Last week, I exposed a fake personality ‘test’ that is being forced on unemployed people by the Department of Work and Pensions’ (DWP) Jobcentre Plus (JCP) centres. This ‘test’, which presented a ‘personality profile’ to respondents that was completely unrelated to their personality, was so completely bogus that it even provided a ‘profile’ if you clicked through all the questions without answering them.
Moreover, if you go through the test and answer ‘very like me’ to every one of the 48 questions, you will receive exactly the same results as if you go through it and click ‘very unlike me’.
Not only is the test a fake, but it was devised by the US psychologist who designed the ‘psychological torture’ programme used by the CIA and US military, which includes among its methods the infamous ‘waterboarding’ technique designed to make victims feel as though they are drowning, over and over again.
It’s plain that this test has nothing to do with offering claimants genuine, helpful information. Instead, it appears to be a naked attempt to cynically manipulate unemployed people into certain behaviours whether or not it is in their best interest given their personal strengths and weaknesses.
Unemployed people are being forced to take this ‘test’ by the threat of ‘sanction’ – that they will lose their benefits if they fail to comply with the instruction. In a context where some claimants are committing suicide because of the fear of losing their benefits, to instill the fear and stress that the threat of sanction must inevitably create, simply to coerce them into taking a ‘test’ that is meaningless, is not only psychological torture but reckless, dangerous, and quite possibly criminal.
And it turns out that there is a government department that agrees that it is illegal for the DWP to impose this ‘test’ on benefit claimants. The DWP.
Here is a JCP letter to an unemployment benefit claimant ordering them to complete a series of tasks, including the bogus ‘skills test’:
The letter advises the claimant that the instruction to take the test is a ‘Jobseeker’s Direction’ (JSD). A JSD is a very specific instruction issued by JCPs to the unemployed – an instruction that can lead to benefit sanctions if it is not obeyed. It is therefore extremely coercive – but it is not supposed to be employed just anyhow.
‘Fruit of the poisoned tree’..
The DWP publishes guidance for its ’employment officers’ (Emp Os) on sanctions and their use. Item 34592 of this guidance notes advises Emp Os about JSDs and the use of sanctions for non-compliance. Here’s what it says right at its beginning:
A JSD in writing will be a document that asks or advises claimants to take a particular course of action that can help them find employment or improve their chances of being employed.
Clearly, taking a test that has no connection whatever to your actual personality does nothing to help you find employment or become more employable. On its own, this makes the JSDs imposing the test invalid – and any sanctions resulting from them invalid too. But we’re not done yet.
Item 34593 states (emphases mine):
If an Emp O gives or sends a letter to a claimant asking them to attend at a Jobcentre Plus office or other place without explaining why, or just tells them to telephone but does not tell them why this will not be a JSD. The JSD must explain why the jobseeker is being directed to attend a particular place.
Item 34593 establishes the principle that a jobseeker must be told why a JSD is being given for it to be enforceable. The letter, as you can see above, does not give any indication why the test must be completed, beyond a generic ‘in order to help you [find work] we require’ it. No indication is given as to how taking this ‘test’ will help, and the fact that the ‘test’ is bogus means that it is not meeting even this vague aim.
While not conclusive in itself, taken in context this vagueness and lack of substance means that the JSD is extremely questionable and liable to legal challenge.
Item 34594 states that:
A JSD has to be reasonable
While the examples given relate to reasonableness in terms of feasibility, it is extremely doubtful that any court would consider that ordering someone to take a meaningless test is in any way ‘reasonable’.
Given the intimidating nature of the test and the other instructions issued with it, and the increased likelihood of limited literacy skills among the people on whom it is imposed, the DWP has almost certainly imposed sanctions on claimants for failing to comply with what appears to be a thoroughly illegal instruction that does not meet the standards for a valid ‘jobseeker’s direction’.
Since this test has been used for some time in at least 3 regions and is now being rolled out in others, the number of people penalised in this way could be substantial, and the sanctions imposed could run into millions of pounds.
Not only that, but by inflicting undoubted stress and distress on people using a legally illegitimate and unreasonable instruction, the DWP could face compensation claims running into the tens or even hundreds of millions of pounds, if any claimants decide to seek legal redress.
And the DWP is damned by its own words, from its own handbook.
No wonder it didn’t want you to know about this reckless, cynical ‘test’.