Archives For April 2014

by Kam Sandhu @KamBass

In the second part of our interview with a Jobcentre adviser we talk about sanctions and the Work Programme. Read the first part of the interview here.

Image: powerinaunion.co.uk

Image: powerinaunion.co.uk

Have you ever experienced any use of target culture for sanctioning? If not, what are you told about sanctioning? If yes, how are you told to sanction and by who?

“This is the type of thing that would not be out of place in the novel ‘Catch 22’. We are constantly told by managers ‘there are no targets, only expectations.’ However, the expectations are based on the highest performing local offices or Districts. So, say I work with a colleague who sanctions because they get some sort of sick power kick from it (I do know some people like this, there are some in every office).  They might refer 7 people for a ‘doubt on their actively seeking’ per day. In your team meetings or one-to-one, it will be mentioned, and staff will be asked why they haven’t got as many. Regardless of what the DWP official line is, nobody is ever reprimanded for referring too many. The only time that would come up is if a large amount of the referrals were allowed (not sanctioned) by the Decision Maker because they were poor quality – i.e. the evidence sent over was poor or the person had actually shown they had done sufficient searches for their Jobseeker’s Allowance. Some staff are getting scared that they aren’t doing enough and they will be marked in the ‘must improve’ category. Enough warnings and you could be out of a job. So Iain Duncan Smith will tell you that there are no targets and if any manager is still using the term target they will get a reprimand. However, I have seen the District tables which clearly show the direction an office is travelling in with regards to sanctions and referrals. Offices which are lower than the highest performing office will be told they must aim towards similar numbers or else. They are too crafty to put anything in an email, or at least most of them are.”

What have been your experiences of the success/failure of the Work Programme? Have you referred many people onto it?

“I have referred hundreds. I am unable to emphasise enough what a massive con and waste of taxpayer’s money this is. Daily, I speak to those poor souls on this mad scheme and many who have returned after a 2 year stint. How journalists have not scooped this, I do not know.  The payment by results contract is an incentive to do nothing. Look at it like this; you are a private company paid to get people into work. You have a financial investment. Who do you invest that money in? Mr Jones who is highly educated and has only recently been made redundant? Or Mr Simpson who has been out of work for years and needs everything from numeracy and literacy training to PC skills? Mr Jones may only need a £50 interview suit or most likely no intervention at all – he will find work on his own. Bingo! The Government will pay you £2,500 if he starts work and stays there for 6 months. You could invest a hell of a lot of your staff resources and profits in getting Mr Simpson to a job ready state, but it’s a huge gamble. You get a higher reward but your losses are higher if he doesn’t find work. Private companies do not like this kind of risk. This is why it is now without question that Work Programme providers ‘park’ the harder to help customers. I have seen this relentlessly for the past couple of years and I do not think anyone could deny this is what happens. I ask customers what the WP is doing for them and they tell me they are lucky if they get a phone call every few months. But, if this person finds a job on his own (which does happen) the WP provider could get £12,000+.”

5) Are you told to give a full description of the help the jobcentre can provide in the form of money for travel expenses to job interviews, or courses that are available? If so, how many take this help up? If not, why not/by who?

“It is not advertised openly. The hope is that the jobseeker will fund expensive training themselves. If they ask then we will put the case forward to pay it. The District fund for this is finite so each case must be looked at on merit. Sometimes the procurement process is so slow the jobseeker will borrow the money from relatives to gain the training they need. The travel to interview expenses have never been openly advertised, as it is hoped that they will fund this themselves. I must say that the chances of funding from DWP are a lot better than for those on the WP.”

What one policy would you change to help jobseekers?

“A tricky one. I couldn’t nail it down to one thing as so much is currently wrong. You see most of the things we do are dictated by Ministers and Senior Civil Servants. At most, they pop in to sit by you for an afternoon to see what you do. They then think they know how to improve or change things but they don’t. It’s all half-arsed hair-brained back of a beer mat type stuff. No one feeds back up the line when something is not working.  The DWP is full to the brim of yes men. Take Universal Jobmatch; staff have been saying that it’s garbage since it was introduced. Staff locked out of it, jobseekers and employers cannot use it. It’s loaded with duplicates and non-jobs but we are told by DWP Press Office that it has revolutionised the way people look for work.  We are told we must use it and must sell it to Jobseekers.”

“But back to your question, I would scrap the Work Programme.  I would invest the millions spent on this into real training for Jobseekers.”

 

 

We interviewed a Jobcentre adviser to ask about their experiences of welfare reforms since the coalition came to power. Having seen the changes and effects of unprecedented reforms, we wanted to know how their job experiences and demands had changed. Following on from our other interview last week, we bring you a second interview with a Jobcentre Adviser.

In the first part of this interview we talk about changes to welfare since the coalition and how the number of unemployed is remaining hidden under reforms.

Image: The guardian

Image: The guardian

How long have you worked in the job centre?

“10 years+ and in numerous positions.”

What are your thoughts and experiences of welfare reforms and rules since the coalition came to power? How have they changed? What are they aimed towards? What have been the effects on the people you serve? 

“It is clear that the Coalition/Tories have created a determined propaganda campaign against the most vulnerable members of society.  From Osborne’s shirkers and workers speech to the ‘hardworking people’ mantra.  Clearly designed to separate claimants from those who feel they are hard done to. If you can make the masses think that claimants are feckless lazy scum, you can get away with doing virtually anything to them.  Who will stand up for the worthless?  Well, Tory soundbites differ from the reality and I should know as I see it daily.  Are there lazy people who do not want to work? Yes.  I will not lie.  However, these are in the minority.  For some it is a transitory phase.  Most do want to work and indeed sign off when the opportunity arises.  Not through force, but for a number of other reasons.  If jobs existed in the numbers that are required, they would find work. It’s all very well Duncan Smith and McVey spouting that there are x thousand jobs in the system.  If you need experience in z and you only have experience in y, you aren’t going to get the job.

“I have witnessed several grown men with learning needs and disabilities crying and begging not to be sanctioned.  I thought we were meant to help the vulnerable but we are now just a tool to get the numbers to back up the Coalition agenda.

“The reforms have been designed to hide the numbers of unemployed.  So many have been sanctioned and are not counted in the official figures.  Many are desperate and will take these Mickey Mouse zero-hour contracts to escape the fortnightly gauntlet.  I must also add truthfully that I had never come across a zero hours vacancy until the last couple of years.  That is not to say they did not exist but I never encountered one.  Now they are everywhere.

“Apprenticeships are another tool to hide unemployment figures.  Very cynical.  Older folks will hear the spin – ‘1 million apprenticeships,’ and say ‘great!’.   Wrong! Coffee shop apprentices, call centre apprentices etc, are just a way for employers to undercut the minimum wage.  They are doing this in the thousands.  Who can blame them?  £98 per week and then get a new one in after 12 months.  Fantastic! Britain now has a time served coffee shop worker to compete in Cameron’s global race.

“Wage Incentives. This scheme is an absolute disgrace.  Employ an 18 – 24 yr old for 6 months and the taxpayer will give you £2.5k.  Paid at minimum wage you will make a profit even if you get them to lick stamps. Vacancies that were full paid jobs are now changing to Wage Incentive vacancies as Job-centre staff convince employers to accept money for nothing.  This is seriously affecting the jobs market and it is all down to Coalition pressure to increase Wage Incentive targets.  They can then claim falsely that the scheme has created 1000’s of vacancies, when in truth it hasn’t.  The vacancies were already there.  The taxpayer has just paid 2.5k to employ A instead of B.  Economic sense? Nope.”

Have you referred claimants to a food bank? If so, what were the reasons? Can you tell us about any experiences in particular?

“I have referred several customers to food banks.  Mainly following a sanction.  Although we were instructed to ‘signpost’ rather than ‘refer’, several months ago, after the press got hold of what we were doing.  Prior to this we did have official instructions from a senior level to refer to food banks after the withdrawal of ‘Crisis Loans’.  I have personally arranged food parcel deliveries for customers who for various reasons have ran out of food.  I do not know how they manage on £71 or £56 per week.”

Read Part 2 of this interview tomorrow.

1) ‘Help To Work’ comes into effect today

A new government scheme starting today will put tough new requirements on the long-term unemployed to continue receiving benefit.

‘Help To Work’ will affect those who have already completed the Work Programme and have been out of work for longer than two years. These claimants will now have to take part in community placements for 30 hours a week, which could include picking up litter or removing graffiti. They will also have to ‘sign on’ at the job centre every day, and receive at least 4 hours of intensive job search monitoring with advisers each week.

Should claimants not find work after six months, they will be re-enrolled on the programme and sanctioned if they do not comply.

Recent statistics show that only 3% of those on the Work programme have gone on to find gainful employment, which suggests problems within the government system and approach. Community placements also seem a lot like community service under threat of sanction, a worrying treatment of the unemployed like criminals and once again an attempt by the coalition to fix unemployment by fixing the unemployed.

Image: theweek.co.uk

Image: theweek.co.uk

Read more about this story here.

2) Occupy Wonga – May 1st

Occupy, DPAC and UK Uncut have joined to stage an action on May 1st against ludicrous interest rates and pay day loans. The action will form part of the Worldwide Wave of Action running from April 4th to July 4th.

The plan for the day is:

“May Day Itinerary:-

12:00 (High Noon) Assemble at Clerkenwell Green.

13:00 March sets off

2:30 Rally in Trafalgar Square in Honour of Tony Benn and Bob Crow.

As soon as the rally is finished, we march. When we arrive at the target we will occupy a space and Occupy London will hold a General Assembly on site; the assembly agenda will be confirmed on the day, by those present.

Supporting this action on the day will be:- *Occupy London *Disabled People Against The Cuts *Fuel Poverty Action *ClassWar *The Resistance Movement Of The UK”

Image: Occupy

Image: Occupy

Read more about this story here.

 3) Councils are sitting on £67m of emergency help

A Freedom of Information request obtained by the Guardian revealed that councils are sitting on £67m of the £136m given out to help with emergency appeals.

Record numbers of families are being turned down for help despite many being left penniless and hungry by benefit sanctions, welfare reforms and the bedroom tax. 4 in 10 applications are turned down for emergency help. In some places as few as one in 10 receive crisis loans.

Councils told the Guardian that they had given out less help than in the past because the public knew less about the schemes, with some failing to advertise that there was help available.

Read more about this story here.

4) Real Talks: A Job’s Worth

Real Talks’ first event went well on Thursday last week with a great discussion about current experiences, unemployment, policies and alternatives. Keep an eye on RealFare for the video and photos! Thanks to all those who attended.

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Real Talks: A Job’s Worth is taking place tonight at Hoxton Hall from 7:30pm

A night of performance and debate about Employment in 2014. We want to hear your views –

Be there by reserving your space by emailing admin@innercitytheatre.co.uk (Tickets: £5 waged/Free unwaged)

or Tweet us using the hashtag #ajobsworth or @StartRealTalks 

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by Kam Sandhu @KamBass

As we get closer to our Employment debate –  ‘A Job’s Worth’ on Thursday 24th April @ Hoxton Hall, we bring you some insight from a Jobcentre adviser on their experiences of welfare reforms since the coalition came to power. This is one of two separate interviews with anonymous Jobcentre advisers (the next one will be posted next week). In this one, we talk about the effects of sanctions on claimants, and what vital services have been removed from Jobcentres.

Image: Welfare News Service

Image: Welfare News Service

How long have you worked in the Job Centre?

“I don’t wish to be specific about the actual length of time I’ve worked for the DWP (Department for Work & Pensions) in JCP (Job Centre Plus) but it is less than 10 years.”

What are your thoughts and experiences of welfare reforms and rules since the coalition came to power? How have they changed? What are they aimed towards? What have been the effects on the people you serve? 

“The easiest response to this is to say that JCP services have gotten worse. As an example, we used to have support schemes in place for jobseekers who took up employment and who would have to wait until they were paid. Most jobs now are paid monthly and the return to work credit was one way of supporting people who were moving from benefit into employment.

“Another example is the loss of the crisis loan (CL) service. This was part of the “social fund” and was a very useful service for both jobseekers and surprisingly, us. Let me explain, if there was ever a problem with a jobseeker’s claim, through maladministration or another error, the CL service was a really good way for jobseekers to be able to receive at least a partial payment of their benefit. Now, if a payment is delayed or a jobseeker is without money there is the short term benefit advance or they can make an application to the hardship fund. More hoops to jump through and more levels of bureaucracy to climb.

“The most significant change has obviously been the changes to DMA or decision making and appeals – the sanctions. These reforms were introduced in Autumn 2012 and have been quite significant. They are mainly targeted at jobseekers. The main components, or what jobseekers are mainly sanctioned for, are Actively Seeking Employment and Refusing Employment.

“There has been a significant increase in jobseekers being sanctioned and I must say now, here, that some jobseekers need sanctioning as they have the attitude that they should be paid benefits for doing nothing. I am not going to give an opinion one way or the other about this only to say, what do you do with a group of people who will not look for a job? Do you say ‘it’s okay, you don’t have to as you are a special case,” but how do you justify this to the jobseekers who are genuinely looking for a job and meeting the conditions for benefit? There are lots of justifiable critics of sanctions, but I have yet to see any alternative suggestions to them.”

Have you ever experienced any use of target culture for sanctioning? If not, what are you told about sanctioning? If yes, how are you told to sanction and by who?

“At all staff meetings DMA is always mentioned. DMA is basically the sanction process. The two main reasons a claim has a sanction imposed are Actively Seeking Employment (ASE) and Refusing Employment (RE) A typical scenario could be this: a customer would typically have an ASE sanction imposed if they hadn’t shown enough evidence of jobseeking activity.”

“Numbers of actively seeking referrals to a decision maker or the number of refusing employment referrals are always mentioned at team meetings. We are also constantly being told that our off flow targets are going through the roof. I’m sure senior managers think we are incapable of reading blogs and social media output thinking we can’t make the connection that it is DMA which is generating the impression that unemployment is falling and employment is rising. Anyone sanctioned still has to attend to sign as they have to sign for their National Insurance contributions.”

What have been your experiences of the success/failure of the Work Programme?

“Very limited really due to the job I currently do. I can say with confidence that it is true the providers have been “parking” harder to help jobseekers. When the claimants were returning to the Jobcentre after the 2 year participation on the Work Programme, there was a very mixed set of experiences. Some jobseekers had multiple meetings with the advisors employed by the providers, some of them were reporting hardly having any contact with them. Also, some customers were coming back to the Jobcentre without even a CV. You have to ask yourself how they had been looking for work.”

What one policy would you change to help jobseekers?

“I would give each jobseeker a guaranteed maximum number of hours help from a member of the Jobcentre on a 1-2-1 basis. Give a more personal service. As it is there is a one size fits all approach and it does not work for everyone.”

 

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1) Trussell Trust hits back at Tory attacks on food banks

Britain’s largest food bank, the Trussell Trust have hit back at claims from Iain Duncan Smith and the Department for Work and Pensions, that they are “aggressively marketing” and “scaremongering” in order to “advance a political agenda” despite Cameron previously praising the work of the food banks in the UK.

The contrasting arguments from the Conservatives portray a government struggling to tackle the growing problem of food poverty in the UK. The comments come after a recent report from the Trussell Trust which showed that 1 million people have used a food bank in the UK in the last 12 months. Chris Mould, chairman of the Trussell Trust said:

“You can’t get free food from the Trussell Trust by walking through the door and asking for it; you must have a voucher. More than 24,000 professionals – half of whom work in the public sector and health service, the police, and in social services – ask us to give this food to clients because they’ve made the decision that this individual or family is in dire straits and needs help. We’re not drumming up demand.”

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Speaking of attacks on the Trussell Trust, the Daily Mail’s attempt at smearing food banks and the people who use them in the Mail On Sunday was met with a backlash on Twitter and lead to donations being made to the ‘Crack UK Hunger’ page in defiance against the tabloid’s coverage.

