DWP minister Hoban gets JSA amount WRONG – and jobseeking unaffordable

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:

Hoban reply p1

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.

It isn’t.

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.


  1. Thank you for taking the time of sharing this information, I feel sick to the core after reading it. We need to get rid of this goverment….

  2. I’m not surprised that the figures are wrong nor by the caviller attitude pretty normal for a tory mp i have yet to meet one that was decent over the past 50 years

  3. £20 per week food? That is marginally under £3 per day for breakfast lunch and dinner – how in God’s name are they supposed to do that? Our food bill has increased by around £50 per week in the past 18 months!

    1. £20 a week for food, you ARE joking aren’t you? Most of the people I know struggle on £10 or less! 1 meal a day if they are lucky and as for heating you can forget it!.

  4. I know from bitter experience how relentlessly stressful it is living a hand to mouth existence when you literally have to watch every penny. To add to that stress significantly in this way – by setting someone up to fail as this inevitably does – is nothing short of cruelty. Imagine how much worse it must be for the under 25s on almost £20 a week less and for whom jobs are more scarce. I’ve never understood why younger people are presumed to need less to live on. Prices are the same whatever your age and to expect the young unemployed to subsist on almost 25% less money is discriminatory. And the inclusion of that repeated phrase in Hoban’s letter “move into work, more work, or better paid work” chills me to the bone. It seems that it won’t be enough simply to find a job and hopefully settle down any more. You will be constantly harassed to be looking for a better paid job as a condition of receiving barely enough to survive in a labour market that those imposing these conditions on you have deliberately depressed wages. You can almost hear the cracking of the whip and the creaking of the treadmill. Sadism oozes from the spaces between the cold bureaucratic words of Hoban’s letter.

      1. Very disturbing, but I also am not shocked. I am however shocked that there is no real and prominent opposition to this insane government! Excellent post and reply though, will pass it on!

  5. Reblogged this on paul8ar and commented:
    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.

  6. well put together and i know from experience totally accurate. and despite the obvious contradictions and downright lies in hoban’s statements, we are expected to put up with this blatant theft of the money which i personally contributed for35 years into.
    this scandal must be stopped, these lying thieves removed now.

  7. yes we need to get rid of this government BUT who do we replace them with Labor is Tory under another name (sorry to say but it’s true) what has Miliband done that gives anyone confident that he and his party can make a difference hope I am wrong.

    1. So do I. As a Labour member, it’s up to me and all the rest of us to make sure our party leaders aren’t fooled into thinking that their best chance lies in being ‘Tory lite’. I don’t believe Ed M is fooled, but I’m sure there are voices trying to persuade him he should believe it.

      1. As long as the “front bench” of either side is populated by wealthy, healthy, male WASPs we will see NO difference. When in opposition or in the run up to an election, they say what they think you want to hear and laugh at our gullibility in voting for them. “An election/manifesto promise isn’t binding” or so one of the parasites said once.

        You know how in a war the enemy are demonised and made to seem somehow subhuman so that we feel justified in slaughtering them? That’s what is happening here. We have some people (some DWP staff and others like those that work for ATOS) who are indoctrinated to think that everyone they deal with is worthless and not really a human being deserving of respect or kindness. That’s why we get tweets from someone saying things like “I got someone’s benefit sanctioned today! Result!!” And this demonisation has come from the people who we pay to represent us, to support and protect us, to ensure that our “way of life” is defended. Instead they are destroying our way of life in an attempt to bring back feudalism because they believe they will be the ultimate beneficiaries.

        Labour are as bad, if not worse. We have come to expect this of the Tories, but when Labour under Blair fucked us over we were too shocked to deal with it properly. Labour will be tainted until there is no-one in the cabinet who held a place of any responsibility in Blair or Brown’s governments. Labour will be tainted until they have a cabinet with the guts to stand up and say “what the Labout government between 1997 and 2010 did in our name was WRONG! We are SORRY.”

