Sanctions Report: Questions Unanswered.
An internal inquiry at the Department for Work and Pensions into the covert regime of welfare targets at jobcentres says it has found no evidence of the practice – yet it accepts that action is taken against those jobcentres that do not sanction benefits as much as others.
Reports the Guardian today.
This follows this (from Watching A4E),
In the last few weeks, DWP have been preparing the final statistics to the end of January and extending some of the tables to show new measures. These activities have exposed some significant doubts around the quality of the statistics relating to the new regime.
Consequently, to avoid a potentially misleading statistical release, JSA sanction statistics will not be released on 15 May.
DWP will perform further quality assurance activities on this new series and will publish as soon as possible. Unfortunately, it is not possible to commit to a definite date at the moment, but a proposed publication date will be announced in advance via
The Guardian continues,
The report also says some jobcentre staff are sometimes given personal targets, but only after being disciplined.
The internal report otherwise gives the DWP a clean bill of health, saying: “We found no evidence of a secret national regime of targets, or widespread secret imposition of local regimes to that effect. There is no national use of league tables. We found no evidence people are being wrongly sanctioned as a consequence.”
The article notes,
In recent months the Guardian has repeatedly found signs of a targets culture in the administration of benefits, and has reported on at least 16 jobcentres around the country involved in a drive to kick people off benefits, amid pressure to meet welfare targets set by their managers.
The DWP initially dismissed any suggestion of this, but last month said the practice had been going on in some offices due to a misunderstanding between the department and some jobcentre managers, and that this was no longer the case.
Now we come to the rub
The internal DWP report – written by the senior DWP manager responsible for the regime, Neil Couling – says benefit advisers can be given disciplinary warnings that contain a reference to what level of benefit might on average be expected.
This ‘internal report’ – that is not for the public or those signing-on – is we underline, dealing with decisions that affect people’s lives in the most serious way possible.
These warnings – known as personal improvement plans (PIPs) inside the DWP – “should be very clear about the consequences of an individual not fulfilling the personal responsibilities as a civil servant to administer the system in full”.
Are they? It’s the first we’ve heard of how they decide on how to “personally improve” our behaviour.
Couling argues that: “There is an important difference though in setting an individual target, which is not acceptable, and giving an individual an idea about what might be expected in their local labour market and for their size of caseload as an aid to judging whether the law is being properly applied. PIPs that make these references will be appropriate and do not constitute a local target or benchmark. That is a subtle difference that I suspect some advisers can struggle with.”
In an effort to explain the existence of tables – which were passed to the Guardian – showing how many claimants are sanctioned per benefit office, the internal report claims that these lists do not represent “league tables”.
They are no doubt merely lists, like lists for things you get at Liddle. Without consquence.
Couling explains: “Management information is collected on referral rates and decision outcomes. This is used to assure managers that conditionality referrals are being done appropriately. Where an outlier is identified, whether that is high or low, managers collect evidence to explain these figures and where justified, no further action is taken.
“Should there be any issue of inappropriate use or non-compliance with the conditionality and sanctions legislation; staff should be supported to correctly impose conditionality with the use of personal improvement plan (PIP) and line manager support”.
“Staff should be supported to correctly impose conditionality” – what a phrase!
That is, they are told how to make somebody’s life a misery by taking away their benefits.
In the specific case of Walthamstow job centre, where managers demanded that staff increase sanctions or face disciplinary action, the report finds: “The language, tone and contents of the email were simply wrong and an inappropriate communication channel was used. The particular reference to a local DMA [decision-making and appeals] target of 5% was neither necessary nor accurate and appropriate.”
So if there was a 5% target.
No amount of mealy-mouthed rubbish about “neither necessary nor accurate and appropriate” can hide that.
Couling wrote: “Our wider review of the evidence suggests a limited number of other locations where errors of this type were also made.”
In other words the practice was more widespread.
By how much they refuse to reveal.
The report also refers to the 16 cases raised by the Guardian, and shows no evidence that any independent inquiries were made. In most of the 16 cases, Couling accepts errors of one sort or another had occurred.
Addressing the issue of whether league tables are routinely exchanged inside the DWP and Jobcentre Plus, he said: “It would be technically possible to configure management information into a league table (a simple manipulation of Excel) but as the leak showed, it is not in a league table.”
Not a league Table?
It was clearly a comparative table, which could be seen in this way, as the following jargon-riddled statement indicates,
But the report admits: “We have found a limited number of instances where a local manager has misinterpreted the instructions or has fallen back on target methodology in an effort to exercise their responsibilities to ensure the law is being properly applied. I believe that is happening because the cultural change underpinning the move away is incomplete.”
Couling claims the recent reports are the residue of a previous, now-abandoned, targets regime and staff imposing targets. “We need to be vigilant and consistent to ensure junior managers continue to move away from legacy habits as we focus on building the freedom and flexibility approach. We are using these incidents and the recent press coverage to redouble our efforts.”
Please note, the “freedom and flexibility approach” means giving great power to advisers to reduce people to destitution by “sanctioning” them
Couling also promised to publish at regular intervals figures on sanction referral by jobcentres.
See above on the DWP not publishing statistics.
The conclusion is this,
The issue will also now be investigated by the work and pensions select committee. The work and pensions secretary, Iain Duncan Smith, has also set up an independent year-long inquiry about the treatment of jobseeker’s allowance claimants.
The inquiry “will evaluate, where a claimant has failed to participate, how the sanctioning process then worked. This will include reviewing the clarity of information given to claimants to help them navigate this process.
“This will include what information was provided to explain that they can avoid a sanction by showing good cause and that they can apply for a review or appeal if a sanction is imposed.”
There is no space for people to ask:
- Is it right that the DWP and Job Advisers have such arbitrary power over people’s benefits?
- Whether it is right to give Work Programme Contractors auxiliary powers of this nature?
- How on earth people are expected to live on the money they get when they are “sanctioned”?