Category Archives: Reporting on the Department of Work and Pensions

Job Centre bans man for making complaint, admits they sanction claimants even if they apply for enough jobs

On 22/06/15 at 10:34 (my laptop had to be repaired, hence the delay in reporting this) I saw a Job Centre advisor tell a “customer” (as the DWP calls those forced to attend the Job Centre) that he was now “banned from this Job Centre” for making a complaint against one of the staff. She informed him that the ban would be in effect “while the investigation into [his] allegations” is processed and he would have to sign on at another Job Centre approximately 20 miles away. When I asked my advisor about it, she just said she didn’t know and couldn’t discuss it. She didn’t deny that the Job Centre would do that or find the idea ridiculous or slanderous.

This is deeply concerning. It’s an attempt at censorship- exercise your right to complain and you’ll have to be inconvenienced. The complainant is punished by being banned, instead of the staff member who is the alleged perpetrator. Punishing people for engaging with the DWP (which helps to improve the quality of the services) and exercising their rights is completely unethical and possibly illegal. Even if he’d been banned as a result of the incident that caused the complaint, and not for complaining, surely the ban should be stopped until the investigation is over and he’s proved to be in the wrong and deserve the ban.

After my advisor interview I left the Job Centre and then went back to get more information. My advisor told me that even if a JSA claimant has applied for enough jobs per week, they can still be sanctioned if they didn’t apply for a job that they could do. (I saw this happen when I was undercover in another Job Centre but I never thought the problem was so widespread). The only reason I wasn’t sanctioned today is because the jobs I hadn’t applied for hadn’t closed yet. Whether a job has closed or not is a ridiculois way to determine whether or not to sanction somebody. It’s also unclear if this involves just local jobs; if I regularly apply to jobs far from my local area, it would actually make sense to sanction me for not applying to jobs all over the UK. And why stop there? I’ve applied to jobs abroad; why not sanction people for not applying for every job in the world that they can do?

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Job Centre Refuses To Let Man Make New Benefits Claim And Sanctions Woman By Mistake

jobcentreparody

Today I saw three things happen at the Jobcentre. It’s a bit weird that this happened just after I finally launched the ebook. I wasn’t trying to observe anything, it was just a routine interview. I wasn’t even expecting to see anything because my advisor is fine and so, if I were the sort of person who would covertly record, I would have long ago stopped secretly recording Jobcentre staff every time I go. Again, if I were that sort of person, I would only have recorded this particular advisor twice, compared to the 16 or 17 covert recordings of other staff members which I would have if I had ever audio recorded in the Jobcentre.

At about 11:35 Work Coach ‘Allen’ was on the phone to a Work Programme company.

“I’m taking action against him,” he was saying, “Because he hasn’t done a job search in the last two weeks…no this was from a long time ago…12th May.”

Now I’m not disputing that according to DWP policy, this guy deserved the sanction. But it seemed as though Allen was treating the fact that another human being would have no money for two weeks, and thereafter only around £30 a week for months, in a very casual manner. He seemed unaware that this guy would not have enough food to eat or any way to pay for electricity and gas. I didn’t record this.

Then I had my advisor interview and went on the computers to look up the Civil Service Movement Into Work Scheme (work experience placements in government departments which JCPs can refer you to) which I previously used to observe the Jobcentre and write the ebook. I was trying to get my advisor to refer me. She didn’t even know that the Scheme includes all Civil Service agencies and not just the Jobcentre, which shows the sterling quality of Jobcentre training. This is the second time a Jobcentre staff was unaware of Jobcentre initiatives. The first time, I was told that the staff member didn’t know about it until I was on the Work Programme (and therefore not eligible) because “it’s up to you to get off your arse and do things for yourself”. I felt like I was being blamed for researching internship opportunities myself and expecting professionalism and support from Jobcentre staff. When I worked my bosses would never have let me get away with the kind of disorganisation that they get away with. (Come to think of it, my advisors were keen to try to push catering courses and workfare on me, but didn’t deign to breathe a word about the Scheme or internships that would’ve actually been useful.)

