Tag Archives: jobseekers

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.

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.

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

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