I have been contacted by somebody who works at a Jobcentre Plus outlet who has told me a shocking story about his duties. Many years ago when I had just left school and was looking for work, Jobcentres were run by the Employment Service and were quite relaxed places with shelves full of cards and helpful, friendly advisors. If you needed to apply for benefits it was dealt with by an entirely separate office, run by the Department of Social Security and you had to go to another location to apply. It was in 2002 that the two services were amalgamated along with the establishment of the Department of Work and Pensions; from that day onwards job seeking and benefits became inextricably linked. Luckily I've never needed to use a modern Jobcentre Plus; I was in Hospital Portering from 1989 until 2012 when I went straight from that into my new job, self-employed gardening and house cleaning. However I've been into a branch to keep somebody else company. JCP's are tense and intimidating places; frightened people queue up in the entrance and are watched over by rough-looking security guards. The "advisors" are abrupt and acidic in their treatment of their "customers".
I've spoken a lot about unemployment in the past, see here for background: http://hpanwo-voice.blogspot.co.uk/2014/04/uniforms-for-unemployed.html.
I'll call the person who contacted me "Terry". Terry is a JCP advisor and he told me that he joined the service many years ago because he wanted to help people, but the entire objective of the JCP and the benefits system has changed. He no longer helps people, he polices people. Like all public services the JCP has performance targets and these used to be based on helping unemployed people find work; today the goal is to disqualify as many people from receiving benefits as possible. This process goes by the Orwellian euphemism: sanction. Advisors are required to sanction at least 2% of their case load each month; if they fail to do so they are given a bad report and can be sacked from their own jobs. Advisors with the highest sanction rates are rewarded with a bonus payments. Staff target vulnerable people like those who can't speak very good English and those with learning difficulties. More recently, advisors have been given instructions to agitate customers as much as possible by robust interviews and excessive intrusive questioning. The hope is that the customer will be so upset that they will close their claim. Agitation can take many forms; for example, excessive requirement to attend the office, mandatory "work experience", which I've discussed in the links above. Also classroom based information sessions. Some advisers will even give their customers fraudulent referrals. Terry says that these changes came about when David Cameron's Tory government was elected and he urges people to vote them out off office as quickly as possible. Personally I wonder if a Labour government would be any better these days. Terry does not want to identify himself because he's worried about losing his own job. I don't think we should judge him in that respect; he knows better than anybody how awful it is to be out of work today. Let's just be grateful to him for contacting me. At the moment it's hard to prove what he says because a lot of these policies are unofficial and there's little official paperwork attached to them. However I've sent the following letter to the Department of Work and Pensions' press office. Their email is on their very glossy and cuddly website: https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/department-for-work-pensions. I'll let you know if I get a reply:
I have been contacted by an anonymous person who says that they work at a branch of Job Centre Plus. They have made some disturbing allegations about service practices at their office. This includes the improper sanctioning of customers' benefits, fraudulent job referrals, the bullying and intimidating of customers to persuade them to cancel their claims, and the bribing of staff members with bonuses for the highest sanction rates on their case load.
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