Then she found out I’m no longer eligible anyway because I’m now over 25. Though it is great to be not allowed to work for them on the ground of age instead of the ground of which country’s name is on my passport, when that is entirely the fault of the government itself for withholding citizenship from me when I was born- born here, but apparently not British enough to even harass people in the Jobcentre. (Only UK citizens can work in the Civil Service- including in Jobcentres- but anyone can do the Movement To Work Scheme). But I digress. Anyway, the age thing shows how damaging the Work Programme can be. When you’re on the Work Programme you’re excluded from all Jobcentre courses, opportunities and funding. If the Work Programme didn’t exist I could have taken advantage of the Movement Into Work Scheme, perhaps even more than once, doing placements in different departments.

Another pointless rule was explained to me today after I used a JCP phone to call a court about doing work experience there (I have a Law degree). My advisor says that if I do intern in the court, the DWP will only pay my travelling expenses if I’m referred to the placement through the Jobcentre. Otherwise they won’t, and I can’t do it, because it’s over two hours away so it costs too much. The Advisor Discretionary Fund (now combined with the Flexible Support Fund) which provide funding for things to help you back into work only pay for things arranged through the Jobcentre.

But to get back to the story: there I am clicking away at an unnecessarily oversized monitor paid for with taxpayer money, when someone pops in to ask Allen why she was sanctioned. Allen says it’s because the Jobcentre didn’t receive her job search. She explains about a mix-up, a conversation which I’m not able to hear well because of other loud conversations taking place. Allen appears to accept her explanation. He tells her to call the decision maker and explain it to them. Which means she was sanctioned by mistake. It’s unbelievable. (Didn’t record this either.)

Then a man came in and sat at another computer. Lauren (who first appeared on this blog in this delightful interaction) told him to move because that computer was only for making new claims. She repeated this a few times in a rude manner. He pointed out that he was indeed making a new claim. Lauren told him to leave and he asked to be allowed to make the claim. They then argued about him having to sign on at another job centre. He asked her for the bus fare to travel there if she was making him go to another JCP. She kept refusing to pay his fare. So he asked to make the new claim here and she said “Go and come back when you’ve calmed down. Go or I’m calling the police.” He went. (If I was inclined to take videos, I don’t think the video’s audio quality would be good enough to justify posting it on here or on YouTube- I was filming from a distance).

Anyway, on a completely unrelated note, here’s a completely unrelated video of a completely unrelated place.

I Just Published An Ebook- JobCentre: Confidential Is The True Story Of Being Undercover At The DWP

Jobcentre- Confidential3

Back in March I asked the Job Centre to let me do work experience. It’s something the DWP routinely does. They paid my travelling but not lunch but I was happy with this; information usually comes at a price, even if that price is only effort and time. This was the culmination of a two-year long plan to get them to let me intern in a Job Centre so I could blog about it.

I’d originally imagined blogging every day- a sort of journal of my observations. But when the work experience rolled around, I thought it’d be safer to collect all the data first and then release it on the web- or to a paper or news site. But the Job Centre staff were criticising the unemployed and disabled all the time. Even before my work experience officially began I was witnessing unfair sanctions, and ridiculous sanctions and narrow escapes from potential ridiculous sanctions kept happening. Only two days- the first Thursday and Friday- went by without much incident. I was getting way too much information for a single article. I thought about doing a series of blog posts but even that seemed a bit of a waste and I didn’t know if people would want to read post after post. So I made it into an ebook.

Doing the observation was fun. It was more than fun. I don’t know of any single word to describe it. It was like living your dream and doing what you were always meant to do, and expressing yourself- all at the same time! I’d been observed and monitored often as a child and teenager so I was familiar with the process of it; noting down dates, times, patterns of behaviour. And unlike my enemies who’d observed me, I actually cared about getting the facts right. That meant that if Staff Member A told me something, I’d ask Staff Member B the same thing for confirmation. I talked to staff at different grades and doing different jobs- the manager down to the security. I also asked them to let me sit in on advisor interviews, which they granted.

