DWP admits MORE lies and misdeeds re fake psych ‘test’


Please share this widely, as I think it’s huge.

There has been considerable furore over the fake psychometric ‘test’ the DWP has been forcing jobseekers to use under the threat of ‘sanction’ (immediate loss of benefits) since I revealed it in April and the Guardian newspaper published its own account of the story at the beginning of May.

The DWP and the head of Downing Street’s ‘Behavioural Insights Team’ (BIT or ‘nudge unit’) officially denied to the Guardian that anyone had ever been forced to complete the ‘test’, while the head of the nudge unit even wrote an indignant open letter to the Guardian to the same effect. The government then issued a confused statement stating both that it had not forced anyone to take the test – and that it had.

Now a further Freedom of Information (FOI) response from the Cabinet Office has finally come clean on the matter and admitted outright that it issued ‘directions’ (instructions backed by the threat of benefit sanction) to jobseekers – along with some other critical information (and a ludicrous claim). Crucially, the new information reveals yet more lies from a government department that rides roughshod over disabled and unemployed people and over the truth alike.

On 24 May, I submitted a request for an ‘internal review’ of the DWP’s earlier response, on the grounds that it had not provided specific answers to the questions posed. You can read the whole request and the whole response here – but the key questions and responses are below:

Q: Please provide details of all offices where the test has been used.

A:  In Essex District Loughton and Colchester offices were involved in using the test. 
In Durham and Tees Valley District the test was used in all offices. These are: 
Billingham, Bishop Auckland, Chester-le-Street, Consett, Crook, Darlington, Durham, Eston, 
Guiseborough, Hartlepool, Loftus, Middlesborough [sic] Offices, Newton Aycliffe, Peterlee, Redcar, Seaham, Spennymoor, Stanley, Stockton and Thornaby.

Note that this differs radically from what had previously been admitted. Originally, the DWP and the nudge unit claimed that the test had been used in Loughton, then Essex generally, and then in Teesside. But the list of ‘Durham and Tees Valley’ offices above includes a much wider geography.

Bishop Auckland, Chester-le-Street, Consett, Crook, Durham, Newton Aycliffe, Peterlee,  Seaham, Spennymoor and Stanley are emphatically not in Teesside, while Darlington would be borderline.

This means that potentially many more thousands of jobseekers were subjected to the DWP’s non-validated psychological experiment than the government has previously admitted.

Q: When did the programme start and is the test still being used now – if not, when did it finish being used?

The pilot started in Durham and Tees Valley Offices from April 2012, in Loughton from July 1012 and Colchester from January 2013. The DWP has not used the test since 8 May 2013.

Again, this is radically different to the information originally provided by the DWP/nudge unit, which stated that the test was piloted in Essex and then rolled out across Essex and in the North East. The DWP and Cabinet Office seem incapable of talking straight about any detail of this fiasco.

Edit: should have pointed out that the test stopped being used 1 week exactly after the Guardian went national with the story. However, I am receiving indications that the DWP is still finding backdoor ways of forcing people to take the test whether they wish to or not. More on that when I have enough supporting evidence.

Q: How many Jobseeker Directions were issued relating to the test?

A: The DWP are aware of 4 Jobseeker’s Directions which were issued in error. The test was always intended to be voluntary.

This answer is notable in at least two ways. First, the government admits – for the first time unequivocally – that jobseekers were ordered to take this test under threat of sanction (that’s what a ‘Jobseeker’s Direction’ is) – after hitherto emphatically denying it, even in that letter to the Guardian from the nudge unit’s head.

Second, note the very careful (albeit grammatically incorrect!) wording. ‘The DWP are aware’. Not ‘there were only 4 JSDs’, but ‘we are aware of’ only 4 – leaving wiggle room if and when more than 4 such JSDs come to light.

I’ll leave it to your own judgment whether it’s really credible that out of only 4 JSDs supposedly issued, the SKWAWKBOX blog should happen to become aware of one. Given the 2.5 million jobseekers in the country, I think the odds a pretty long, though.

Q: Please provide a copy of all information issued to staff regarding the test including the referral process and how those directed to take the test were selected.

A: This is included as part of a facilitated Coaching Session under Building Resilience. Advisers would decide using their knowledge of each individual claimant whether they felt it would be beneficial for the claimant to complete a ‘My Strengths’ test. The sessions were delivered by experts and the sessions are for coaching and take on the form of a seminar rather than a lecture, hence lack of a script/materials.

