Tag Archives: Jobcentre

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”?

 

Meg of the Ingeus Diaries: “I work for £51 a week to escape Jobcentre”

Remember Meg who previously told Slutocracy her story of the Ingeus experience (here and here)? She’s now working for £20 a week less than her Jobseeker’s Allowance just so she can escape the Jobcentre.

“I earn £51 a week working 2 days a week. My jobseekers was £71 but I can’t cope with the Jobcentre sending me here and there every two months,” she explains . (Meg had been sent to JHP and a 4 week workfare before being sent to Ingeus for 2 weeks.)

“I basically work for nothing because I get less than Jobseeker’s. But I prefer to work for nothing rather than be treated like shit by the Jobcentre. It lowers my self esteem and harms my mental health. My Jobcentre adviser cheerfully asked me if I felt “motivated” because I’d been to Ingeus. Bit being sent here and there against my will makes me less motivated, less confident and I feel like I am just their toy. I think some other people might prefer to work for less or the same as Jobseeker’s Allowance instead of going to the Jobcentre. I feel free now and I’m much happier. But not everybody can do this because nobody can survive on £51 a week. I’m able to because one of my relatives has just paid me back money I loaned her, but not everyone is so lucky. The money isn’t much and I know I won’t be able to live like this long term. I will have to get a job with more hours or higher wages in the next couple of months.

I enjoy my job and get on very well with everyone there. I can’t quit this job even if I wanted to because they need me to cover another staff’s holiday leave in August and it would be really bad to let them down. But I know if I went back to the Jobcentre they would force me to look for other jobs. They wouldn’t listen even if I explained to them that the only reason I was given a job is so they’ve got someone to cover August. They’d force me to let [my employer] down.”

 

You’ve got a job now. Does that mean that Ingeus did help you find work?

“Ingeus didn’t help me – there was no point in sending me there at all!” alleges Meg, “I finished the Ingeus course on Friday and got a phone call saying I’d got an interview on the Monday! And I forgot to show them my reference from my YMCA workfare but I still got the job. Nothing the Jobcentre sent me to helped me get a job. I actually felt a little nervous before the interview because Ingeus was always talking about dabbing water behind your ears and washing your hands so you won’t get sweaty or feel nervous. I’ve never felt nervous at an interview in my life but Ingeus made me feel that way, like an interview is a big deal.”

 

What else has happened since our last chat?

“Ingeus phoned me last week to ask how my job search was progressing. I think that’s a bit weird since I left the course in May. Jobseekers are not children, we don’t need to rely on their help. They think they are so brilliant that they can give us everything, make us get jobs after a 2 week course.

When I was doing my workfare at YMCA there was a man, O.  He didn’t turn up one day because it was snowing very heavily and he had to drive 20 miles in the snow. The snow was so bad in those few days that we all missed a couple of days of workfare because YMCA told us not to risk the journey. All O did was take an extra day off. O was sent to another workfare immediately after the YMCA one ended. I can’t prove that this was because he failed to attend his workfare that day but I believe it was. His new workfare was in a furniture shop. He is not a lazy man. He has decades of work experience and I think that’s why he can afford a car. I’ve bumped into him a couple of times and he’s always complaining about how he is treated by the Jobcentre. He wants to work but they act like he doesn’t.

That reminds me of when I’d just started claiming benefits and a little old lady with a zimmer frame was in the Jobcentre. I thought it was disgraceful that senior citizens are being treated this way after giving so much to the country. Then a smart looking middle-aged man in a suit came in and nodded to another man. He said ‘Jobless -feel like a criminal’ and indicated the Jobcentre. For whatever reason that always stuck in my mind.”

Memoirs of a benefits scrounger: Jobcentre sanctions me for getting a job

My transition from good-for-nothing benefits scrounger to upstanding citizen is only a phone call away. Yes, for the last couple of months copywriting and content writing work was harder to find and I’ve been claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance. Now that I’ve got a regular job again I went down to my local Jobcentre to close my claim. Turned out it wasn’t so easy.

“We can’t close your claim because you didn’t sign in on Monday so we have to take disciplinary action against you. Your benefits have been stopped and it’ll have to go to a hearing,” said Lauren, one of the Job Centre staff.

“But I was at training,” I explained. “And I sent you two messages saying I couldn’t sign in that day. I gave you a message online and got my friend to come in and give you a note.”

“That doesn’t make any difference because you didn’t physically sign in,” Lauren shrugged.

I pointed out that closing my claim would probably be easiest for them and anyway there was no point stopping my benefits because closing my claim would stop them anyway.

Lauren explained this was Jobcentre policy and said I’d have to answer questions about why I’d failed to sign in before my claim could be closed. This is how it went:

Her: Why did you fail to sign in on Monday?

Me: Because I was at training for my job.

Her: Well why didn’t you sign in on Tuesday?

