DWP’s culture of sanctions, denials and bad policy

The government has been forced to launch an inquiry after it was forced to admit that jobcentres have been setting targets and league tables to sanction benefit claimants despite recent assurances to parliament that no such targets were being set. The Employment Minister, Mark Hoban, had told MPs that decisions on sanctioning claimants “need to be based on whether people have breached the agreements they have set out with the jobcentre, and there are no targets in place”.

However a leaked email (click here to view original) shows staff being warned by managers that they will be disciplined unless they increase the number of claimants referred to a tougher benefit regime. In the email the Jobcentre manager sets out ways jobcentre staff can catch out claimants, saying: “You should consider every doubt – if you are unsure then please conference with me.”

The advice includes: “Do not accept the same job search every week, do not accept ‘I dropped off CV to shops like Asda or Sainsbury’s’, listen for telltale phrases ‘I pick up the kids’, ‘I look after my neighbours children/my grandchildren’ or just ‘I am busy’ – all of which suggest that the customer may not be fully available for work, even cases where a parent shares custody can be considered.” The Jobcentre manager also said someone can be deemed not to be actively seeking employment, and therefore subject to sanction “if someone is going away from home, but is not willing to return to take up employment, not willing to leave details of how they can be contacted should a job become available or not looking for work whilst away”.

Faced with the email, the DWP said: “We are urgently investigating what happened in this case. If a manager has set a local target for applying sanctions this is against DWP policy and we will be taking steps to ensure these targets are removed immediately.”

The recent denials of Mark Hoban, Iain Duncan Smith and the DWP seem to fly in the face of honesty when as long ago as April 2011 the govt admitted Jobcentre staff around the country have been involved in a drive to kick people off benefits amid pressure to meet welfare targets set by their managers. And even back then the govt initially dismissed revelations made by another whistleblower who said staff at his jobcentre was given targets of three people a week to refer for sanctions, where benefits are removed for up to six months.

He said it was part of a “culture change” since last summer that had led to competition between advisers, teams and regional offices. “Suddenly you’re not helping somebody into sustainable employment, which is what you’re employed to do,” he said. “You’re looking for ways to trick your customers into ‘not looking for work’. You come up with many ways. I’ve seen dyslexic customers given written job searches, and when they don’t produce them – what a surprise – they’re sanctioned. The only target that anyone seems to care about is stopping people’s money. Saving the public purse’ is the catchphrase that is used in our office … It is drummed home all the time – you’re saving the public purse. Feel good about stopping someone’s money, you’ve just saved your own pocket. It’s a joke.”

The Guardian also spoke to several Jobcentre staff who, speaking anonymously, claim that targets and pressure to stop people’s benefits still existed in their office, and that vulnerable clients are often affected. One employee claimed the practice had been going on at his office since they joined in July 2009.

These revelations are very disturbing considering that from 22 October 2012, a new level of sanctions was introduced which meant people could have their benefit stopped for up to 3 years. How exactly people are meant to survive without any form of income is bewildering and the fact that a decision may be reached to meet a set target should be a concern for everyone.

Jobcentre sanctions: Your money is stopped; you go into freefall

All this comes at a time when the government have pushed through emergency legislation to reverse the outcome of a court of appeal decision and “protect the national economy” from a £130m payout to jobseekers deemed to have been unlawfully punished.

Tessa Gregory from Public Interest Lawyers, who successfully represented Reilly and Wilson at the court of appeal, said the legislation smacked of desperation.

“The emergency bill is a repugnant attempt by the secretary of state for work and pensions to avoid his legal obligation to repay the thousands of jobseekers, who like my client Jamieson Wilson, have been unlawfully and unfairly stripped of their subsistence benefits.

“The use of retrospective legislation, which is being fast-tracked through parliament, smacks of desperation. It undermines the rule of law and means that Iain Duncan Smith is once again seeking to avoid proper parliamentary scrutiny of his actions.

“It is time for his department to admit that maladministration and injustice costs. In light of the bill we are considering what further legal action we can take on behalf of our clients.”

The govt’s precarious stance on all this is nothing new. A constant theme with their ‘back to work schemes’ and implementation of sanctions seems to be one of ill thought out rushed through policies based on ‘their’ ideologies rather getting people back into work or indeed factual evidence. Someone looking in from the outside could quite easily come to the conclusion that a vast section of the population is being persecuted simply because they are unable to find work through no fault of their own.

