme, and the Work Programme provider also refused because over a year before they’d given me around £30 to go volunteering. I suggested that I could just not go into my Work Programme Provider’s office a few times so they wouldn’t have to reimburse my bus fares. With the saving they’d make they could give me £100 towards travel costs and I’d pay the rest. They said they couldn’t because I have to come in…despite the fact that sitting around in their office in no way helps me get a job, while an interview will definitely pay off: it’ll either get me a job or valuable interview experience. A child could work out that if you’ve got £100 to throw around, spending it on travelling to an interview is a much more efficient use of taxpayer money than paying me to lounge around an office doing absolutely nothing. But as usual the DWP prefers to throw public money down the drain while vilifying their “customers” for wasting taxpayer money. (Despite the “customers” being taxpayers themselves).
This begs the question: I pay these people’s salary through taxes. If they’re not doing their job (by not telling me about internships I’m eligible for) and not giving me travel expenses, what on earth am I paying my taxes for?
The DWP calls jobseekers “customers” in mockery of the fact that their citizens are forced to trek into jobcentres so they can have food to eat. But as they call us customers, why not make them treat us as such? Jobcentres should be customer-centred. They should be run by and for jobseekers. We should get a say in their policies and have the right to meet with advisors and voice concerns if they fail to find us a job. After all, we pay their taxes; taxes are taken off benefits before we receive them, and we pay VAT. Instead of advisors asking why you haven’t found a job, you should be asking why they haven’t found you a job- what are you paying your taxes for if they’re not helping you?
The issue of responsiblity and authority has been completely turned around. It’s YOU who should be keeping tabs on your advisor’s performance, you asking them what they’ve done to find you a job, you pointing out their harassing behaviour, pointless “sessions” and failures to actually give you courses or volunteering that would help you.
Reminding Jobcentre staff of their duty and ensuring Jobcentres provide good customer service
The next time they try to shame you, remember that you are paying your advisor’s salary and they are the Civil Service- an organisation that works for the public. Jobcentre staff need to understand that they are working for the unemployed and being paid by their taxes. They need to be sensitive to customers’ needs and listen to their views, be accommodating about the times and days of sign ons. No other government agency forces people to come in at set times. Your GP doesn’t tell you they can only see you at 4pm on Tuesday and they’ll cut off your benefits for three months to a year if you show up five minutes late. Neither do local councils, hospitals, even the police. Even my Work Programme Provider lets people attend at a time that’s convenient for them. But not the Jobcentre. No, that would be treating the unemployed as practically human, and acknowledging that jobseekers are busy instead of sitting around doing nothing. (The DWP assumes that if you’re not working or not working enough hours to not be on JSA, you’re free to come in any time). Jobcentres must support the wishes of customers for DWP opportunities or to avoid intervention. Unless you’re being seriously harassed and might be sanctioned for doing so, I’d encourage anyone forced to attend the Jobcentre to communicate this to the staff on a regular basis, to facilitate their understanding.
Benefits are your right and the DWP’s duty. Providing great service to you is the Jobcentre’s duty.
Never forget that.