Now this is potentially dynamite. As any qualified psychologist will tell you (you can find some of them discussing this test here), psychological experiments require strict ethical and practical controls. Anyone put into such an experiment should be carefully assessed by an expert, and such tests require constant monitoring and feedback from a qualified psychologist. As one psychologist on the discussion page linked above put it, this applies

especially to the unemployed many of whom are vulnerable and many will have never done a personality test.

But the joint response to my FOI by the DWP and the BIT now admits that the decision about who should be subjected to the test was left to whether Jobcentre Plus advisers ‘felt it would be beneficial‘ – completely unqualified JCP advisers, who had received a single coaching session so informal that there were not even any written materials involved!

Truly, the more information that comes out about this bogus, recklessly-applied test, the worse the situation that is revealed, and the more callous and cavalier the government’s attitude to disadvantaged people is shown to be.

The DWP’s top psychologist is already under investigation for either approving this un-validated experiment or for failing to intervene and prevent it. But it’s becoming more and more obvious that it is not some employee that should be taking the fall for this.

The blame and the responsibility goes right to the top – to Iain (Duncan) Smith at the head of the DWP, and to David Cameron himself, who instigated and lauded the nudge unit in the first place.


    1. I suspect they sleep during the day, in coffins. To me, the big question is how do they shave, without using a mirror?

  1. Reblogged this on Vox Political and commented:
    The final revelation in the latest episode of ‘Nudge Unit Follies’ is absolute dynamite. These Tory tricksters at the top of government seem to think that unemployed people are there for their amusement, and clearly show no recognition that they are dealing with sentient beings who have rights of their own. Perhaps it is the government ministers who should be taking psychological tests (real ones this time)?

  2. The upside being, aside from any halfway decent coalition MPs getting thoroughly sick of being made to like both fools and charlatans, that the behaviour brings into serious question the validity (and legality) of everything this department has done under IDS rule.

  3. This is the equivalent of a painter and decorator doing surgery.Heads should roll and massive fines plus jail time should be involved.
    My hat is off to you well scored.

  4. Should we not mention Chris Grayling who was Minister of State for Employment when this began? It’s difficult not to think he’d have known about it, isn’t it? And where is he now? Oh yes, in charge of Justice. I wonder if the legal profession, currently up in arms about his proposed changes to legal aid, would be interested to know of this? I mean, if charges against the DWP and Grayling in particular should be brought, they’d be the people to know how to do it, wouldn’t they?

    1. Read about Graylings latest fiasco about privatising the Probation Service, ignoring the risk register and unrealistic timetable and the great threat to public safety as the probation service goes into meltdown.
      This sounds like a re run of the NHS reforms pushed through against all advice and massive public opinion.
      Grayling in charge of Justice – we should all be afraid – very afraid.
      Keep an eye out for a undercover cop trying to become your best friend if you challenge this Government.
      Are our emails being monitored by GCHQ? After the recent revelations it seems more than just a remote possibility.
      Forget Cameron’s crocodile tears focus on the reality of how he dismantling society via repulsively gross spin, lies and deceit.
      Duty of Candour? He’s having a laugh! At our expense.

  5. … so entirely untrained JCP advisers have been administering psychometric tests … and administering tests on whichever claimants they choose. It couldn’t perhaps also be another trick in the JCP’s little book of “Hurdles for Job Seekers whose turn it is to be sanctioned this week”, could it??!

  6. Thanks for your brilliant work. I wonder what the legal implications are. Surely a “direction” on pain of “sanction” amounts to “duress”.Forcing someone to take part in a psychological experiment or test must be a breach of their human rights, and a civil or criminal offence. We need good lawyers (if such creatures exist) to help any claimant (in the legal sense) to enforce their rights under law. These Teflon toffs need to be legally challenged.

    1. Given that they’ve admitted they shouldn’t have issued JSDs, I’d imagine anyone who did receive one has a pretty cast-iron claim to compensation!

      1. Agreed. I’d love watching Neo-Labour trying to retrospectively legalise this fiasco.

  7. Extraordinary, Steve. I am glad to have provided some of the initial information.

  8. Hi from what I have seen this test is still being conducted in Durham. however what is happening now is that new claimants are being put on CV and covering letter writing courses straight away. During this course, which in Durham is being provided by an out of work construction assessor with no academic educational background and who can barely string a sentence together let alone teach someone with minimal literacy skill to do so, attendees are being given personality assessments, the results are then recorded on official paperwork, which you are to sign giving permission for the data to be used by DWP, to be taken back to the job centre advisor.
    At no point does the course tutor explain what your test results will be used for or explain why the test is to be shared with DWP.
    I know this as I have just done it myself. There is much more I could add that is equally damning.