Around one in 10 of those who are assigned to the Work Programme, an £5 billion initiative which uses private-sector providers to train the long-term unemployed and get them into work, end up losing their benefits for failing to “play by the rules.” From the start of the scheme in June 2011 up to April 2012, more than 73,000 claimants were “sanctioned” out of a total of 734,000 referred to the programme.

The Work Programme isn’t working. It’s a £5 billion pound failure. Not one of the 18 contractors reached the target set by the government of getting 5.5% of clients a job for at least six months. Only 3.5% of people referred to work programme found jobs lasting six months.

But that’s not even the whole story. Workfare industry lobbyists the CESI have calculated that the real figure of people getting any kind of employment on the scheme in its first 12 months is in fact just 2.1%. The government’s target for minimum performance by providers is 5.5%. Even these pro-workfare industry lobbyists have now stated “this suggests that the Work Programme as a whole is underperforming against contractual expectations, even when accounting for changes in the economy.”

Sources:
Jobcentre was set targets for benefit sanctions – Guardian
DWP seeks law change to avoid benefit repayments after Poundland ruling – Guardian
Government admits Jobcentres set targets to take away benefits – Guardian
Jobcentres ‘tricking’ people out of benefits to cut costs, says whistleblower – Guardian
Jobless stripped of benefits in Government scheme – Telegraph
Boycott Workfare: Week of Action 18th – 24th March: Local events
Important changes to Jobseeker’s Allowance Sanctions from Monday 22 October 2012

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Boycott Workfare: Week of Action 18th – 24th March: Local events

As part of Boycott Workfare’s week of action, events will be held locally outside the following locations to hand out leaflets and stickers to those affected and raise general public awareness:

Tuesday 19th March – meet 9am outside Abilities, 3 Parkstone Road, Poole BH15 2NN. We will also be leafleting Jobcentre Plus, Dear Hay Lane, Poole BH15 1NZ.

Wednesday 20th March – meet 9am outside Prospects, Fairview House, 17 Hinton Road, Bournemouth BH1 2EE. We will also be leafleting outside Jobcentre Plus, Tamarisk House, 1 Cotlands Road, Bournemouth, BH1 3BG.

Thursday 21st March – meet 9am outside The College / Working Links, North Road, Poole BH14 0LS.

All support and help is welcomed.

Workfare can be broken by showing organisations that the public have clearly rejected unpaid work. Dependant upon how many people attend the above events, we can also hand out leaflets outside shops / companies that are known to use unpaid labour. Please email BPACC if you would like further details. Click here for to see the companies and organisations known to have used or be using workfare.

The Government is pushing ahead with increasingly savage workfare policies despite the fierce resistance to the scheme causing many high street names and national charities to pull out.

Unemployed people can now be sentenced to six months compulsory unpaid work as part of the Community Action Programme. And last year the DWP introduced forced work for sick and disabled claimants.

Evidence has shown that mandatory work has no impact in actually helping someone find a job, the stated aim of the scheme. Instead workfare is used to replace real jobs, with some companies even caught taking on unpaid workers to fill temporary Christmas positions.

A recent High Court Ruling on unpaid work placements means tens of thousands of unemployed people who have had benefits docked for not properly taking part in schemes such as work experience and the work programme are entitled to a rebate. However the DWP said it would resist paying out rebates until all legal avenues had been exhausted. The DWP have also sent letters to everyone on the Work Programme re-stipulating that the scheme and any “employment programme or training scheme” are mandatory and people are liable to benefit sanctions if they do not attend (click here to view full letter).

Public Interest Lawyers who act for a number of individuals, including Cait Reilly, who challenged the Government’s “Back to Work” schemes in the High Court released 10 facts about these schemes – click here to view them.

Companies such as Superdrug, Argos and McDonalds, have all been quick to take on unpaid workers on government schemes, have seen a year of boycotts, pickets, demonstrations and occupations due to their involvement in the scheme. Many national charities have pulled out as a result of protests, but some, such as The Conservation Volunteers (TCV) and Salvation Army are unrepentant about their army of government subsidised unpaid workers with some like Sue Ryder recently withdrawing due to public pressure. Many of the new workfare programmes depend on charities like these to provide placements.