It required a lot of focus though. I’d often have to check the time for accuracy and I was always hungry when I was there, no matter how much I ate for breakfast (no idea why). I had 4 hours- usually three and a half- to collect as much information as possible. I would memorise it and write it on my phone at lunchtime. We had an hour for lunch so by the time I’d bought food and returned to the Job Centre canteen I’d have about 30 minutes at best to eat and write. And that’s if I didn’t use some of the time to chat to any staff whose break coincided with mine- which I often did. I kept it subtle- I didn’t just join their tables on the first couple of days. But I soon discovered that they weren’t cliquey and the social bonds between most of the staff were not strong- they were happily colleagues, but not friends. (This may have something to do with the fact that some staff members were doing Universal Credit training and were absent from normal activities). Remembering every detail and the stuff I had to follow up on was hard. I’d email the notes to myself on the bus home.

My work experience was meant to last 4 weeks. It was stopped after two and a half weeks, for vague and nonsensical reasons (detailed in the ebook). I suspect it’s because the manager found out what I was doing. He used to be my advisor at another Job Centre two years ago and knows my views about the DWP. He also knows about this blog. For all I know he’s reading this.

The manager didn’t say I was being chucked out for potential whistleblowing or conspiracy to commit undercover journalism. But he did say “You’re not allowed to blog about this”. I assured him I wouldn’t, and I didn’t. I wrote an ebook instead.

It’s called JobCentre: Confidential, and it’s here.

I also wrote this article for Guerilla Policy and this one for The Fifth Column.

Thanks to Rick B for the title (its working title was “DWP Undercover” but I thought that sounded a bit dramatic).

How I got the DWP to release “commercially sensitive info” (admit how much they pay Ingeus)

dwpfoi

When I asked the DWP how much they paid Work Programme companies, they rejected my request 4 times. The last time was on the grounds that this information could not be released because it was “commercially sensitive”. This is obviously a completely inappropriate attempt to subvert transparency and the Freedom of Information Act.  It also suggests that the DWP are aware that they are paying Ingeus too much, or why try to hide it? I thought that making an appeal/internal review wouldn’t make them change their minds, but I did it anyway and surprisingly it worked. (I reckon they didn’t want me publicising the fact that they were refusing to admit how much they were paying.)

It all started when I was gathering info for what would eventually become this article on Mint Press News about corporations raking in hundreds of millions from DWP contracts in a system which not only favours huge companies, but actually demands a £20m turnover to be awarded the best contracts.

It was a fun couple of weeks. I set up a fake company and became a Partner with one of the largest Work Programme Providers. I called another DWP contractor and got tons of dirt in less than 15 minutes. It wasn’t all easy street, though- there were sources who refused to speak to me and companies which, even when they told the truth, still managed to conceal how they were earning all this money (it’s less straightforward than you’d think, because a lot of the money is in helping smaller companies get DWP contracts, so a company might pull in millions from exploiting the unemployed while being paid nothing by the DWP).

So you might think that making a FOI request to the DWP would be the easiest thing of all. No getting people to talk, no tracking down people who’d done business with/worked for the companies, no getting creative with the truth about the story you’re writing and hoping they won’t work it out from the questions you’re asking (they never do). But the DWP was determined to conceal the very straightforward answer to the question “How much were [work programme companies] paid in 2013 and so far in 2014?” (They’d already rejected two previous requests for allegedly being too expensive to investigate, so with these last two, I put one company’s name in each request instead of a few in one request).

This is what the DWP said:

“I can confirm that the Department holds the information you are seeking.

However, the information you have requested is commercially sensitive and is therefore exempt from release under Section 43 of the Freedom of Information Act.

The Section 43 exemption is applied on the basis that this information is commercially sensitive and release of the financial information would prejudice the interests of our suppliers and/or undermine the effectiveness of the Department’s future dealings with our service providers which is not in the public interest.

It would reveal to our suppliers competitors commercially sensitive financial aspects which would disadvantage there [sic] competitive position in the marketplace. This in turn would prejudice the ability of the Department to secure best value for the taxpayer when the contract is re-tendered.”

It could’ve been worse. At least they didn’t say the information has to be censored on grounds of public morals and national security, like China did when it banned a book.

My appeal

This was my appeal against the DWP’s decision. It was upheld and the figures were released. I’m actually really surprised it was successful.

