There has been a long-running argument about whether the management of Jobcentre Plus (JCP) set targets for benefit sanctions. Ministers are adamant there are no targets for sanctioning people off benefits, while nearly everyone else laughs incredulously and say there quite obviously are. The Work and Pensions Select Committee are currently conducting an enquiry into the issue of sanctions, and recently spoke to the PCS union which represents thousands of JCP staff. Late last week, the select committee published some supplementary evidence supplied by the PCS union, that provides email evidence to show the pressure Jobcentre staff are being put under to increase the number of claimants they are referring for sanctions.
If you read the document linked to above, you’ll be left in little doubt that targets for sanctions exist, and that the management ethos has little to do with getting people into work, and everything to do with chucking as many people off benefits as possible. Rank and file staff are facing disciplinaries for failing to meet targets. This is not based on whether the actual decisions advisors make are the correct ones, but simply how many claimants they refer for sanctions. They are being told that if jobseekers are meeting their Jobseeker’s agreements consistently, they should be made tougher, to increase the chance they will do something wrong so they can be sanctioned.
Here are a couple of quotes from the emails documented by the PCS:
On toughening up jobseeker’s agreements if they are being met by claimants:
“If all your customers are meeting their commitment easily, then challenge them further to undertake more jobsearch activity.”
The targets seem to be for off-flows, rather than off-flows into work (get people off benefits at all cost). JCP workers are singled out for praise if they sanction an unusually high number of claimants:
“The team has achieved 39 off-flows for May 2014 cohort with [name redacted] having a whopping 11. Well done.”
The PCS evidence also reveals unacceptable pressure being placed on claimants of ESA (those judged too sick to work). They note misleading and potentially intimidating letters being sent to people in the support group (who have no prospect of being able to work in the near future), asking them to attend meetings they are under no obligation to go too.
There are also reports of targets to get sick people to undertake work experience, and that businesses are reluctant to take people on these placements, so Jobcentres are resorting to make the claimants do work experience in the Job Centre!
I’d urge you to read the whole document. It’s quite a damning indictment on the management culture within Jobcentre Plus (no doubt in the face of ministerial pressure), the stress that places on frontline staff, and in turn leading to the shameful treatment of the claimants themselves, all so some faceless management bods can tick a box somewhere and get a pat on the head from their boss. Shit always rolls down hill as they say.