Me: Because I was at work.

Her: Well why didn’t you come in sooner today?

Me: When my friend dropped off the note, one of your colleagues gave her a message for me that I just had to phone. They didn’t say I had to come in. The only reason I’m here is because I don’t have your phone number and I thought you might need to see me.

Her: Why did you fail to look for jobs in the last 2 weeks?

Me: I didn’t. I applied for around 20 jobs in the last 2 weeks.

Her: Where are they?

Me: They’re in my Activity History.

Her: OK, I see them. But why did you fail to apply for any jobs since last week?

Me: Because I got a job.

Lauren typed all that into a form and sent it off to DWP Hearings Land. “It’ll take 15 minutes to go through, so you might as well phone to close your claim from home,” she said. “You’ll receive a decision in a few months about whether your benefits will be stopped or not.”

I got up. So this was it. After months of Jobcentre harassment – including stopping my benefits for 3 months because I mixed up the address on a job I’d agreed to apply for (reduced to 2 weeks on appeal) – despite applying for 34 other jobs I hadn’t agreed to apply for. The Jobcentre had set my mandatory target at 2 jobs per week and by my advisor’s admission I was applying for over 15 jobs per week and was the person who applied fore the most jobs out of every Jobcentre “customer”. Three weeks later they stopped my benefits for 2 weeks for forgetting to go to a CV session at the Jobcentre. And a week after that they said they couldn’t reimburse bus tickets (£26) because I hadn’t told them I was going to the interview beforehand. Actually I had, but my advisor didn’t give me the form to fill in or tell me that I had to fill it in. I ended up getting the job – it was a temp job that lasted 2 weeks. The Job Centre then paid me much less than I was entitled to for months, because they thought I still had the job. It took three phone calls and two Jobcentre visits to sort it out because every time they told me the error was fixed, it turned out it wasn’t.

Well, after all that there was no “congratulations” or “well done”. They couldn’t even reimburse my travelling expenses for an interview I’d gone to a few days prior – apparently it’s up to Lifeskills to reimburse me now. (Which means I wasted a trip to the Jobcentre to fill out the necessary form. And I know Lifeskills probably won’t reimburse me because I didn’t tell them about the interview beforehand. Not that it matters because the cost of travel to Lifeskills would be almost as much as the reimbursement.)

As I left the Jobcentre for the last time, looking around and reminiscing about the indignities I’d suffered and wishing I’d blogged about them, Lauren said “See you later”. “See you, but I don’t think I will,” I said. “You might be back. I might see you again,” Lauren countered. I shrugged. “Yeah, you never know, with the economy and that.”

Then I turned and walked out of that door. It seemed an anticlimactic end to my time here. Hadn’t the Job Centre bullied me and forced me to grace their building with my presence every two weeks or oftener? Hadn’t the message that my main goal in life was to rejoin humanity by finding work been drilled into me over and over again? Yet they seemed totally unimpressed now that I actually had a job.

I’ll still be officially a benefits scrounger until I make that phone call. And somehow I don’t want to. I like being a benefits scrounger. I think it really focusses my writing.

Slutocrat (Scrounger #20616)

The Ingeus Diaries (part 2): Jobcentre stalking & benefits cut due to Jobcentre incompetency

DAY 2

Before I wrote my last blog, Meg told me that some people hadn’t turned up because the Jobcentre failed to tell them it was mandatory that they go to Ingeus. As a result, their benefits will be cut. These people still weren’t there today. Meg also told me she would only have to go to the Ingeus course for two days. But things quickly changed for her:

“Ingeus told us that if we take more than 2 days off from the Stairways to Work course, we’ll be chucked out of the course,” she explains. “The Jobcentre will know and I know that if I’m chucked out, my Jobcentre advisor will put me on another workfare much more quickly. So I’m going to have to attend for the whole 2 weeks. Most of the other jobseekers have realised this too, and they intend to keep going to the course.”

Interview transcript:

The other jobseekers from [Town 1] and [Town 2] were phoned by their Jobcentres. The Jobcentres asked if they had gone to the course. I feel that this is stalking. They felt annoyed and harassed. My Jobcentre didn’t phone me.

Today we were doing CVs which wasn’t helpful; I was told my CV was good and Ingeus didn’t suggest any changes to my CV.

The woman from Ingeus was talking about transferable skills and she held up her daughter as an example: her daughter graduated from University but after a year she couldn’t find a job which needed a degree so she worked in an airport and is still there now, two years later. I think it’s ridiculous that jobseekers are being told how to find work by someone whose own daughter is unable to find work suited to her qualifications. And that wasn’t an example of transferable skills, it was an example of young graduates having to settle for any work due to a lack of suitable jobs. It’s not a positive story – it’s a sad tale about the recession and our problems with unemployment and underemployment.

