One of Vox Political‘s many astute commenters made an extremely good point about government schemes to get people (a) off the dole and (b) into work. They said the fundamental question we should be asking the DWP is: “How many people have you turned into productive taxpaying workers who do not claim any benefits at all?”
It is as though they were prescient and could predict the way the debate has developed this week, firstly with the bogus DWP press release that has allowed some of us to suggest that we should judge the DWP by results, not targets; and now with the declaration by the Commons Work and Pensions committee that Job Centre Plus staff should be rewarded for the number of people they get into work, not just the number they get off the dole.
It seems this is an idea whose time has come.
Employment minister Esther McVey’s time – like that of her boss Iain Duncan Smith – has been and gone. Do not expect her to do anything about this.
Job Centre staff are currently given incentives to get benefit claimants off the dole, and this has led to wholesale abuse of the system of sanctions which can mean people are banned from claiming benefits for three whole years after a third ‘offence’.
People have been sanctioned because the dates on which they applied for jobs did not tally with the number of jobs they were supposed to seek every week – as the Job Centre week starts on Tuesday.
They have been sanctioned for arriving late at their signing-on appointment – because a job interview overran.
They’ve been sanctioned because they didn’t apply online for a job, as advised, because the job had ‘expired’.
They have been sanctioned while on Workfare because signing on – as advised by the Job Centre – made them late for the placement.
They have even been sanctioned for failing to apply for jobs, after they had succeeded in getting a job.
The Work and Pensions committee has diplomatically described this as a “haphazard” approach to assessing claimants, saying many were referred for sanctions inappropriately, or “in circumstances in which common sense would dictate that discretion should have been applied”.
Common sense has no place in a Job Centre overseen by a Conservative-run DWP. The people who work there are under the cosh, just as much as the claimants. They have a target to meet – five per cent of jobseekers off the books every month, unless I am mistaken (perhaps readers could provide the correct figure if I am).
Sanctioning rates in the year to October 2012 stood at 4.2 per cent, so staff were failing to hit this target – but after a sterner regime was introduced in that month, sanctioning increased to five per cent.
The system has been particularly cruel on younger claimants. In the year to October 2012, the sanction rate for those aged 18-24 was eight per cent, per month.
The number of sanctions in the year to 30 June 2013 was around 860,000 – the highest number in any 12-month period since statistics began to be published in their present form in April 2000.
The committee also said the DWP needed to monitor financial hardship suffered by claimants who lose their benefits. This could include publishing information on the number of claimants “signposted” to food banks by Job Centres and the reasons given for this action.
It is as if Dame Anne Begg (who chairs the committee) has been reading this blog. Readers will know that part of Vox Political‘s Freedom of Information request about incapacity/ESA claimant mortality referred to the well-being of those who had been thrown off-benefit altogether.
I can tell you now that the DWP does not monitor what happens to these people, nor does it have any plan to do so in the future. They are thrown to the wolves.
Dame Anne was quoted in The Guardian, saying: “JCP must be very clearly incentivised to get people into work, not just off benefits.
“The processes by which JCP currently establishes claimants’ needs are haphazard and prone to missing crucial information about a person’s barriers to working, including homelessness and drug dependency. A more thorough and systematic approach to assessing claimants’ needs is required.”
She added: “Whilst conditionality is a necessary part of the benefit system, jobseekers need to have confidence that the sanctioning regime is being applied appropriately, fairly and proportionately and the government needs to assure itself that sanctioning is achieving its intended objective of incentivising people to seek work.”
This is exactly what Vox Political has been saying since Rachel Reeves described Labour’s compulsory job guarantee policy on finding work for claimants, last week. Reeves’ words were derided by visitors to certain blogs who said she was as bad as the Conservatives. Now that some flesh is appearing on the bones of her strategy, we can see that this was undeserved.
According to the BBC, ministers cited the recent fall in unemployment to say the system was working, but they failed to mention what their intention was.
Was it working in getting people into jobs?
Or was it only working in getting people off-benefit, as claimed by the committee?
If people were going into jobs, were they real jobs, or fake “self-employed” jobs of the kind that the BBC itself investigated last year, intended only to get claimant numbers down?
What about the rise and rise of Workfare schemes, in which claimants are knocked off the unemployment statistics but continue receiving an equivalent amount to JSA – from the DWP – for a full week’s work, effectively subsidising commercial firms?
It seems likely that ministers will be reluctant to answer those questions.
While institutions like the BBC are determined to broadcast inaccurate stories based on falsified figures supplied by those ministers, it seems they have no incentive to do so.
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