Tag Archives: jobseekers allowance

Interview with a Job Centre Advisor: sanction targets & corruption revealed

@JobcentreMole is a Job Centre advisor who has taken to Twitter to speak out about the Job Centre’s unfair treatment of people who are claiming benefits. For obvious reasons he is anonymous. I think that what he’s doing is very brave. We did this interview by email. (All emphases are mine).
The Mole says: “I started my career with Jobcentre plus over 15 years ago at such a young age, I have literally done every job at lower (band B) level there is within the Jobcentre. I can assure you my knowledge of Jobcentre Plus is up with the best, I can also assure you I am not alone with my views.” 

Do the management have targets to sanction x number of people, or are your team encouraged to sanction people?

There is 100% no specific target at all, however it is and has been mentioned before that each signer should be looking at a minimum of 2 sanctions a day. say for example offices are looked at in clusters, and say there are 7 offices in a cluster, lets use London for example…. if there are 10 offices in London, Office one achieving 100 sanctions a week, office two 90, three 80 and so forth, I can guarentee you that offices 5 to 10 will be pulled week in week out regarding why they are not achieving what the other offices are achieving. we all have a sister office (generally means an office that has a similar register to yours) and we are marked on our achievements in accordance with theirs. If they have a bad ass office manager who hammers staff to sanction customers, it impacts on office b. I once saw a guy who works for us sanction 23 customers in one day!, it took him a ridiculous amount of time to do all the paperwork!, had he done this to get a better box marking? or to warrant his job? no he did it because the night before he had watched a programme on tv. it disgusted me!. There are customers that quite blatantly flaunt the rules and there are the odd customers that indeed require a sanction!, but I mean this, only the odd one!. and never generally the ones that actually get the sanctions!.

What was the worst thing that you saw happen in your Job Centre?

Without a doubt has to be the two facedness of the managers. we have weekly meetings, in these meetings we are encouraged to sanction customers for various reasons mainly not actively seeking employment in adherance to their jobseekers allowance. now not a lot of customers know this but its a lottery who gets pulled, it depends on the member of staff, and also on the customer, example, if a 6ft 2 big aggressive builder was to walk over to the signing section I can assure you he would not be challenged, however the more weaker clientel are. We give customers a JSA1(ils) form and are encouraged to get them to sign it to (re-open their claim if sanctioned), what we dont tell the customer is that signing this form puts another 2 weeks on the sanction.

We also do our referrals online now, and these are not vetted by anyone, so basically you could walk into a jobcentre and be pulled for not actively seeking, we would take the details of what you have been doing over the past fortnight and totally change your answers, thus guaranteeing a sanction. I have never in my time seen one customer ask to see the papers as to why they have been sanctioned. not one. the unfortunate thing is the general public is too trusting of jobcentre staff. Neither by the way do customers demand to speak to FJR managers (basically the manager responsible for the member of staff doing the paperwork). Sure they ask to speak to the office manager, who comes along and hasnt a clue whats really happening so pay lip service. Customers need to deal with the front line managers, only then will something be done, these guys get the easiest ride in the jobcentres, trust me I’ve been one!.

SO…individually what is the worst thing I have ever seen in a jobcentre, I see people on the DEA caseload (disabled people) sanctioned week in week out because if they don’t ask for support no one gives a damn. I see customers come in and get lied to and fobbed off. I once saw a gent come in who had missed an appointment because his wife had passed away, and because he did not make a fuss about this he basically accepted his claim had been closed and he had lost 2 weeks benefit. It’s a cruel world out there, and as much as I do believe people need to be looking for work, I can also assure you that even the genuine people that are genuinely looking lose their benefits.

Have you ever been made to take action on a benefits claimant that you feel wasn’t right?

I cannot say I have ever been made to take action on a customer, but what I can say is I was acting front line manager for 12 months due to me being the most experienced member of staff and the manager being on long term sick. During this time I was reprimanded repeatedly regarding the team I had and how little DMA we had done (not enough benefit sanctions ect). I was told that it was my teams fault that our office had no one kicking and screaming at the security guards, and this was a bad thing as it reflected that my office was not strict. I have seen many advisors and front line staff waiver their end of year bonus, we get box markings ranging from 1/2/3, 3 = £0 bonus, 2 = £300, 1 = £500, this is my grade, the ammounts go up the higher up the ladder you get. I have seen advisors and front line staff get a 3 because they are not sanctioning enough customers. They are the good people that work in the jobcentres, and generally are the ones that smile and can have a human conversation with customers on a 1 to 1 level.