  8. I have been fighting with the dwp over my health issues (emphysema,hepatitis b,diabetes,hypertension and meds for depression and panic attacks) was getting £71 a week esa then a letter came saying i had missed a atos medical (which i was not notified about) so my esa was stopped i was forced to sign on to jsa for 6 weeks then i was told by my benefits adviser that i should be on esa!!?/ who then told me i would have go for a medical before i would get any benefits i’m now 4 weeks without any money waiting to go to atos who will probably say i’m fit for work though i have been to hospital over 10 times since january,feel so low,feel like just opening an vein or 2 and just getting it over with:(

    1. I more than half-seriously fear that part of their strategy is to push people to that point – don’t let them, mate! Let me know where you’re based and I’ll see if I can get any help for you locally.

  9. While I think your food estimate is low, I do have to query some of your numbers.
    “TV licence, hairdressing, toiletries & laundry/cleaning” estimate of £12.00 a week. Get rid of the TV. It is a propaganda machine and is sat in your living-room pumping out state sponsored bullshit and continual pressure to live an unaffordable lifestyle & consume. I do 2 washes a week, so not a lot of soap there. Same with cleaning the house. Detergent, etc., I buy once every 3 to 4 months. Toiletries of a fiver a week? This is where I part company with the Western lifestyle. I have been an “alternativista” for most my adult life, have worked around the world in developing countries in this time, and have to say that when people are financially strained, the first things that should go out the window is vanity. And if you need a fiver a week for shower gel, shampoo, shaving foam & cream, something is wrong. I accept for a woman there are extra demands, but try telling a rural African or Asian that you need a fiver ($8.00) a week for toiletries and they’d laugh at you!
    I don’t disagree with the basic tenet of your article. The neo-lib state is brutal, and is hell bent on driving the working population back to the servitude and serf-like status of medieval times while the robber barons live it large as they walk across the bodies of the peasantry. We need massive wealth redistribution. No question!
    But we also need to understand that our Western lifestyles are an environmental disaster and are totally unsustainable. we need to live more simply, make things last longer (better manufacturing quality and remove the pressure to consume) and move away from our “disposable” society/culture.We need to reduce energy consumption. I use an average of 2.5 kWh of electricity a day against a UK average of nearly 70. My gas & heating usage is almost exactly £1.00 a day. I have smart clothes which I use for work, and am happy to slob around in the worn out relics of these when not working, etc., etc… People need to get their heads round the idea that poverty is relative, and while I do not begin to deny that real, and sometimes absolute poverty exists in the UK, I also believe that no small amount of this is in people’s heads, as they want to continue to live a lifestyle which they cannot afford economically, and which the planet cannot begin to sustain environmentally.

    1. Thanks – they’re not my figures, though. Good point about the opportunities for simple living, but that’s not an easy transition to make at the best of times, let alone when you’re expected to complete high numbers of time-intensive, expensive activities or lose your benefits.

    2. Unfortunately, getting rid of the TV won’t save you any money. New rules have it that any device in the house that is capable of picking up live-feed from the BBC (ipads, phones, computers etc) will need to pay for a TV license. Sorry folks.

      1. Just to let you guys know, if a TV is not tuned in then you can be reasonably expected to not be using it. Having a device is not illegal don’t let them fool you. I don’t pay it, my TV is untuned I only use it for DVDs and watch programs online when its convienent for me instead which is perfectly legal. You can write to them to ban them from your property if they try to bully you at the door and don’t believe their scaremongering about the vans either. Evidence from a van (which may or may not even exist) has NEVER been used in court.

      2. Not so michele! You only need a TV licence if you watch or record LIVE broadcasts. And you can own as many TV receivers, of any form, as you like as long as you don’t watch LIVE broadcasts on them.

    3. Vanity should be the first thing to go?

      Taking pride in yourself is an important tool for keeping your mental health. Further it allows you to feel part of society. Please let me remind you we don’t live in Africa and comparisons should be made with care. it sounds as though you are again blaming the victim & making them feel guilty for wanting to keep some of their dignity.

    4. “People need to get their heads round the idea that poverty is relative”

      Try turning up at JCP, or even a potential employer, looking and acting like a street person from a third world country, explain to them how poverty is relative – and see how far you get.

      “UK average of nearly 70”
      £765 quarterly elec bill ?

  10. When do we wake up to the fact that these people are irrational, cruel and illegal. They are bullies of the worst order and we are being duped into thinking ‘we’ should be reasonable when they are clearly NOT. This is like trying to explain to the rapist why what they are doing is wrong. A bullet in the head would be a suitable response but just you wait and see who ACTUALLY fires the first bullet. It will be them. I have spent two exhaustive years trying to deal with them until I finally realised they will NEVER get it. They are compulsive control freaks and they MUST be stopped.

  11. Launderette costs at least £6 a time, plus detergent. Many people have nowhere to hang out washing or it is forbidden by landlord/housing association. Decent shoes, haircut and clean suit needed for interview for many jobs, and/or tough outdoor clothing for work. Job seeking needs photocopying, stationery and stamps. Decent food needed to give health and stamina to look able to work and to get through weeks until first pay day. Sanctions and low JSA just reduce chance of getting work. Basic catering, care and supermarket jobs need clean appearance and physical stamina.

  12. Government ministers are very quick to judge, particularly on issues they have no experience of (and poverty must be right up there).

  13. I was brought up in the country side. Luckily I only ever signed on one time. It involved a mile and a half walk, almost an hour on the bus, then a fair walk with this being reversed later to get home. I hear they are thinking of making people go to the job centre 4 times a week. This would be impossible for many, but certainly those who live far out, with the cost prohibitive when the benefits levels meant to be the minimum required to live. It is also a pointless excercise in some inner city areas where there are no jobs. Your list might also include the Bedroom Tax. I have recently come across people being sanctioned when they have made applications, but simply forgotten their pass word on the computor to be able to show this, with one woman being told that she could feed her 14 year old child and survive on her child benefit of is it £11 per week, for several weeks. The system right now is terrifying

    1. Based on the information provided, this is completely unlawful and people should appeal.

      There is no requirement in law for claimants to corroborate their job search evidence in writing unless it is inherently unlikely or self-contradictory.

      If it good enough for the courts then it must be in a Jobcentre.

      A new password can be requested from UJM. However, from my experience many jobs take you out of the UJM system and it is hard to provide evidence of the jobs applied for.

      Further, the legislation does not require all Jobseekers to create a UJM account.


      You will note the use of the word ‘MAY’ and the legislation does identify UJM specifically.

      All requests from Jobcentre Plus must be reasonable and lawful.

      1. It’s interesting when you say the legislation doesn’t specifically mean UJM as an “Online profile”. I have an account with both Total Jobs and Reed.com; would these suffice under the above regulations?

      1. A formal complaint can speed things along, particularly if the sanction is unlawful. It appears that most of the examples cited are.

    2. Child benefit is £20.30 per week for your first child and £13.40 for subsequent children she would also receive child tax credit at a rate of £65-75 per child per week which calculates at a minimum nearly 7x what you have quoted if we are having an honest discussion let us all be realistic

  14. Correction: You will note the use of the word ‘MAY’ and the legislation DOESN’T identify UJM specifically.

  15. As far as I am aware, an “agreement” is not a contract nor a promise, and is therefore not legally binding. Furthermore, the agreement states ” This is general information only and not a full statement of the law” -no disclosure, no contract- and lastly, the co-signature MUST be provided by a person legally entitled to sign on behalf of the company (DWP). The only person to have said authority is Ian Duncan-Smith, and only then IF he has signed the oath of office as minister. I have asked several times for a written authority when jobseekers agreements are being signed by jobcentre employees; no-one has been able to produce the same.

    1. All the elements of a legally binding contract are present within a Jobseeker Agreement and a Claimant Commitment:


      This element is vitally important:

      5. Free consent. Free consent of all the parties to an agreement is another essential element. This concept has two aspects.(1) consent should be made and (2) it should be free of any pressure or misunderstanding.