We had to do a test about our social skills and the French social worker scored 70, which is equivalent to 100%. I was the next highest and scored 70. We also were given a bit of paper with dots on it and told to draw lines to join all the dots. After we’d finished, the woman from Ingeus explained that she had made us do it to show us that most people don’t think of drawing lines outside the dots. This shows us that to look for jobs we sometimes have to look for jobs that are similar but not the same to the job we want to do. Like if you want to be a landscaper you could look for gardener jobs.

DAY 3

Today we sent out ‘spec letters’ – emails or letters speculating about whether there’s a vacancy. A middle-aged woman, Bethany, was copying a sample letter. She wrote “I have a lot of skills in housekeeping, cleaning and that sort of thing.” I burst out laughing. Then she’d written “Yours sincerely, Name” just like the sample. I fixed it for her because I can type fast. Mark, the social worker, also finished his letters quickly and spent the rest of the time helping others. The Ingeus woman was struggling to deal with helping everyone so me and Mark did it for the rest of the afternoon.

Bethany’s husband drives her to and from Ingeus. One of the young people, Daphne, gets driven to Ingeus by her mother. The amount they have to spend on the petrol is a lot because Ingeus pays less than 20p a mile.

We used the computers to search for jobs and just sat in a circle listening to what the Ingeus group leader said. Four others and I talked about how we weren’t learning anything useful.

The Ingeus Diaries: a jobseeker’s report of an Ingeus programme

Meg is a middle-aged migrant woman with a degree and 9 years’ experience as a legal secretary. She’s also been self employed and worked briefly as a waitress. Meg was referred to the Ingeus 2-week Stairway To Work programme by her Jobcentre two months after completing her workfare at YMCA and three months after completeing a course at JHP. All names are changed or invented.

Ingeus Stairways to Work course, Monday 6th May 2013
“Ingeus didn’t send me a letter or give me directions to get there, like the Jobcentre said they would. They missed out my name during the roll call,” Meg reports. “The woman who was leading the course went in and out to get notes for us to read because they didn’t have enough even though 5 or 6 people weren’t there. She went put to get paper, then went out again to get pens. It wasn’t organised.”

Interview transcript:

The Ingeus woman talked about goals, asked us do we have goals. She gave an example of her goal: to go to the supermarket, have coffee with a friend then do housework. She had a stack of cards. She went round the group asking each person to tell her if the card presented a good or bad goal, e.g. “I want to clear my debts by the end of the year”. I can’t see how this helps me get a job.

Then we had to ask the person next to us about themselves and tell the whole group their hobbies. I told my name and I said like dogs and driving.

There was a social worker who has been out of work for 13 years due to institutional bullying which led to him having three breakdowns. He grew up in France. I said to him “Ingeus should get employers here or tell us how to be self-employed. Getting us here won’t help us get jobs.”

We were made to go on computers and go to the Direct.gov site but nobody could get to it because [of security software installed by Ingeus] so the woman running the course had to hrelp every single person get to the site. We had to search for jobs, but there was no point to this because we all had computers at home. We had to print out our CVs and it took over an hour for all 13 people to do it.

Today was useless, just one more day for Ingeus to make money from jobseekers.

Benefits cut because of Jobcentre incompetency

“Five or six people didn’t go because they believed it wasn’t mandatory,” says Meg. “It isn’t mandatory, but once you agree to go, it becomes mandatory because it’s an ‘agreed action’. The Jobcentre didn’t explain this to these people so now their benefits will be cut for up to three months. [If they’ve forgotten to turn up to a Jobcentre interview before, it could be cut for up to three years]. It’s not mandatory that we do the whole 2 weeks, but the Jobcentre told me it was mandatory that I do 2 days.”

Who was there?

There were labourers aged 40-60 and three young people in their late teens to early twenties. One man was in his fifties. He’d worked for the same company for 10 years and was out of work only three weeks ago. Only 1 person had just graduated from college, all the others had been working.

I saw 2 people going to interviews at Ingeus [these people were not in Meg’s course]. They were in their forties and fifties and were interviewed by young women. I think it’s degrading they had to be helped by a much younger, less experienced person. One man’s partner and child were sitting on the sofa; they looked unhappy. The child looked about 10 years old.”

Ingeus reimburses travel costs at 20p per mile so they should have given me £8 but they only gave me £6.80.

How did it make you feel?

It was like a primary school lesson. I felt very degraded. Like jobseekers have no goals, no hopes, aren’t interested in looking for work. It lowers your self-esteem.

When I had a workfare at YMCA I was happy because I got on very well with the other jobseekers and people doing community serbice who were there. I was valued by the manager who viewed me as a hard worker.
Before that, the Jobcentre sent me to JHP for a Job Search programme where we used computers. Everyone there had worked before and all we did at JHP was search for jobs on the internet. We had computers, so that was pointless. One woman was always an hour late and this was tolerated.

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