I've recently read an article from May of last year, detailing the experiences of a “whistle-blower” who has worked for the Department of Work and Pensions here in the UK for twenty years. He met with Iain Duncan Smith to talk about the inner-workings of Jobcentres in the UK, in particular the “brutal and bullying” methods used by advisors and advocated by management to “[set] claimants up to fail”.
He explains the ways they use sanctions frequently to stop people's Job Seeker's Allowance (hereafter: JSA) pay, and tricked customers into allowing them to do so. These sanctions can leave people for anything up to three years without any income.
“We were constantly told 'agitate the customer' and that 'any engagement with the customer is an opportunity to sanction.”
Tricks such as changing people's advisor appointments with little to no warning, and if you miss your appointment your claim is stopped, therefore you are removed from the list of claimants, and from the statistics. You see how this works now? Increasing the frequency of sanctions and stopped claims saves money and makes it appear as though unemployment statistics are going down.
The people running the system have no faith in JSA claimants in the first place, as the whistle-blower revealed. Claimants are seen as “lazy” and “taking your money” by the managers and senior leaders of the Jobcentre. These are the people that are supposed to be helping us get jobs, the people running the system we are relying on to support us in as difficult a time as being unemployed is.
That's a fun little fact for those who weren't aware: it's not an enjoyable experience, being unemployed. You often more susceptible to mental health issues like depression and low-mood, and the money you receive often isn't enough to support you – it was difficult for me, even with the ability to live at home by the grace of my parents. To be on JSA and have the worries of bills and proper rent and possibly supporting a family? I couldn't imagine. Aside from money worries, the monotony, and the constant rejection from jobs you're only really applying for to fill the quota, actually being in the Jobcentre and speaking to your advisor is often a dehumanizing experience. My advisor gave me help with my CV, a list of websites, and a total of two jobs to apply for, and I consider myself intensely lucky. He wanted to be there about as much as I did, and honestly if I ever ended up back on JSA I'd rather him than the advisors sat around him. Advisors hoping their claimants did not show up and berating them when they were there, refusing meetings all together to people who were slightly late...I could go on. I have never felt more like a checkbox, a number, or a statistic in my life. Imagine the frustration of going to get help from someone who does not want you there.
There are all sorts of schemes that exist to help you that everyone knows about, but you just cannot access unless you know the right number to call and the right name to quote, and god knows how you would find that out. The Jobcentre has supposed schemes in which they will help you obtain interview clothing or pay for travel if you get a job for the first month you are working. Good luck finding anyone that has ever managed to use those schemes. I had to call my local Jobcentre, then my Advisor, who then gave me a number to which I had to sit on for hours before I could speak to someone to enquire about paid for travel, only to be told the scheme had conveniently ended recently. Great, so I had a job and no money to travel to it. Not to mention I signed off but was never given a P45 so I was being overtaxed for months and had no idea because, hey, this was my first real job and I had no idea how anything worked. No one whose job it was to help me felt the need to help me. No, it's all up to you to sort of figure it out. Good luck.
Coming back to this information released by the whistle-blower, I discovered upon researching that this is not the first time people working within the system have come forward. There are a couple of twitter accounts I've found: @JcpAdwiser @JobcentreMole, both run by people working for the Jobcentre who strive to expose its inner workings, a man who went by the name of 'K' that worked for the Jobcentre did a story with the Guardian about the same thing. All of their stories are similar, which is ridiculous especially since the Guardian's story is from 2011.
(they all date within the Coalition government which... Listen, I'm not telling you who to vote for in this General Election, but if this is the sort of thing that outrages you I would implore you to consider it strongly when deciding who to vote for.)
The story from 2011 talks about advisors doing things like giving dyslexic claimants written applications to do, and then sanctioning those who find it too difficult to complete. Delightful.
I work in a public library, and we have a club specifically for helping people with searching for jobs and so we have a lot of people in the library either on JSA or attempting to claim. What I have noticed in abundance is that the Job Centre will force older people and people with limited English, who have huge difficulty with using computers, to do online applications. They aren't offered any basic IT help, or ever told about the places within the borough that do give help like libraries, Age UK, the Citizens Advice Bureau, ESOL classes, and other local education centres. These people have no choice but to struggle through, using the DWP's highly unintuitive Universal Jobmatch service, and I try to help those I can since I've been through the system myself but I can only do so much, and if the system changes again I am helpless. If they are unable to complete the often confusing applications, that could be used as grounds for a sanction or even for a stopped claim, because the claimant is “not trying hard enough” to find a job.
There is a fascinating interview with the person that runs the @JobCentreMole which I will link with all of my sources down below, which reveals some fascinating things about Job Centre advisors not receiving end of year bonuses because they have not given out enough sanctions, and encouraging claimants that have been sanctioned to fill out forms to re-open their claim, which actually end up adding an extra two weeks to their sanction. It goes more into detail about the lengths to which the DWP are clearly prepared to go to help as few people as possible.
What I want to close with is what I find the most disheartening about this topic: we all knew this already. Anyone who has been on JSA or has family or friends that have know about these things. The confirmation is infuriating no doubt, but the point remains that these bullying tactics are clear to all of us. No one is surprised, no one has faith that the Job Centre, the DWP, or the government itself actually want to help its unemployed. We are all aware that we're statistics, and we just grumble and shrug and carry on, because what else can you do?
None of us are surprised, and all of those who are familiar with the system have our horror stories. Whether it is giving you impossible tasks, making your sign-on centre frustratingly far from your actual home, random changing of sign-on dates or verbally antagonistic advisors, we can all account ways in which the Jobcentre will hinder you in your desire to actually find permanent employment.
This isn't even going on to sort out the utter mess that will be Universal Credit when that comes into effect (just before the election). I still don't know who I am voting for in this coming election yet, but I will say I feel sorry for whomever will have to clean up the mess of Universal Credit and, hopefully, tackle these common problems with Jobcentres across the country. Even a total reform would potentially negatively affect the claims of people currently in the system. The terrain is treacherous, but for this or potentially the next government not to address these glaring issues with a system many people in this country are forced to rely on would be beyond negligent.
Mirror Whistleblower (inital catalyst)
Article on "Targets" For Bullying Claimants out of ESA, with particular focus on those with Mental Health issues
@Jcpadwiser on twitter
@JobCentreMole on twitter
Some UK poverty statistics