      ‘Consent’ means that the parties must have agreed upon the same thing in the same sense (sec. 13). There is absence of ‘free consent,’ if the agreement is induced by (i)coercion, (ii) undue influence, (iii) fraud, (iv) mis-representation, or (v) mistake (sec. 14).


      If the agreement is vitiated by any of the first four factors, the contract would be voidable and cannot be enforced by the party guilty of coercion, undue influence etc.


      The other party (i.e., the aggrieved party) can either reject the contract or accept it, subject to the rules laid down in the act. If the agreement is induced by mutual mistake which is material to the agreement, it would be void (sec. 20)


      Interesting reading regarding disclosure:

      Civil servants act on behalf of the secretary of state, but I could not find much in writing about this. However, millions of people have been sanctioned based on the contents of Welfare contract including the signatories and thousands have been appealed.

      1. Thankyou for your interesting and erudite input, Mary. I have a question for you. If I were to sign as agent, or conditionalise the signature with the words “without prejudice”, do you think this would have any protective effect?

      2. Just playing Devil’s Advocate here.

        If the agreement is induced by coercion, undue influence, fraud, mis-representation, or mistake and cannot be enforced by the party guilty of coercion, undue influence etc. then certainly one could argue that sanctions are inappropriate, even illegal, but could not the benefits agency/govt not say you’re right; the contract is void and unenforceable- so we don’t need to pay you anything until we enter into a lawful contract.

  16. If you sign the agreement “without prejudice” you have not agreed to the terms of the contract. Unlike most commercial and consumer agreements the Welfare contract is meant to be negotiated and is, therefore deemed to be fair, unless undue influence has been applied, the contract has been misrepresented or the Adviser has failed to consider your circumstances.

    You are free to re-negotiate the agreement as often as you like and can take advice about its terms and effect. A problem arises if the Adviser disagrees with you about a variation of the terms or you do not fully understand what you are signing, including the consequences if you fail to perform.


    1. Your answers seem very well informed and concise, and you’re obviously bright, can I ask you directly, are you involved in the legal profession Mary?

  17. No, Dave I am not in the legal profession, but I did study law many years ago and I have been involved in 2 ‘Class Actions’ in the last 5 years.

    Well drafted government policy should clarify the meaning and intended practical application of the relevant legislation. This is to prevent the misuse of power. However, there are many examples where the law is being perverted or totally disregarded, which is of great concern.

  18. Have you taken into account how much is received in housing benefit?
    Is it so unreasonable to ask people to look for work? I understand short term unemployment however have you taken the long term unemployed into account 3 years plus of no work this does not include people on ESA who i believe have a genuine need for assistance. If we all dont work who would pay taxes? what kind of internet costs £10 per week? Job Seekers Allowance is supposed to be a short term benefit not a lifestyle you would need to ask what kind of job are you seeking that 3 years later you still have not found? being an adult is about compromise so yes it may not be an ideal job but it is a job

    1. It’s naive to fall for the ‘lifestyle’ lie. That’s far more uncommon that is claimed. Housing benefit, council tax benefit etc have been slashed and made far harder to access – especially because pensioners have been ringfenced, so the cuts overall – 10% just this year on councils – amount to 20% spread across the working age population. HB also doesn’t cover the full cost of housing in many cases – and now it’s being further eroded by the bedroom tax.

      Of course people should work if they can – and if there’s work available. But there isn’t. There are <500k vacancies for 2.5 million unemployed people. That's where your long-term unemployment kicks in – and it's nothing to do with a 'lifestyle choice'.

  19. I was in a discussion today regarding JSA, I was told directly from the source that a male of under 25 signed on, he was put into VOLUNTEER work, UNPAID; he had to travel using public transport (in the UK) to said job. Being completely ludicrous, he could not afford to do so any longer, he was then sanctioned. This is hilarious. It is so bizarre that it makes me laugh. I’ve had enough of this herding; we are not cattle.

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