What I’m about to share with you demonstrates beyond reasonable doubt the reckless, couldn’t-give-a-**** attitude of the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) toward the people it is supposed to be supporting.
It also demonstrates (yet again):
- that the DWP’s concept of the the cost of living, the cost of jobseeking and the reality of life on benefits is utterly divorced from the daily experience of those for whom it is responsible (remember IDS’ ludicrous claim that he could live on £53 a week if he had to?);
- the way in which the DWP, which has become thoroughly malignant under Secretary of State Iain (Duncan) Smith and other ministers, redefines benign words as their polar opposite in their attempt to disguise the attitudes and behaviours that are pushing millions into poverty, and making it harder for the unemployed to get work or even get by, as ‘help’ and ‘support’.
The letters I’m going to show you give a small glimpse of the sterling work being done by a former Jobcentre Plus (JCP) manager in the north-east of England, who retired from JCP in disgust at the way in which its advisors are being forced to penalise the unemployed rather than help them, and who set up a service to help jobseekers understand their rights and the vagaries of the system so that they have a better chance of surviving the government’s onslaught.
In order to present the information with its proper impact, I’m going to present two letters in reverse order – first the answer from the DWP, and then the letter to an MP that resulted in the response.
The initial letter was sent to a Labour MP who can be relied upon to take such contact from his constituents seriously and to act on it.
The response was sent by Minister of State for Work and Pensions Mark Hoban – tipped by some to take over from the disastrous Iain ‘it is my belief in spite of the evidence’ Smith.
But as this letter (like others) shows, he is anything but an improvement on his boss. As you’ll see, he doesn’t even make it to the end of his first paragraph before dropping an unbelievable, er, clanger. Here’s page 1 of the 3-page letter:
Parliament has set the current rate of JSA for persons aged 25 or over..at £56.80.
Seems clear enough, doesn’t it? Except he’s got it completely wrong. As the querying note that the former JCP manager has added indicates, this is not the right figure, as the government’s own gov.uk site tells us:
For a government minister who has talked of the government’s measures as designed to “tackle entrenched poverty” to get something so basic, uncomplicated and absolutely crucial as the pittance single jobseekers are allocated to live on so completely wrong is outrageous.
Even if we put the most implausibly generous gloss on this factual error and assuming that someone typed the letter for Hoban and he (and they) didn’t notice the mistake, it still shows a staggeringly cavalier attitude toward important details and a lack of concern for accuracy that is completely in line with the DWP’s consistent and persistent misrepresentation of statistics.
It should be surprising.
But it’s no less appalling for that fact.
The next page of the letter contains claims and blandishments about the appropriateness of the DWP/JCP imposition of conditions and tasks on jobseekers. I’m going to ask you to read it, and then to ‘park’ it for a moment until we come to the initial letter sent by the ex-JCP manager:
The 3rd page is brief, and notable mainly for highlighting the fact that, under the new system the DWP is introducing, it is not only the unemployed who will be the potential victims of the new regime. Working people will also be targeted – and potentially subject to benefit sanction – if they are considered to be not working enough or not earning enough.
In other words, you’ll be penalised for being poorly paid, or for not enough hours being available for you at the whim of your employer (and this in the Age of Zero-Hours Contracts!):
Now to the letter that led to the revelation of the Minister’s ignorance – and which shows the other claims to be nonsensical:
Dear Mr Morris
I have been helping some people in a private capacity with their Jobseeker’s Agreements.
The government has decided that people need to do a great deal more to look for work and the expected average is around 35 steps per week. It was previously around 3 steps; this equates to an increase in excess of 1000%.
Due the abolition of Council Tax support in April of this year, many Jobseekers are going to be around £3 worse off per week. From April 2013 the basic JSA rate for an adult aged 25+ will increase by only 1% to £71.70. I am not a mathematician but is clear to see that due to inflation, Jobseekers and other claimants are going to be around 6% worse off once you take into account the loss of Council Tax support.
I have worked out a realistic budget for my friend on JSA (see attached) and you can see that there is insufficient money for most people in your constituency to look for work.
Hoban claims that the measures forced on jobseekers – and for which they are required to sign a ‘Claimant Commitment’ – are ‘reasonable’. But as the former JCP manager observes – and as we’ll see shortly from real-life examples – they are simply unaffordable.
The legislation requires a person to take all reasonable steps to look for work and consideration must be given to their particular circumstances. However, it appears that a person’s budget is not taken into consideration when the Advisers prepares a Jobseeker’s Agreement. For example, a lone parent without a computer was expected to go into the Jobentre daily to use the Jobcentre’s computers to look for work as she did not one of her own. The weekly travel cost amounts to around £15.00. A friend of mine was initially expected to take 45 steps, which included 20 job applications per week, this was completely unrealistic and too expensive for the type of work she was looking for. My friend has health issues and a new Agreement was prepared with my assistance; this would not have been the case if she did not have disabilities. At her New Claim Interview, my friend was simply advised, “the new rules are and you must now do……………..” [so much for ‘reasonable’ and ‘advisors have the power to..best meet the needs of the individual’!]
Examples of comments on various forums:
“Just be creative in your response to this unfairness and treat it/politicians with the contempt that they now deserve”
“Sheesh they don’t stop do they? People will end up spending more time trying to protect themselves from sanction doubts and appealing wrong decisions than jobsearching”
“So the recent FoI request is useful for making it clear that claimants have some limited rights to resist these changes.”
“I believe that the job seekers agreement is used purely as a tool to beat you with and stop your benefits when you find yourself in a down time after so many rejections.”
“I feel that this is not agreement at all and I am setting myself up for trouble as I have had problems with this jobcentre before. I successfully fought off 3 sanctions previously and do want to go down that road again.”
“I felt like I had no other choice but to sign as the advisor said I would not receive any benefits. That is why I asked them to put I signed under duress on the system but then it was removed.“
Could you raise this concern with the DWP Minister or ask a question in the House of Commons for me please?
Many thanks for your assistance with this matter.
The ex-JCP manager then puts this reality into starkly clear figures:
A £20 per week shortfall between the ‘support’ provided and the cost of meeting the conditions imposed for receiving the ‘support’. When you’re on £56 or £71 a week, it might as well be a £200 a week shortfall, or £2,000,
This letter reveals the reality of life as a claimant – threat, coercion, fear and unreasonable, unworkable, unaffordable demands to be met or else benefits will be summarily stopped.
The letter from Hoban reveals an appallingly cavalier, reckless, callous – and surely wilful – ignorance and disregard of the these realities, which are simply glossed over to present a picture of perfect reasonableness and ‘support’ of people who are in fact routinely victimised.
Which is, scandalously but not at all surprisingly, entirely in keeping with everything about the behaviour of this robber-government.