I have also seen members of the public attend Jobcentre plus and just because they are known outside the organisation by certain managers they are let off certain requirements of receiving jobseekers allowance. Only 2 weeks ago my direct line manager was stood over me as I was explaining to a customer he had worked 16 hours so unfortunately had to sign off, she proceeded to ask him if it was 16 hours or 15.45 due to a 15 minute unpaid break, he didnt understand her so repeated 16 hours until she amended his B7 part time earnings form. unfortunately I wasnt in a great position as the said manager is very good friends with the office manager… nowhere to go you see.

Do you think that any groups (e.g. disabled, lgbt, women) are treated worse by the DWP or your Job Centre? Or is everyone treated equally badly?

Groups… Right, there is a guy who signs on in my office. He has signed on for over 6 years, I guarantee you he has never been challenged regarding what he has done by any member of staff why? because he is over 50 and death stares everyone who he comes into contact with. Also anyone who comes to sign who believe they are upper class, or lets say looking for work in certain sectors or area’s that jobcentre plus dont have expertiese in basically get a pass through the system until they find work. Work programme participants get no support from jobcentre plus, and as for work programme.. dont get me started.

Again I’ve visited offices and know the staff over there to know they have the most ridiculous easy job you could imagine… more on this later. to finish question 4 the group thats most effected is the vulnerable. they are targeted by the majority of staff, you know the ones, they approach and are not going to answer back or fight their corner. I am a firm believer that IF every customer read what they signed, and if they completed their paperwork according to their jobseekers agreement there would be no sanctions at all from jobcentre plus. unfortunately the weak dont ask questions, they take what they are told and live by that. “I’m sorry its not me that makes the decision” all lies, the front line member of staff knows categorically its a disallowance before it go’s up!. Another casing point, did you know that if you as a member of the public ask for a reconsideration and list enough to cover your jobseekers agreement, regardless of what initial paperwork went to the decision makers, the decision will come back favourably allowed?. No one knows this you see!. 

Are the middle class jobseekers treated better than working class, unskilled or long term unemployed jobseekers?

Middle class, elder, all very rarely challenged on jobseekers allowance. 80% of sanctions come from young Britons. I can tell you too that not even 5% of foreign customers get sanctioned for actively seeking or anything else like that, why? Because its too difficult to do in the 10 minutes tops that we have with a customer. There is not enough support in my opinion for the unskilled person. nowadays you need pc skills, online cv, a licence for this, a certificate for that. Do you know you now need a certificate to be a cleaner???. Where do the unskilled start if thats the case?. its a bad circle that will not be broken until we treat people like individuals and not all as collectives.

Does the Work Programme help the job seekers who attend your Job Centre find work or have more motivation?

Work programme…… total and utter failure, bad management, bad advice, bad motivation, and a total lack of customer understanding. We set out with work programme to target the “hard to work on” customers. genuinely for every 1000 people signing on for jobseekers allowance 200 are the hardcore, who are either more than happy with jsa and their life on jsa, or their skills are not required in the work place at any level. Work programme was set up to target these people and inspire them and help them to become more employable. Total and utter failure, this has come to light ever since april, since the returners have been coming back into the mainflow for jobseekers… basically put on weekly signing for no reason other than to inconvenience them… another interesting fact for you, every work programme returner is interviewed PURPOSELY 3 days after their signing day so we have 5 clear days if they forget to ensure their claim is shut… all craft you see!. My view is the work programme will be dressed up a success, but show me one success story and I’ll show you 100 that have not got anything from it apart from an utter waste of time.

Do the Job Centre courses or group sessions help people find work?

