Socialist Worker

How Tory benefit lies create a job centre crisis

The government claims that its benefits changes will help those out of work. But Annette Mackin looks at how the cuts hurt both workers and claimants

Issue No. 2354

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) claims there is no evidence of Jobcentre workers being forced to take people off benefits to meet targets.

It was forced to conduct an internal inquiry after stories emerged around the country of managers demanding that workers increase the number of people sanctioned. 

Neil Couling is head of the Jobcentre—the person responsible for implementing benefit cuts.

He claimed that there isn’t a “regime” of sanctions in a report published last week.

Jane, a Jobcentre worker from Oxfordshire, told Socialist Worker, “That’s crap. I have minutes from a meeting in which staff were called in and told ‘these are your targets’ and we were given numbers of how many we needed to sanction that week.”

The government denies the existence of league tables charting how many sanctions each worker has handed out that week. 

Couling claims that these are just personal “lists” used by managers to track sanction referral rates and outcomes.

But Jane said, “There are league tables for your office and your district that managers write up on white boards. If you don’t hand out a certain amount of sanctions, you are at the bottom of the table.”

Sanctions can cause tension for both Jobcentre workers and people looking for work.

Cost

The PCS union is the largest union in the DWP. Activists were set to hold a “die-in” outside its conference this week to highlight the human cost of benefits cuts.

Sarah, a PCS member in a Jobcentre in West Yorkshire, told Socialist Worker, “Workers do not want to do this. We are opposed to sanctions.

“I don’t want to take someone’s money away. I know how hard it is.”

If workers do not hand out their target amount of sanctions they are put on Personal Improvement Plans (PIP). This is a form of disciplinary action. 

Workers face the sack if they refuse to hand out sanctions.

And an astonishing 40 percent of job centre workers in the PCS union get means tested benefits such as tax credits and housing benefit themselves.

The introduction of the Universal Credit scheme over the next few years will force people receiving these benefits into “Work Related Activity.” 

This means many low paid workers will be made to apply for other jobs to increase the number of hours they work a week.

“One of our workmates will be calling us into an office and telling us we have to take action to improve our work hours,” explained Sarah.

Universal Credit will attack people looking for work by extending their payment of benefits from weekly to monthly. The fact that it also attacks low paid Jobcentre workers means  the fight to stop benefit cuts can be united.


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