Jobcentre Plus Scandal
Category : discussion points
Well at least John Lydon had the decency to ask us “Ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated?”. That’s more than can be said for those responsible for making last night’s Dispatches episode “Tricks of The Dole Cheats”. Its trailer and blurb promised:
“Reporter Morland Sanders investigates Jobcentre Plus, the organisation tasked with getting Britain back to work and cracking down on dole cheats. With the help of jobseekers, undercover filming and a former insider, the programme reveals the shirkers’ tricks that make it easy to cheat the system.”
The programme displayed precisely two “shirkers’ tricks”, and undercover filming did not prove that there is any ease in getting one over on the benefits system. The reality is very different. There is very little “cheating” taking place. David Cameron was shown in the programme promising to clamp down on “dole cheats” that have claimed around £1.5bn in benefits that they were not entitled to. But £1.5bn amounts to 0.8% of total benefit expenditure, a figure almost matched by the 0.6% lost due to Government error ( a figure set to rise since a High Court judge ruled that sanctioning claimants for refusing to take part in workfare schemes was unlawful). We were also shown how easy it is for “dole cheats” to create fictional job applications on their job diary (used to prove that claimants are sticking to their job agreement and are actively seeking work) and still have their payments processed. Although in the example shown where Dispatches volunteer jobseeker hands over his diary with his shopping list rather than a list of applications, the adviser did inform him that due to the bank holiday, his payment had already been processed. Trick number two was to expose how easy it is for jobseekers to claim and work at the same time. You can even park your painting and decorating van outside the jobcentre and sign on wearing overalls covered in fresh paint and you’ll still get your £56.25 or £71 per week to top up your wages. Again such a lax attitude is not borne out by the facts that Dispatches willingly ignored. The truth is that since 2009, benefit sanctions of those that have been deemed to have deviated from their jobseekers agreement or have failed to adhere to an instruction given by a Jobcentre official have trebled from 139,000 to 508,000 in 2011. These sanctions can suspend or reduce benefits for up to 6 months.
And many of these sanctions have been imposed for not applying for the requisite number of jobs, failing to apply for a job proposed by an adviser, failure to follow an instruction from the jobcentre, but increasingly, more unemployed people are being sanctioned for refusing to take up unpaid work. Spearheading the call for more penalties for those that refuse to take part in unpaid labour schemes are Government contractors such as Working Links and A4e. Much doubt has been cast on their shady practices, yet Working Links and A4e have referred more of their clients for sanctions than any other company in the sector. But Dispatches concentrated their fire on Jobcentre Plus workers. There were a few moments that made Jobcentre Director Ruth Owen squirm, but the whole tenor of the programme was to attempt to portray how lazy, disinterested and unconcerned staff at the Department for Work and Pensions are about helping the unemployed into work (another of the Tories failed programmes). There was a brief reference to the 6,000 PCS members in DWP contact centres taking strike action over “working conditions”. Now, it would have spoilt Dispatches angle to elaborate and point out that the strike has been provoked by the frustrations of a workforce prevented in providing a full and professional service to those in dire need by a senior management more intent on bullying their workforce to achieve call targets (ie- hit call volumes by dealing with queries as quick as possible). It would have also ruined the attack on jobcentre workers to mention that PCS members in those offices have consistently campaigned with strikes and protests against office closures and thousands of job cuts.
Little wonder then that Jobcentre workers have precious time to help the unemployed with their CVs and interview techniques. But Jobcentre workers face an even bigger obstacle. With 2.5 million unemployed chasing less than 500,000 vacancies, even with the best will in the world, jobcentre staff know that they can only disappoint 80% of the people they try to serve. This picture is starting to worsen. There have been minimal falls in the unemployment figures in the last few months. But the fall in GDP, a new manufacturing slump, and the UK headed for a triple-dip recession, we can expect that trend to be sharply reversed as we head towards the Autumn. It is not in the interests of any unemployed activist to take pleasure in Dispatches’ bashing of DWP workers.
Whilst we squabble over crumbs, David Cameron’s party of and for the millionaires will exploit such divisions to further slash jobs and privatise services and impose a harsher regime for the unemployed. We need to forge unity between the unemployed and workers to stop the tricks of the tax-dodging cheats that rob the trillions that can be used to invest in properly funded public services and real jobs. For another review of “Tricks Of The Dole Cheats”, there is an excellent piece on the Void:
“Тhe programme also revealed the stunning revelation that Jobcentre’s are a bit shit when it comes to actually finding people a job. This will come as no surprise to anyone who’s claimed benefits over the last few decades although it is apparently big news to the latte slurping Tarquins at Channel 4, most of whom have probably never done a real job in their lives.”