I’ve written much over the past couple of weeks about the DWP’s apparent determination to persecute unemployed benefit-claimants by forcing them to undergo activities and tests which are totally unsuitable or even fake.
That this trend reflects a deliberate vendetta rather than mere incompetence is something that appears inescapably obvious while at the same time suggesting some kind of ‘conspiracy theory’ that some would dismiss as far-fetched. But I’ve come across evidence that this is exactly how the DWP regards claimants.
I’ve been reading some information released by the DWP as part of a response to a Freedom of Information (FOI) Act request in 2011 – just over a year after the coalition government took office.
This information includes guidance documents to Jobcentre Plus (JCP) personnel that reveal exactly how the government regards benefit claimants – and the process of cutting off their benefits: as an ‘achievement‘ and a ‘positive outcome‘.
In a section of the guidance titled “05 Completing the MF47 statement“, the DWP instructs JCP ‘advisors’ about how to handle new information that is gathered during a ‘compliance interview’:
8. New and substantial information is defined as:
New – a different offence type than the specific FRF given for the Customer Compliance case;
Substantial – will have sufficient grounds to raise a new FRF that would have the potential to achieve a sanction.
The ‘potential to achieve a sanction’. You only achieve something you’re aiming for – if it’s accidental or negative (in your eyes), you don’t ‘achieve’ it.
This is substantiated by further guidance that tells JCP advisors to pressure claimants to sign incriminating statements agreeing that they falsely claimed benefits (whether this has to be true or not is not mentioned by the form) because without the signed form the funds cannot be reclaimed:
Small overpayment statement from customer
4. In order for small overpayments of £65.00 and under to be recovered from the customer, the following exact form of words must be used on the MF47 statement:
“I admit I knowingly gave false information” or “I admit I knowingly failed to declare a change of circumstance” (as applicable).
5. Ask the customer to sign and date the statement immediately after the last word. The CCO must witness and date the statement and score through any unused parts to ensure no additions to the statement can be made once the customer has signed it.
Remember, this is just an interview. Nothing has been investigated or proven. But the advisor is told that the claimant must sign one of the two statements because otherwise the money cannot be claimed back.
This is already twisted enough, but we’re not done yet. The DWP has a specific description for ending claimants’ benefits.
A ‘positive outcome’
In a section of the guidance titled “Recording Outcomes“, the DWP tells advisors what constitutes a ‘positive outcome’:
Claiming a positive outcome
17. A positive outcome can be recorded when:
a customer reports a change in circumstances to a Customer Compliance Officer (CCO) at the interview that leads to benefit being adjusted or a change to the amount of the CCG – See example 2 Appendix 5
following a telephone call to arrange the CCG visit the customer withdraws the application;
following receipt of a Customer Compliance interview letter and prior to the interview the customer contacts the CCO or Customer Compliance section and notifies a pre-existing change in circumstances leading to a change in benefit – See example 1 Appendix 5
at an ineffective visit the CCO gathers information for example, property is empty which allows the DM to make a decision to reduce or disallow benefit;
a customer fails to attend two interviews and the case is referred to the DM to suspend payment of benefit. The customer does not make any contact within one calendar month and their claim to benefit is terminated;
Withdrawn applications – ‘positive’. Circumstances that allow benefits to be ‘reduced or disallowed‘ – ‘positive’. If a benefit can be suspended – great. If the claimant misses enough appointments to allow his/her benefit to be terminated altogether – fantastic, Christmas has come early!
In March, the Guardian revealed that JCPs are being set targets for ‘sanctioning’ the benefits of people who will have nothing if their payments are stopped (no wonder Foodbanks are having to provide food to vast, record numbers of people in crisis).
The DWP denied that any targets were being set, in spite of clear evidence that they were. But now we have it straight from the horse’s mouth – from the DWP’s own guidance notes to its JCP operatives: sanctions are good, great. Positive. Something to be ‘achieved‘ – something to be aimed for and actively worked toward.
The Guardian today claimed that the unemployed are treated as sub-human under this government. The DWP’s own documents show beyond doubt that this is no mere accident or ‘unintended consequence’.