Last month the SKWAWKBOX showed that Mark Hoban, Minister of State for Work and Pensions – already infamous for his dismissive, arrogant ‘cut and paste’ responses even to MPs of his own party – was unable to get even such a fundamental fact as the basic amount of Jobseeker’s allowance (JSA) for single over-25s right.
I also showed last week how new ‘conditionality’ rules put jobseekers at the mercy of Jobcentre Plus (JCP) advisers, regardless of how unfair or ill-informed they might be – without any right of appeal.
Well, Hoban appears to be on a roll – this time on an even more important matter than the basic JSA amount: the law.
In response to concerns raised by a Labour MP regarding the DWP’s ‘Universal Jobmatch’ (UJM) system, Hoban sent the following letter:
Taking a the haughty tone of a lecturer educating an ignorant student, Hoban advises that
It may be helpful if I explain in more detail the role that Universal Jobmatch plays in the conditions that apply to receiving benefit.
He then goes on to ‘explain’ that, under new rules, JCP advisers have the right to require some jobseekers to register for UJM and to use the system for job applications as evidence that they are looking for work – and that failure to do so can result in sanction (immediate cessation) of benefit.
All clear enough – and all absolutely incorrect.
A DWP insider tells me what the law really states:
When the Jobseeker agrees how they are going to look for work there is a check box agreeing to use UJM. If the Jobseeker allows this to be ticked (which most do due to ignorance and innocence), then this provides the jurisdiction for the Adviser to issue a Jobseeker Direction to mandate the creation of an on-line profile.
It is all very sneaky. The Jobseeker for obvious reasons will not be provided with information about other better job sites they could create a profile with.
The law says you may be required to create an online profile in the singular and does not specify creating a government Gateway, which they cannot force anyone to do.
To paraphrase: there is no legal power for JCP advisers to require anyone to use UJM at all. If they can basically con jobseekers into ticking the ‘will use UJM’ box, then they have the power to require it, because consent has been given (although even this would be doubtful in legal terms if it is not informed consent).
And if jobseekers refuse to use UJM, they are legally perfectly entitled to do so. They may be required to use some kind of online jobsearch platform – but it does not have to be UJM.
Hoban then adds a level of hubristic insensitivity that is remarkable even for him:
To paraphrase again:
We can tell people to do pretty much whatever we wish – but they always have the option of choosing not to receive any money if they don’t want to comply.
Topped off, like icing on the cake, with a no-less astonishing piece of wilful naivety. Is anyone really stupid enough to think that ‘The Decision Making and Appeals Process’ ‘ensures‘ that requirements are applied fairly?
We’ve already seen that the new regulations have placed potentially ignorant or biased JCP advisers in a position of absolute power over jobseekers who have no right of appeal against even an unlawful decision.
And if even their Minister doesn’t understand the law and the rules, what chance do even wellmeaning JCP advisers have of treating jobseekers fairly and legally?
This staggering lack of clarity and understanding about the legality of any requirement to use UJM – routinely and deceitfully forced on hundreds of thousands of jobseekers and which can and does lead to deprivation of benefits – means that there is no realistic doubt that tens and probably hundreds of thousands of sanctions have been imposed on some of the most vulnerable people in our society.
No wonder sanction numbers have risen so incredibly that the government has still not released the latest figures more than 3 months after they were due.