Well.. thats a tricky one, group sessions tend to be information sessions based at helping customers to know what their role as a jobseeker is, or other things ie what is expected of them. Some courses can help them find work, we often refer the customer to the FLT courses, or on occasion SIA courses, this of course will give the customer something new in their gun to fire at prospective employers. Now the basic skills courses… not one bit of those helps any customer in any way. One to one coaching in my opinion is what is required. Why try to milk a dog?, or teach a cow to bark?, its how it is!. If I had a customer and after a 30 minute consultation worked out that the best this guy could do was push trollies at a supermarket, why spend 6 months trying to brush him up?. We should be starting him pushing the trollies and move him up whilst in the job. instead we concentrate on making him apply for jobs beyond his reach, each time knocked back takes a bigger chunk from his confidence. deep and disasterous hole that he gets himself into!.

How have sanctions affected Job Centre customers who attend your Job Centre?

Now thats a hard question…. how have sanctions changed jobcentre customers.. Well they certainly have become aware of how to note down their activities a lot more than some of them were!, they also come across more matter of fact. the problem here is again people tend to accept things!. they accept that they have a sanction because this happened or that happend!. I liken it to insurance quotes… I often wonder each year how many people auto renew their car insurance?, one year £300 a year, the folowing £900, how many people actually check what they are signing?. Check why certain things are happening?. “the process has changed, if you have forgotten your looking for work book you now have to fill in this ASE stencil”….. really?…. no thats a coward working at jobcentre that dare not tell you he/she is not happy with what you have produced as evidence to support your JSAG. (jobseekers agreement).  Problem is too many people want a smiley face, I once saw a tattoo of two guys face to face shaking hands, whilst holding a knife behind their backs… unfortunately thats the relationship thats forming from these sanctions…. customers do not trust the jobcentre, and it will only get worse, while the jobcentre staff on large will always find ways to stick the knife in without the customer actually knowing who it is that had the final push!.

Are most of the Job Centre customers you see benefits scroungers who are happy to be on benefits for life?

Hmmmmmmm, I am not going to lie to you, I see a fair few people that are MORE than happy to remain on benefits all their lifes. I see sally who’s 30 with 9 children, I see jason who’s 40 and has continually signed for over 10 years without a job. all of which have in my opinion not had the education or the pat on the back throughout their lives to make them realise their is actually a purpose for them in civilisation. It takes on average is it £19k per year to rehabilitate a prisoner, a jobseeker gets £80 a week… cheap at half the price is it not?. A prisoner comes out of prison with one of the biggest barriers to work anyone could wish for, a criminal record, yet whilst he/she is in prison they are given all the education and training they require. A jobseeker is HIGHLY lucky to recieve training to get a CSCS card… We should be helping customers to achieve reasonable goals as aposed to sanctioning the ammount of benefits we sanction. I’ll tell you what heres one for you….. lets give the customer the choice actively seek work, however IF we feel you have not done enough to look for work we will sanction your benefit, and put the money we stop towards your FLT licence ect ect.

Unfortunately jobcentre plus as a business model and a public service is dead. My prediction is it has minimal time to run, customers are now using online services, within the next few years all jobcentres will be fitted with IAD’s (internet access devices), so customers can do all their benefit work online. Staff will be cut of course, and before you know it you’ll do everything from home, failing that an out reach or a library. The digital age is upon us, and will take with it all the bad advisors and bad management, unfortunately the good people that work for jobcentre plus will also be taken down with what is a sinking ship.

Why did you decide to take to Twitter to speak out?
Why Twitter? well… I had seen and been pushed with many @jcp twitter accounts, and how they were pivital to getting the digital word out there for customers and staff, it took a certain office over 2 years to get 1000 followers, its taken me 3 months to get over 500, and I havent been going gung-ho at that. I guess its just my way to stick it to the man, and also throw out some help to members of the public who are treated unfairly. Its a shame about the anonymousness (is there such a word? ha ha), but in a way I prefer it that way, I’d like to think of myself as the invisible friend. Come to me and ask, if I can help I will, simple as that.

 

You can follow the Mole at @JobcentreMole. Also follow @JCPAdwiser.

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.