“[…] However, this information would not reveal “commercially sensitive” information to these companies’ competitors, for the following five reasons:

1) The amount that Atos and Maximus were paid by the DWP is already in the public domain. An example is here (Atos): http://www.theguardian.com/society/2014/mar/27/atos-contract-end-relief-campaigners and here (Maximus): http://www.welfareweekly.com/news-brief-dwp-award-500-million-fit-work-contract-u-s-firm-maximus/

Many more web hits exist, as you can see yourself by doing a Google search.

2) The information asked for will not “disadvantage their competitive position in the marketplace” because knowing how much a competitor is paid will not help a company compete. This information is only a figure or end result, it’s not a corporate secret such as a recipe etc which, once known, could be mass-produced by all competitors. Saying this information would disadvantage competitors is like saying that, because I know how much salary a Guardian war reporter makes, that knowledge would make me a really good journalist and I’d get that job.

3) Even if knowing a competitor’s turnover or salary does magically give companies and self-employed people the knowledge of how to improve their product, service, method of production or operations, the public interest still outweighs the issue of the DWP securing best value in tenders.

4) The issue of the DWP securing best value for taxpayers in the re-tender is unimportant, as the DWP has already wasted millions of taxpayers’ money on Work Programme companies, Jobcentre sessions, Universal Jobmatch, and other pointless activities which don’t create more jobs so don’t actually help anyone get back into work:

The DWP pays Work Programme providers 10 million to 50 million a year, and there are over 40 such providers: http://www.heraldscotland.com/comment/herald-view/still-much-to-do-to-make-this-programme-work.21973283 . Even if we pretend that every single WPP was only paid 10 million- not 10 to 50 million- that’s still 40 million. On top of that, contractors were overpaid by 25 million: http://www.supplymanagement.com/news/2014/work-programme-could-overpay-contractors-by-ps25-million-says-nao and, further, DWP paid 31 million this year to underperforming contractors, and in future the figure will be 61 million:

http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2014/07/01/welfare-to-work-scheme-million-in-taxpayers-money-being-paid-to-underperforming-contractors_n_5549015.html

DWP paid Monster 17 million to unnecessarily create Universal Jobmatch when plenty of job search sites exist, then decided to axe it because it was not working: http://www.heraldscotland.com/comment/herald-view/still-much-to-do-to-make-this-programme-work.21973283

40m + 25m + 31m + 17m = 111 million, and that’s already a figure which I’ve twisted to be misleadingly lower than it really is (by pretending DWP only pays 10m to each contractor, instead of the factual figure of 10-50m).

Therefore, if the cost to the taxpayer of not securing the best value tender is less than £111m, the information I request should be given.

5) Encouraging competition is good for the economy and is integral to a free market. Competition (assuming it could be achieved by telling companies what their competitors were paid, which it can’t) would not affect DWP securing best value tenders.

Thank you for your attention in this internal review request.”

DWP gives it up

And they responded:

“[…] As a result of this review

I find that the original decision was not correct and as such your request for review is upheld.

The information that you request is that DWP paid Ingeus approx. £160m for the financial year 2013/14 (April 2013 to March 2014) and approx. £80m for the period April 2014 to October 2014.”

However we still don’t have figures for A4e, Remploy, Working Links, Seetec and others (because if I put more than two companies in a request, the DWP rejects it for being too expensive to investigate…we gotta do this one by one). So, next time you’re feeling bored…

How Jobcentres bully the disabled and set up fake JSA sanctions

Originally published as ‘Revealed: Inhumane Treatment Of Disabled And Poor By UK’s Department For Work And Pension’ on Mint Press News on 9/10/14.

Photo credit: Edinburgh Coalition Against Poverty / Flickr

Photo credit: Edinburgh Coalition Against Poverty / Flickr

The Department for Work and Pension’s unfair treatment of disabled claimants has been widely reported. There was the ex-RAF serviceman who was found fit to work even though he has to carry around a machine attached to his heart, or die in 15 seconds. There was the blind woman who was asked “How many fingers am I holding up?” by an Atos assessor before her Employment and Support Allowance benefits were stopped and she was put on Jobseeker’s Allowance. Most recently, a man with brain damage and uncontrollable epilepsy killed himself after being ordered to take part in mandatory work activities.

But the DWP’s treatment of disabled people on Job Seeker’s Allowance is hardly better than its treatment of those on Incapacity Benefit and Employment and Support Allowance. And even those without disabilities are still victims of DWP harassment.

