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Computer illiterate: The government is forcing people to claim benefits and search for jobs online - and then claiming that they are "flocking" to it of their own free will.

Computer illiterate: The government is forcing people to claim benefits and search for jobs online – and then claiming that they are “flocking” to it of their own free will.

We seem to be going through another period of closely scrutinising the practices of the press, in the wake of Daily Mail editor Paul Dacre’s reprehensible treatment of Ralph Miliband (and others) in the pages of the Rothermere Rag.

Let us take a moment to remember that most articles that are published in newspapers are not actually generated by their editors (even in right-wing, attempted-mind-control efforts like the Mail and the Murdoch pulps); many originate as press releases from outside sources, including the government.

This brings us to that great bastion of honesty and truthfulness – and how to hide it – the Department for Work and Pensions’ press office.

This organisation’s latest effort is entitled Jobseekers embrace digital revolution and has about as much to do with making jobseeking easier in 21st century Britain as I have with cock-fighting in 19th-century America.

“The way people claim benefits is being revolutionised with the proportion of claims made online more than doubling in a year – saving taxpayers money and paving the way for the introduction of Universal Credit,” the release begins. This may be true, but is it being presented in a truthful manner?

Isn’t it more accurate to say that the DWP has demanded that more benefit claims must be made online, making it more difficult for jobseekers who do not have their own computers, who are not computer-literate, or who do not live in areas with high-quality internet access to make any kind of claim at all?

And “paving the way for the introduction of Universal Credit” seems a misrepresentation as well. Wasn’t UC supposed to have been introduced in April this year, but has been delayed because of problems with the software that is supposed to get several computer systems communicating together?

To act as spokesman for the announcement, Employment Minister Mark Hoban is wheeled out. He’s the one who has admitted that he doesn’t understand how any of the benefit system works, so how is he supposed to have any kind of grip on what’s happening online?

“Employment Minister Mark Hoban has hailed the dramatic rise in online claims as the digital revolution in action. In August 2011 only around 1 in 10 people claimed online; that increased to 3 in 10 in August 2012 – and a year later this has rocketed to 8 in 10.”

In fact, it is true that much of this would have happened as part of the continuing revolution the Net is bringing to people’s lives. For many, online claiming will now be much easier than sending off for a paper claim form, and there isn’t anything wrong with that. The problem is the way this is being pushed as the future when it is a future that still excludes a small but significant proportion of the population. Online claiming discriminates against some people – why is the DWP so relaxed about that? Because it wants to prevent people from claiming?

Now for an outright lie: “Jobseekers are also increasingly finding jobs online – the government’s new jobsite, Universal Jobmatch, which automatically matches people’s skills to a job which suits them, is now receiving more than 5 million searches every day.”

So much about that paragraph is wrong. People aren’t finding that many jobs online because Universal Jobmatch is riddled with errors and – let’s be honest – crime! The scandals have been racking up ever since it was introduced late last year – fake job ads that are actually phishing scams, intended to get jobseekers to part with their bank account details; ‘opportunities’ that actually seduce young women into working in the sex industry; job ads that demand money from applicants before they may be considered for positions that (most likely) don’t exist.

So why is UJM receiving more than five million searches every day? Answer: because Job Centre employees keep telling people that using it is mandatory – even though it isn’t; this is a lie – and they must not only spend huge amounts of time using it but must apply for something like three jobs a week in order to avoid having their benefits sanctioned.

Then there’s the rarity of updates. One user complained to yr obdt srvt that no new jobs have been added to the system for the last three weeks – but he is still expected to apply for three jobs a week. How is that supposed to work?

Under those conditions, it’s not quite such an achievement, is it? It’s more like blackmail, intimidation with threats.

And, let’s not forget – searching for jobs is not the same as getting jobs.

“Mark Hoban, Employment Minister said: ‘The modern world is digital. Many employers only advertise vacancies online, and most want their new recruits to have IT skills. So it is vital that we support jobseekers to develop the skills they need.'”

Hang on – what? How does forcing people to apply for jobs, using a discredited system, count as support to develop skills? It doesn’t. Also, while it may be true that many employers now only advertise online, it is also true that many of those vacancies – if not most of them – do not appear on UJM and it is therefore more of a liability than an asset.

“‘These figures show that our efforts are paying off, with jobseekers flocking to use Universal Jobmatch and 80% embracing the opportunity to manage their benefits online. People are showing us that they are ready for the digital shift that Universal Credit will bring.'”

No, they’re not. He – or at least whoever told him to say those words – is deliberately confusing a system that forces people to carry out certain tasks with one to which they come willingly. The latter would suggest that they are ready for the “digital shift” he describes; the former – what we are seeing – shows us that people are being forced to use a flawed system against their better judgement in order to allow a lying government to justify its next crime against the poor and unwaged.

“The focus on online services is part of a cultural change in how people will interact with the welfare state and is an essential part of Universal Credit. The new benefit is claimed and interacted with online.”

That’s right. And woe betide any poor soul who doesn’t have the ability to do this.

“As well as being more convenient for claimants, this digital push better prepares them for the world of work, where digital skills are increasingly required.”

No it doesn’t, for reasons already stated.

This kind of propaganda is bread and butter for the press. The current squeeze on newspaper profits means that more and more papers are employing fewer and fewer reporters – and those who get jobs aren’t likely to have been properly trained (we’re more expensive, you see). Therefore, reporters’ time is at a premium and press releases are a quick and easy way to fill papers. Most don’t get a spelling check, let alone a fact check.

And that is how a lot of inaccurate information gets downloaded straight into the brains of an accepting readership.