Related links:

Workfare Can Be Broken – Join the Week of Action and help make it happen – Boycott Workfare
Workfare and you – BPACC
Workfare – BPACC
College criticised for backing Workfare Programme – BPACC
DWP letter to work programme participants – BPACC<

end unpaid single stick no border temp

Austerity isn’t working

2.59 million – total number of people unemployed (8.1% of population)
475,000 – number of job vacancies

1.57 million – number of people claiming Job Seekers Allowance

1 million – number of people aged under 25 who are unemployed

904,000 – number of people unemployed for over 12 months

8.12 million – number of people working part time

1.42 million – number of people working part time because they cannot find full time work

1.9million – number of people in full-time employment but want / need to work more hours

1.75 million – number of children in workless households

1.5% – average annual pay rise (including bonuses)
2.5% – annual rate of inflation

2011 4th Quarter growth rate (minus) -0.2%
2012 1st Quarter growth rate (minus) -0.3%
2012 2nd Quarter growth rate (minus) -0.7%

Public sector net debt now stands at above £1 trillion, compared to £940 billion a year ago, and represents 65.7 per cent of the UK’s GDP, up from 61.8 per cent last year.

In July 2012, the Govt was required to find an extra £600m to plug the gap between spending and tax revenues, having registered a £2.8bn surplus in the same month in 2011.

In the four months since George Osborne’s March 2012 Budget the Govt has now borrowed £9.3bn more than it did over the same period last year.

Social benefit payments have risen by 7 per cent, reflecting the fact that more people are on the dole than this time last year.

Sources: Guardian – ONS – BBC – Trading Economics – Independent

DWP letter to Work Programme Participants

Shown below is a letter being sent out by the DWP to people participating in The Work Programme and outlines the consequences if stipulated requirements are not met – benefit sanctions.

Following adverse publicity earlier in the year, the government have continuously stressed that unpaid work placements were “voluntary”. Many of those on The Work Programme and similar schemes will beg to differ. More often than not people are informed if they do not participate in “workfare” activities, their benefits will be sanctioned. Even when this is not the case, the amount of coercion, intimidation and pressure to force people to participate is immense.

The phrase used in the letter, “this would include failing to complete any activity that your Provider has required you to do” seems to imply that anyone told to ‘participate’ in an unpaid work placement will face sanctions. Is it a coincidence that this letter is dated 7th August, a day after a High Court ruled that government back-to-work schemes were lawful.

Everyone must realise NOW that workfare schemes will not only have implications for those currently on them. This is not “cheap labour”, it is “free labour” (slave labour if you like) and it is inevitable that the unscrupulous will exploit these schemes and use people out of work as a commodity and make a profit out of their misfortune. It will drive down wages and people on unpaid placements will replace paid employees.

Those on the schemes now and those likely to be sent in the future should be empowered to resist and everyone should oppose all workfare schemes.

Forcing people to work for nothing will not solve the unemployment crisis. The people who are already suffering from the effects of the savage austerity measures will, yet again, be targeted while those that created the economic mess, walk bold as brass unscathed.

For more information about workfare and your rights, please visit:

www.boycottworkfare.org
www.consent.me.uk

The DWP Letter to Work Programme ‘participants’

7 August 2012

Dear XXXXXXXX

Work Programme

You are currently participating in the Work Programme. When we first referred you to the Work Programme we gave/sent you a letter in which we told you about your requirement to participate, set out what you must do as part of that requirement and provided information about the consequences of any failure to take part. I am now writing to you and other participants in the Work Programme to provide more detail of those consequences. All other requirements remain as set out in your initial notification letter.

In your initial notification letter we said that your Jobseeker’s Allowance could stop for up to 26 weeks if you fail, without a good reason, to take part in the Work Programme. This would include failing to complete any activity that your Provider has required you to do.

If you do fail to take part and we decide that your Jobseeker’s Allowance should be sanctioned, your benefit will be stopped and you will lose National Insurance credits for:
• two weeks, for a first failure;
• four weeks, if we have previously decided that your JSA should be sanctioned because you failed without good reason to take part in the Work Programme or any other scheme set up under the Jobseeker’s Allowance (Employment Skills and Enterprise Scheme) Regulations 2011, and that sanction started within the last 12 months; or
• 26 weeks, if we decided on two or more previous occasions that your JSA should be sanctioned because you failed without good reason to take part in the Work Programme or any other scheme set up under those Regulations, and the most recent sanction started within the last 12 months.

If your benefit is stopped for 26 weeks, you may have the sanction lifted (after a minimum of 4 weeks) if you:
• fully re-engage with the sanctioned requirement at any time ;or
• fully engage with a different requirement notified to you.

This letter is for information only and you do not need to take any action. If you have any queries, please ask at your next appointment at the Jobcentre.

Yours sincerely,

Manager (on behalf of the Secretary of State)

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