Workfare: community service for the crime of being poor, or, How workfare encourages criminality

It’s already been pointed out by people like Johnny Void and the Boycott Workfare movement that workfare, as well as being immoral, is also dangerous because employers don’t know what they’re getting. What if an alcoholic is sent on a workfare in a bar, or someone with social phobia forced to work slave with the public? Or if someone who gets violent in stressful situations is sent on a stressful workfare? Because most long-term unemployed people are unemployed because they have a disability (which includes mental illness) or have been battling addiction, the risks to both jobseekers and the people they’re forced to “work” for or with are actually quite high. Especially considering that nobody can refuse to go on a workfare without their benefits being cut for up to three years.

But the issue of how workfare affects the effectiveness of our Criminal Justice system isn’t such as obvious flaw.

Community Service – a standard punishment for minor offences – involves forced labour, most often in charity shops, usually for anywhere between 50 and 300 hours. You can choose which day(s) per week you do your community service and also how many hours per week you do. So a sentence of 250 hours might take you a month to complete, or a year – it’s up to you.

Compare this flexitime option for convicted criminals with workfare, where “placements” must last 4-8 weeks and are full time, and if you miss a day your Jobseeker’s Allowance can be stopped (13 weeks for a first offence, a year for a second, three years for a third).

So, not only are Jobseekers sentenced to far more hours than some criminals (160-320 hours) [update: as of April 2014 jobseekers will be forced onto six month workfares which according to Boycott Workfare is more than double the maximum community service sentence. This isn’t just completely unethical, it also seriously undermines the criminal justice system as community service will no longer seem like an inconvenience. So wjat’s stopping people committing minor crimes?] but the penalties for sleeping in, forgetting to go, or turning up late are disastrous. Jobseekers are not sentenced by due process and there are no laws or policies to protect them. It’s down to luck, as Jobcentre advisers have unlimited power to force anyone onto a workfare whenever they want. This entails that they can also refrain from forcing a jobseeker whom they like into workfare; the extent to which jobcentre advisers pick on individuals, or, conversely, play favourites is unknown.

Jobseekers are innocent – they did not commit minor crimes. So it’s unfair to treat them like criminals. We punish criminals for a reason – for law and order. And criminals do not feel the pain that jobseekers do; as long as they’ve been sentenced fairly, they understand why they are being punished and they probably expected that they might get caught. There are no nasty surprises for them.

And it’s right that they have to do Community Service; if one enjoys an action which is forbidden, she should be punished as due consequence for the pleasure or thrill she has enjoyed, and also for her disobedience to the law. Why should she be granted the pleasure of, say, beating up an enemy, when we are denied that pleasure ourselves? She is free to commit the crime, but having experienced that enjoyment she must pay with suffering; tit for tat. A balanced equation.

But now we have a situation where jobseekers on workfares work together with those doing community service. They do the same tasks and are treated equally by bosses. Jobseekers are checked up on while at their “work” by the companies who send them on workfares, just like those on community service are checked on by supervisors. So the stigma and inconvenience usually attached to community service is fading. If someone has previously done a workfare, or their family member or friend has done a workfare, will this person really percieve community service as all that bad? And if you know that a workfare is somewhere in your future, would you be that perturbed by the thought of doing exactly the same thing under the name of community service? So, perhaps people might be encouraged to commit planned minor crimes, especially against people they have a grudge against. (Which might actually include the Jobcentre).

There should always be a balance in crime and punishment. It’s inherent in our whole system of law. That’s why we talk of “fair” and “unfair” laws, of “lenient” or “harsh” sentences. But where is the balance for those not wealthy enough to be able to avoid the Jobcentre? For what crime are they being punished – the crime of having been made redundant, of having a disability, of coming to the end of their hard-earned savings, of not being academic enough to get a higher education, of graduating from university in a recession, of not having rich enough parents. In short, the crime of being poor.

 

Stigmatising the unemployed

As I’ve written in earlier posts, the Tories stigmatised lone mothers in the 1990s, blaming them for the economy and portraying them as irresponsible, undeserving benefit cheats. Right now, they’re doing the exact same thing to people who are claiming state benefits – despite the fact that 93% of Housing Benefit claimants are in working households. The media and political rhetoric that is prevalent now is designed to turn the employed against the unemployed.