    1. These events were voluntary.

      Do you know if everyone was mandated to the Durham event you attended?

      1. Hi everyone on the course was told if they failed to attend there would be benefit sanctions imposed. So how that’s voluntary I just don’t know. Maybe it’s the kind of voluntary that has a gun to your back so you don’t change your mind 🙂

    2. A mandatory event has to be enacted. This is not a mandatory programme.

      Individuals can be directed to a one off job activity if they refuse to attend and their adviser determines it will beneficial to them.

      However, Jobseeker directions cannot be used to fill programmes or meet targets.

      I am really curious about the personality test used.

  9. Dear Melodie, Many thanks for the email, it is appreciated. I have to say that I find the tone of the SKWAWKBOX blogs template email unnecessarily confrontational and accusatory. I suspect that many MPs who receive it will probably delete it and not reply. In answer to your questions: 1. I dispute that this constitutes gross abuse what has been proved is that there was a disparity in the statistics, it has not been demonstrated that it was a deliberate attempt to mislead. For example, David Cameron in a TV interview said debt when he meant deficit. This is hardly a gross abuse and indeed, Ed Balls regularly confuses the two. I look forward to receiving an email rebuking him.2. It is for those colleagues to respond to these accusations. That they have done in letters to the UKSA – all of which are public explaining the disparity in figures. You can read Jeremy Hunts for example, here: https://www.google.co.uk/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=5&ved=0CEEQFjAE&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.statisticsauthority.gov.uk%2Freports—correspondence%2Fcorrespondence%2Fletter-from-rt–hon–jeremy-hunt-mp-to-andrew-dilnot-06122012.pdf&ei=4m3IUdeQDoTWPM_igcAI&usg=AFQjCNEChqWq_QUyIJvlx_Y9kjX7zy-k0A&sig2=80PyzGXWQ2jXAfZXEX0H3w&bvm=bv.48293060,d.ZWU3. It is customary for MPs to raise it in the House when there is evidence that the House has been misled. By definition, this means deliberately misled. I also trust that the SKWAWKBOX blog will be encouraging its readers to tackle those MPs on the other side of the political divide who have since been found to have been spouting erroneous statistics as highlighted in Jeremy Hunts letter. Date: Mon, 24 Jun 2013 20:25:39 +0000 To: mel.montgomery@hotmail.co.uk

  10. Thanks for all the hard work you’ve put in on this, Steve. Judging from the online discussion between psychologists you linked to the nudge unit could start to feel some heat from the HCPC soon if these guys start writing letters. They sound pretty angry about it and rightly so because it brings their profession into disrepute.
    I think there’s a case for a further FOI request though regarding the ‘experts’ and the ‘coaching seminar’. I don’t buy the claim that there was no written material for the session, it doesn’t ring true. Most training sessions provide hand outs, for instance, or there’ll be some material online to refer to. The fact that they say these sessions were ‘delivered by experts’ suggests they bought in the training from somewhere and this suggests someone at DWP did the procurement. To do that they must have been sent some information about the content of the training they were buying in order to make the decision to spend the money on it. And there must have been a contract involved. I’m pretty sure that government contracts which involve spending taxpayers’ money are subject to FOI. They may not have to disclose all the commercial details but they ought to disclose who the contract was with and how much they spent.

  11. This is the event procured by JCP:

    • ‘Pace and Purpose’ – Jobcentre plus have contracted with 3 training providers (Tees Achieve, Stockton Riverside College and New College Durham) to deliver the ‘Pace and Purpose’ employability training that is undertaken after the new claim stage. It includes online job search and CV production, culminating in the production of an action plan that individuals discuss with their Jobcentre plus adviser. Since September, Tees Achieve has had 545 people starting ‘Pace and Purpose’. To date in November, 128 people have started the employability course.


  12. Sounds like people with time on their hands might wish to complain to the Health and Care Professions Council (the Statutory regulator) or the British Psychological Society to start with….

    1. Indeed! However, the HCPC is already investigating the DWP’s chief psychologist. It says it can’t do anything about the non-qualified people because they don’t come under its remit.

      Many BPS members are unhappy about the response of the BPS so far. That would be the place to target complaints at the moment, I think.

