Only Iain Duncan Smith’s Department for Work and Pensions could claim that its success in bullying tens of thousands of people who deserve Jobseekers’ Allowance off-benefit is an achievement.
How are these people supporting themselves? Savings? The good graces of rich friends or relatives? In the long run, the British economy will suffer as this money is drained from the communities it should be feeding.
According to a government press release, there has been a “dramatic fall in the number of people claiming Jobseekers’ Allowance”. The DWP says this is due to its policy entitled “Helping people to find and stay in work”, but this seems unlikely – as more people are out of work now than when the Coalition government took office!
“The number of people claiming Jobseekers’ Allowance fell dramatically over the last month, by more than 40,000,” the article begins, stating that this is “the biggest drop in a single month since 1997.
“That contributes to a total fall of 450,000 in the number of people claiming out-of-work benefits since early 2010. And for the first time since the end of 1997, Jobseekers’ Allowance claims fell in every local authority in Great Britain over the last year.
“Minister for Employment Esther McVey said: ‘The number of people claiming Jobseekers’ Allowance is down in every local authority over the past year. Off the back of a global recession, this is not something that should be sniffed at. It’s a huge testament to the tenacity and determination of business owners and workers in this country.
“‘Add to this the fact that the last month saw falls in both long term and youth unemployment – and the fact that there are now a million more people in jobs compared to when this government took office and we can see that this government is making good on our commitment to helping people get off benefits and into work.'”
Off benefits? Maybe. Into work? No.
The Office for National Statistics, in its Labour market statistics bulletin for July 2010, notes that the number of people who were unemployed between March and May that year was 2.47 million. That compares with 2.49 million unemployed between June and August this year.
So 20,000 more people are unemployed than in 2010 and Esther McVey is celebrating because 40,000 have stopped signing on.
This does not mean 470,000 people aren’t signing on but should be – statistics aren’t as clear-cut as that (unfortunately). But it does mean that there is a large amount of uncertainty that should be cleared up.
Several explanations present themselves. Firstly, a significant number of these people may have been sanctioned for a period of one month or longer – for such terrible crimes as attending a job interview when they were due to sign on (Jobcentre Plus staff habitually refuse to alter signing times to accommodate jobseekers attending interviews).
Many may be taking part in Workfare or Work Programme activities, for which they continue to be paid benefits but are not listed as being unemployed. Didn’t the Conservatives announce a plan to put long-term unemployed people into indefinite Workfare, in a bid to massage the unemployment figures in exactly the way highlighted by Ms McVey in this press release?
Alternatively, they may have been forced to apply for a sickness or disability-related benefit. Many jobseekers report worsening mental health including depression and suicidal thoughts as a result of encounters with unsympathetic Jobcentre staff. From this we can deduce that the policy title “Helping people to find and stay in work” is a misnomer. It should be “Forcing people to sign off and stay away from the Job Centre”.
This leads to the fourth possibility – that jobseekers have been bullied off-benefit by the attitude of DWP staff. I was having a conversation with a friend a few days ago, who said that he was fed up with the attitude of the people at his local Job Centre. They weren’t interested in what he had to say, and were only interested in threatening him with loss of benefits if he didn’t do what they said. My friend was increasingly of the opinion that it wasn’t worth going through this charade every week, and it would be better for him to stop signing before he became another mental health statistic.
Finally: Many may have committed suicide. The pressure may have been too much for them to bear, coupled with the shame – which has been magnified hugely by the right-wing tabloid press – of being on benefits in the first place. Suicides climbed by eight per cent in 2011 (the last year for which statistics are available).
Does Esther McVey tell us how many people have been sanctioned? No. Does she say how many have moved onto other benefits? No. Does she tell us how many moved into jobs (a statistic that Job Centre staff must have, as this is what they are supposed to be “helping” people to do)? No. Does she say how many have died – due to any cause, not just suicide? No.
This is yet another useless, make-believe announcement from the Department of Statistical Fiction.
If this is the best Esther McVey can manage in her new position as Employment Minister, then let us all wish her the shortest tenure possible, followed by an ignominious and humiliating departure.