The discourse of the Jobcentre and the DWP more generally is of assistance – helping jobseekers find jobs. However, help is only help when it is asked for or needed. Otherwise, it is stigma and harassment. This actually reminds me of the German single parents’ campaign “Help! I am being helped” which asserted that framing people as needing help is humiliating. And, come on people – seriously, how can we believe the DWP’s system is designed to help us back into work? The new laws mean that if you forget to apply for a single job your advisor orders you to, you can have your benefit stopped for up to three years – even if you applied for all the other jobs he ordered you to, and 20 other jobs your advisor didn’t tell you to apply for.

Foucalt wrote much on state control of the body, and the DWP has turned this into a fine art. Firstly, if you’re unemployed then you have to go to the Jobcentre to see your advisor and sign in every week. If you can’t make it or forget, they will stop your benefits for weeks or months.  There’s no way to avoid this, as agreeing to apply for a job creates a verbal, legally-binding contract which is stored on the computer system. If you don’t agree to apply for the job, your benefits will also be stopped.

The advisor’s role is to verbally humiliate jobseekers and make them feel bad about being unemployed. The advisor can’t help you get a job – they just check that you’ve been looking for work (which of course you have, as the form you have to fill in every week will attest). The advisor can only look on a single website to tell you about any jobs advertised there,  instead of you looking on the site at home. And they only use one site (directgov.uk) while jobseekers tend to use several sites or newspapers. Advisors also monitor your jobsearching by checking your form. So we can see that advisors don’t actually help you at all. You could do much better jobsearches at home instead of wasting time sitting in the Jobcentre.

Secondly, forgetting or refusal to go to even one group session at the Jobcentre will also mean that your benefits are stopped for months. Even if your bus was cancelled, or you were ill but didn’t manage to get a GP’s note in time, etc, etc. Again, not agreeing to go would also result in benefits being stopped.

This isn’t help. This is forcing people to go to places and interfering with their freedom of movement. Help isn’t coerced. Help isn’t forced, systematized, relentless.Help doesn’t involve monitoring and sanctioning.

This is punishment and humilation.

The DWP treats everyone – from PhDs to over-50s to graduates – as benefit-cheating scum who don’t want to work and aren’t looking for jobs.

The recession is the fault of the government (for failing to regulate properly) and the banks’ owners and top-level executives. But they aren’t affected, it’s the Joe Bloggs of society who get laid off or can’t get a job when they leave university. Yet, we’re being punished for the government and the wealthy people’s irresponsibility.

The new laws mean a much stricter regime in Jobcentres – right at the time when they should be more lenient, because of the recession. When there are a lot of jobs, not having a job is suspicious. But when there are less jobs, not having a job is the norm.

Oh, and recently the head of the DWP said that retired people should be forced to volunteer, or their pensions get stopped…which would mean no retirement age, and we work until we die.

And there’s a few petitions you can sign on the directgov.uk site against the cuts to disability benefits.

On an even more disturbing note, a disabled man who posted a comment against the cuts to disability allowance on Facebook was arrested and had his house searched by the police. This violation of freedom of speech may have implications for censoring speech from now on.

Now, limbless people – even veterans who lost limbs while in Iraq or Aghanistan aren’t entitled to disability benefits and have to receive Jobseeker’s Allowance, which means they get monitored and harassed, having to go to the Jobcentre at inconvenient times and wasting their time seeing advisors. What a great reward the government is giving them for their sacrifice in the wars the government started.

It was Victorian ideals that gave us the welfare state that now is crumbling around us. Influential Victorians – of which Charles Dickens was one – didn’t approve of punishing people for being poor, or the classical liberal (libertarian) view of laissez-faire, which often meant leaving the poor to die. But now we are marching backwards into pre-Victorianism.

References/links:

http://www.dwp.gov.uk/adviser/updates/jsa-sanction-changes/

http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2012/09/04/sanctions-benefit-government-sick-and-disabled-refuse-work-71_n_1853426.html?utm_hp_ref=fb&src=sp&comm_ref=false

http://www.causes.com/causes/788577-stop-the-government-taking-benefits-from-the-truly-disabled/actions/1670303?recruiter_id=59034367&utm_campaign=invite&utm_medium=wall&utm_source=fb

http://apps.facebook.com/theguardian/politics/2011/apr/01/jobcentres-tricking-people-benefit-sanctions

%d bloggers like this: