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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.”

 

 

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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.

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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