Julia is a student with autism. The Jobcentre demanded that she attend full-time workfare as well as studying full-time. Julia had already been on workfare before, and become ill as a result because the Jobcentre negligently did not provide any support for her. Shockingly, they demanded that she go on workfare again- without providing any support this time, either.

“To continue benefits I had to be looking for work on a full time basis, Mandatory Work Activity scheme (aka workfare). They wouldn’t allow it to be looking for part time work, which is what I would have accepted. I somehow think they thought I was using full time education as an excuse to avoid looking for work. However I really wanted to do a full time degree course, and their insistence on my doing full time job search [workfare] was something I could not comply with. I was simply worried I could not manage both a full time course and [workfare]. Some people could do that, however my disability requires so much extra time on things.”

The Jobcentre were quick to put her on workfare — it was only the first meeting of her new claim that they brought it up. And at the second meeting, they insisted. When Julia refused her benefits were stopped. The DWP just left her with no financial or other support. With no way to pay the rent, it was left up to a care worker to find her flatmates.

“Sharing the flat is not something I want to do because I have autism and I don’t enjoy others company,” she says.

She now lives on very little as her benefits were stopped.

“I am not surprised people want to kill themselves. People are now being given sanctions for the most minor things. They make you feel worthless, I felt unworthy being a student and thought I should be working like other non-disabled students can manage.”

Cecilia, then a university graduate in rural Scotland, is dyslexic. She struggled to fill out her job search form and was accused of not looking for work — a sanctionable offence. Cecilia told them she was dyslexic. But the Jobcentre didn’t believe her — not even when she showed them a psychologist’s report. They said the psychologist’s report would make no difference to their decision, and demanded that Cecilia have a meeting with a psychologist contracted by the DWP. It took months, but finally the DWP psychologist met with Cecilia and concluded that she was dyslexic. But Cecilia’s problems were far from over. Though they now had to accept she wasn’t faking her dyslexia, Jobcentre staff found new ways to give her a hard time.

“They made me feel I was stupid. They were so rude, they left me in tears for a whole weekend,” she recalls.

It got so bad that her father phoned the Jobcentre on the Monday, but no formal complaint was ever made against any of the staff. Cecilia also had to spend an entire day in the town where the Jobcentre was located every time she had to sign on or see her advisor, as there are only 2 buses per day between the town and the village where she lived with her parents.

Cecilia returned to university to pursue a master’s degree, and when she graduated and started a fresh claim for Jobseeker’s Allowance, the Jobcentre began a new campaign of harassment against her.

“They made me feel bad about myself, like I was stupid, like I was lazy. I dreaded having to go into meetings and after the meetings I would feel really demoralised, worthless, useless.”

Jobcentre staff also blamed her for applying for administrative but not retail jobs. She explained that she wasn’t suited to retail, but they insisted that she wasn’t allowed any freedom to choose her job, and that to continue to receive Jobseeker’s Allowance she had to apply for any job that she could do.

“If you say you’re backed on a job choice by your parents, they don’t believe your parents know what’s best for you, but that they would,” she says. “When I came back after doing my second degree, I said ‘This is what I am going to do. This is what I have trained. This is my choice. And you can tell me it’s not mine to choose but in actual fact it is.’”

“Young people really get it in the neck. They don’t know what to expect.”

This blog appears to show that, after blogger Jules Clarke contacted his MP, Iain Duncan Smith admitted in writing to the MP that the DWP sanctions people with “learning difficulties or mental health problems.” Both disabled and non-disabled benefits claimants are most at risk of having their rights eroded if they’re on Jobseeker’s Allowance, and especially if they’re coming off the Work Programme.

Sources from within the Jobcentre claim that daily sign-ons are already in effect and that job seekers coming off the Work Programme also face mandatory resume and job searching courses at venues outside the Jobcentre known as ‘learning centres.’ Jobseekers will also have to attend extra sessions at separate ‘drop in centres.’ No courses which include actual skills training or qualifications are offered. They will also be required to apply for jobs every day, even if their Job Search Agreement only binds them to apply for two or three jobs per week. The sources also confirm that freedom to choose one’s occupation is not recognised or allowed by DWP policy.