  13. Another nice piece of “bad psychology” irony here is that, if the people who were being directed to complete the “My Strength” questionnaire were being selected by JCP staff (let’s assume for a moment that those staff have a clue about how to identify who would or wouldn’t benefit from the test), they are instantly denting the reliability of any subsequent report saying that the “My Strengths” test helped people, because the group of participants had been cherry-picked. Whoever signed off on this should be given what I believe is known in the Army as an “interview without coffee”, not just for the ethical issues but also for basic methodological incompetence.

  14. l was at my local job center yesterday! all the computer have full signs on then that say please access these web pages then gives links to job centre www pages the in house computers are also turned off! which means if u want to provide proof that you have looked 4 positions or jobs you cant use the job center computers!
    btw l dont use this e-mail or check it!! dam lm just suspicious!

  15. I really can’t see what all the fuss is about. This test (Nero-Linguistic Programming) was discredited by the great and the good over 20 years ago. In any case, psychology is bullshit. If you ask a dozen psychologists why a person is behaving the way he is, you will likely get a dozen different answers. If you ask 12 astrophysicists why, say, a star behaves the way it does, you will get the same answer from all 12 of them.
    • “Psychology is a total waste of time. It is an area of ‘study’ that exists because of a large group of people who didn’t understand physics, chemistry and biology, but wanted to be scientists. They argue that psychology is in fact more complicated than physics, what with the human brain being so complex and difficult to get at without being arrested. This is a good argument, because it justifies their attainment of vast grants without the need for any actual results. The work they do is then published in one of many journals which, of course are run by psychologists. The journals are sold to colleges so that their psychology departments can read them. Thus it continues… Efficient, brilliant and simple. A totally self-perpetuating waste of college funds.” – (cynicalbastards.com)

    1. Actually, that’s probably not true about the astrophysicists – not if you ask good ones, anyway. Theories are always evolving – but only because people challenge them with better ones and new discoveries.

    2. @Fucktheories. That’s not true. There are branches of psychology that are solid, subject to normal scientific criticism, and are advancing. The hard core of the test here in question is not neuro-linguistic programming, but carefully established behavioural results acquired since around 1980 by Kahneman and others. That they are misapplied, and selectively at that, for unethical ends, is unfortunate and destructive. One must distinguish between a science and the variaties of its application.

  16. Employers also use psychometric tests and in the UK 75%, of the Times top 10 companies assess candidates in this way. Employment agencies are also using them. I was subjected to one when I enrolled with Manpower in 2007. However, what is sinister about this is the threat of benefit sanction for failing to comply. This is where we should be directing our venom.

  17. I signed on today and despite having a frst degree from Oxford University and an MSc in Urban Policy I have been told I must attend the Pace and Purpose/skills conditionality course next week. The adviser said she realised I was highly qualified and might feel I didn’t need the training but it was mandatory for all new claimants and she had no discretion

    1. Difficult not to think the point is to pretend something constructive’s being done when in fact it isn’t. It works well enough to fool the gullible public who will uncritically soak up the information that X number of claimants went on reskilling courses and probably applaud. I’d generally think the course provider gets handsomely rewarded with taxpayers money too and will be expressing their gratitude to the DWP ministerial team who ladeled all this public money their way with directorships (one notes John Reid has one with G4S) and consultancies (let’s not forget the happy union between A4E and David Blunkett) but councils run this course according to Linkedin; “Pace and Purpose a mandatory programme for new JSA claimants. This intensive course looks at Transferable Skills, Local Labour Market trends as well as CV, Application Forms and Letter Writing. Learners work towards gaining 2 NOCN Employability Units.” But then councils do outsource work…

  18. Why this is a surprise to anyone is a surprise to me. The one think of learned about politics in my 75 years on this earth is, to politicians the truth is irrelevant. It’s not the truth they are concerned with, it’s only what the public will believe .

  19. The department of work and pensions are up to all sorts of evil tricks and when confronted about it they just deny it. I spent time on incapacity benefit and havnt claimed the benefit since 2010 but i ve been hounded and harassed by dwp investigators for 11 years as soon as i come out of my house they are onto me its a campaign against me that is being conducted on social media, there is even a text number for people to text my whereabouts to them as soon as they recognise me, i even had to give my job up as a taxi driver because of it. This governments philosophy is anyone who manages to get themselves off benefit and into employment is doing the right, so how come someone who is supposed to be doing the right thing ends up being hounded and harassed in such a manner .

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