The Mail attempted to portray that you could walk in and get food from food banks “no questions asked,” yet a couple of sentences later explained that their ‘undercover reporter’ was asked a series of questions about why they needed the food bank vouchers as well as their personal details.

Hmmmm…….

Image: Pride's Purge

Image: Pride’s Purge

 

Read more about this story here.

2) 3.8 millions families are living on a “knife-edge” say homeless charity

3.8 million families are one paycheck away from losing their home, say homeless charity, Shelter. New research reveals that around one-third of all families would be unable to pay rent or mortgage payments if they lost their job or income as they do not have enough savings. This is also backed up by government figures which show 15 million adults in the UK have no savings.

 

“Kate lost her job in October 2013 when the business she worked for went bankrupt. She had already fallen behind on her mortgage because her employer wasn’t paying her properly. Kate later received a letter informing her that the mortgage lender was seeking to repossess her home.

“Kate said: “They hadn’t been paying me properly, so I’d begun to fall behind on my mortgage. Then I got the letter through the door saying they wanted to take my house back. I was petrified. I thought what am I going to do? How am I going to tell my daughter and my mum that we have to move out?”

Read more about this story here.

3) Real Talks: A Job’s Worth – This Thursday

Real Talks’ first event, ‘A Job’s Worth’ takes place this Thursday at Hoxton Hall from 7:30pm.

Through original pieces of interviews and writing, we will create a stimulus for debate with an audience and panel on Employment in 2014. You can find out more here, and register your place by emailing admin@innercitytheatre.co.uk

Panellists include:

Natalie Bennett, Green Party Leader

Matteo Bergamini – Youth Employment UK

Thomas Barlow – Equalities Officer, Greater Manchester Community Union

Kam Sandhu – RealFare Founder

With performances from playwright Monsay Whitney and poet Jess Green.

Be part of the debate.

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by Kam Sandhu @KamBass

You may or may not agree with the Religious aspects of this, but this is a great open letter and should be read by all.

squidgetsmum

The Daily Mail chose today to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus, champion of the oppressed, by publishing this article today.  Here’s my response.

 

Dear Daily Mail,

I’ve got a little boy.  His name is Isaac, and he’s nearly three.  Like any little boy, he loves cars, balls, and running around.  He’s barely ever still.

A few days ago though, he was.  I took him to the supermarket to spend his pocket money, and we passed the donation basket for our local food bank.  It was about half full – nothing spectacular, in fact, mostly prunes and pasta – and he asked what it was.  As simply as possible, I tried to explain that it was for people to give food for other people who couldn’t afford it.

This affected his two year old brain fairly deeply.  After a lot of thought, he decided to spend a little bit of…

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The Daily Mail’s bad attempt at smearing food banks. Unbelieveable

Pride's Purge

(not satire – it’s the Mail!)

The Mail on Sunday sent out one of its most experienced reporters to do a hatchet job on food banks and Citizens’ Advice Centres today.

Mail hack Ross Slater even lied to a Citizens’ Advice Centre for his article to see how easy it would be to get vouchers for a foodbank.

But Mr Slater didn’t do a very good job, did he:

mail fail1
ROSS! You had one job……….!

.

Related articles by Tom Pride:

Daily Mail fail – newspaper uses false photo in Kenya shopping centre article

Photo of Mark Duggan at daughter’s funeral cropped to paint him as a gangster

I’ve applied for a job at the Daily Mail. Here’s my application letter

Daily Mail admits it was wrong about immigration (and hopes nobody will notice)

How Daily Mail editor Paul Dacre’s father avoided the front-line in WW2

Daily Mail story about sunrises being shown on big screens…

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Had to share this excellent talk from Byron Vincent for Radio 4’s Four Thought on the criminality in Britain’s underclass.

“This isn’t some Millennium prize equation. 2,400 years ago Aristotle said ‘Poverty is the parent of crime,’ yet we’re still bombarded with reactionary histrionics from politicians designed to win votes by feeding fear and ignorance. Meanwhile, nothing genuinely helpful is being done to curb the problem of the growing criminal subculture within Britain’s underclass. It baffles me how those in power expect those at the bottom of the social and economic ladder to behave responsibly, when the architects of the issues they face take no responsibility for their part.