The Work Programme providers may appear independent, and indeed they are private companies contracted by the DWP. But their autonomy is being eroded.

This covert Jobcentre recording which was sent to me a few weeks ago proves that the DWP maintains strict control over Work Programme companies and is now forcing them to see benefits claimants up to twice per week. Oddly enough, it’s those closest to employment who are being targeted, not those most in need of support. The DWP has not been transparent about its puppeteering of private companies.

To complicate things further, the Work Programme company Ingeus also appears to be controlling other work programme providers. Ingeus provides on-premises training and resources to other companies such as Working Links and its subsidiaries. As Ingeus is one of the biggest Work Programme companies – with one of the worst reputations — this is a concerning development. It could have the effect of increasing or creating harassment of jobseekers in the more benign companies which it provides training to.

Blogger Johnny Void, a benefits claimant who writes about the DWP, says

Unemployed claimants now face endless ‘work related activity,’ such as workfare, bogus training run by welfare-to-work companies or being warehoused in Jobcentres for 35 hours a week repeatedly job-searching the same handful of local vacancies on offer. Those who are sick and disabled or have children are not spared, with lone parents now facing Jobcentre harassment from the first birthday of their child whilst disabled people are endlessly assessed and forced onto the Work Programme.

“None of these measures are helping people find jobs, and there is barely any pretence that this is the purpose of these reforms. Instead the aim is to make life on benefits as difficult as possible by filling people’s lives with irksome and pointless tasks. Under Iain Duncan Smith the social security system has become as brutal as it is bizarre. This is the principle of the workhouse re-invented for the modern world and carried out on the cheap.

A jobseeker who goes by the Twitter handle I’m A JSA Claimant had his benefits stopped for not applying for a job- even though there was no bus back. He’s now on the Work Programme and his provider emailed him maths homework about taking buses to work — a very degrading primary school level exercise and a waste of his time — but if he doesn’t do it, he could face sanctions. This incident shows how little privacy those on the Work Programme have: not only are their contact details known by the companies, but they must be contactable at all times and leave their evenings free for homework. Because quantity is valued over quality, the programme isn’t even helping him find a job.

“I have to find between 12-20 jobs per week,” he says. “In reality what happens is I find a bunch of crap jobs to fill the quota and concentrate on the good jobs I do want.”

Not only is DWP policy useless, harmful to those on benefits and a huge waste of taxpayer money, it might actually be increasing crime. This bizarre story was told to me by someone I’m going to call Rob. (You’ll get it if you read on). It was the middle of the night, and over a secure HTTPS connection (and a not-so-secure messaging service) Rob revealed his tale in painstaking little message-boxes.

He had worked for 15 years, paying into the system, only to be “conned out of what I put in.” According to him, he signed the declaration on the Job Search agreement without knowing that his advisor had secretly put in that the agreement was to look for 60 jobs per week. Because he’d signed, he was sanctioned for four weeks for failing to comply with the agreement. It would’ve taken another four weeks to get his money back — an effective eight-week sanction.

But Rob never got that far. He was sanctioned again for having a bad attitude. Rob suffers from angina. When he was sanctioned, his free medication stopped as well — but he still had to pay the bedroom tax. So he found a solution to his problems- in his own words:

I NOW ROB I’M ME OWN BOSS DO ME OWN HOURS MONEYS GOOD GET CAUGHT NO BEDROOMTAX NO POLLTAX IN FACT GOV PICK UP TAB I NEVER SIGN AGAIN EVER.

Do I believe this story? Well, I once interviewed a Job Centre whistleblower who said that changing claimants’ answers is completely possible. And in 2013 I was threatened with sanctions for being late even though lateness isn’t sanctionable by DWP policy. Later I was told I must apply to jobs every day (ie. at least 7 per week) even though my Job Search Agreement was only to apply for 2 jobs per week, and I was far exceeding that. So it appears that the altering of agreements and policies does happen.

Just as we’ve seen happen with other issues in other countries, no doubt this period of time will go down in the history books as a dark and disgraceful episode of British modern history.

The DWP Works For YOU- Jobcentres must be run in accordance with benefits claimants’ wishes

DWP shaming

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.

Job Centre Mole: The Second Interview

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”?

 

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