“But I’m not talking to them. I’m talking to you. I hope the next time you have to pass through a dodgy estate, and you worry about getting robbed or worse, that you extend that concern to those that live there. I hope that concern sits with you.”

Byron Vincent Image: BBC

Byron Vincent Image: BBC

Listen to the full talk here.

Thomas Barlow looks at the recent history of the anti-fracking campaign and how it might be just the thing broken Britain needs to imagine another future.

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The kitchen at Upton is overflowing. The sun is shining. The weather is sweet, ye-ah! OK, life on a protest camp isn’t all cooking by the fire and getting a tan, but today it feels as good as it gets.

Rewind nearly 12 months and the story wasn’t nearly as sweet.  The anti-fracking movement nationally amounted to a couple of small meetings, as a few concerned campaigners contemplated the petrochemical horror about to be visited on the air, land and water of the British Isles. Today the camp in Cheshire is abuzz as protectors from the newly-disbanded Barton Moss site in Salford start arriving, and news arrives of how the Basset Law site in north Nottinghamshire occupied a rig and shut down the drill for a day.

The struggle has been long and hard, not least for the Barton Moss protectors who have borne the brunt of an exposed northern winter and possibly the most consistent and well-documented police brutality since the miners’ strike. Whilst being originally written-off as a rent-a-mob environmentalist campaign, it has moved, very quietly – perhaps something to do with the fact that sinister landowners Peel Holdings own both a lot of fracking sites and the BBC’s media centre? – from a fringe green issue, to something that strikes fear into the heart of communities across the country and across traditional demographic boundaries.

Image: Frack Off Upton Park

Image: Frack Off Upton Park

The well-founded fears of polluted air, unstable land, and poisoned water supplies have been the original reason for very strong local support of the protest camps opposing even exploratory drilling. Now that the camps have moved to Nottinghamshire and Cheshire (the Upton site is next to Chester Zoo!) they are trying new tactics to ramp up the pressure against the relatively-small fracking industry, safe in the knowledge that current local support is far beyond the hesitant response of a year previous.

Whilst Basset Law in Nottinghamshire has seen a far more sheltered and rural camp, in contrast to the Barton Moss operation within Greater Manchester, and featured daily direct action including more lock-ons and even an occupation – Upton is the site that really breaks the mold.

The site is there before the drill has arrived. Any eviction process could be exceptionally long and costly, and investors are starting to get butterflies in their stomachs about pumping so much cash into companies like Dart Energy (who have been banned from twelve other countries) and IGas. Despite having major investors all throughout government and the media – from the top of the BBC to the Environmental Protection Agency – the costs and bad publicity keep increasing.

In a clear case of Orwellian doublethink, the head of Dee Council (Upton’s local authority) promoted a projected 30% reduction in house prices in the area near the drill site as the successful creation of affordable housing for young people in the area in a live radio interview. Such examples of ignorance, arrogance, and complicity from local government are proliferating just as quickly as proposed drill sites.

But can the campaign be more than stopping a disastrous technology from destroying our environment and locking us into an incredibly expensive energy future? Rachel Sampson, a Barton moss campaigner, says yes:

“We are seeing communities come together for the first time in decades.  Communities of every kind are not only aware of how brazenly corrupt our government is, but are taking action to stop them.”

In this action lies possibility.

“We have been told to believe in only individual solutions to community or global problems, but now people at Barton moss and Balcombe are building their own community energy programs to take control of their energy future.  They are working together to acheive this in a way not though possible, and the new camps are starting this process traight away, not just waiting for the drills to leave.”

Could these local energy co-ops be a radical solution to major societal problems?

“With control of our energy we can drive prices down, control the energy our community needs, instead of billionaires, and save the environment with the simple and near eternal energy sources at our disposal.”

Thomas Barlow

Image: Frack Off Upton Park

Image: Frack Off Upton Park