Ipswich Unemployed Action.

Campaigning for Unemployed Rights.

Archive for the ‘David Freud’ Category

Unemployment a Mental Health Problem to Solve by “Psycho-Compulsion”?


Panopticon:  Model for DWP ‘Mental Health’ Surveillance of Unemployed.

Hat-tip to Benefit Tales.

The BBC reports,

Unemployment is being “rebranded” by the government as a psychological disorder, a new study claims.

Those that do not exhibit a “positive” outlook must undergo “reprogramming” or face having their benefits cut, says the Wellcome Trust-backed report.

This can be “humiliating” for job seekers and does not help them find suitable work, the researchers say.

Positive affect as coercive strategy: conditionality, activation and the role of psychology in UK government workfare programmes. Lynne Friedli1, Robert Stearn2

From Medical Humanities.


The paper, ” focuses on the coercive uses of psychology in UK government workfare programmes: as an explanation for unemployment (people are unemployed because they have the wrong attitude or outlook) and as a means to achieve employability or ‘job readiness’ (possessing work-appropriate attitudes and beliefs). The discourse of psychological deficit has become an established feature of the UK policy literature on unemployment and social security and informs the growth of ‘psychological conditionality’—the requirement to demonstrate certain attitudes or attributes in order to receive benefits or other support, notably food.i In addition, positive affect is routinely imposed in workfare programmes via the content of mandatory training courses and through job centre or contractor ‘messaging’, for example, motivational tweets or daily positive emails to claimants”

This is interesting as well:


Psycho-compulsion, defined as the imposition of psychological explanations for unemployment, together with mandatory activities intended to modify beliefs, attitude, disposition or personality, has become a more and more central feature of activating the unemployed and hence of people’s experience of unemployment. There has been little debate about the recruitment of psychology—and, by implication, psychologists—into monitoring, modifying and punishing people who claim social security benefits47 ,48 or research into the impact of mandatory positive affect on an expanding range of ‘unproductive’ or failing citizens:16 those who are out of work, not working enough, not earning enough and/or failing to seek work with sufficient application.

This is of even  greater interest!

Boycott workfare: history of a campaign

While there is considerable evidence of this hardening of public attitudes towards benefit claimants, the value of mandatory unpaid work activity and enforced ‘volunteering’ is strongly contested. There are numerous campaigning and claimant solidarity groups in the UK and the rest of Europe whose activities are concentrated in this area. One is Boycott Workfare, which evolved through the work of people who have experienced workfare in the UK. Formed in 2010, it is a movement that campaigns against the imposition of forced, unpaid work on several levels: by taking action to expose the involvement of companies and other entities in taking or arranging placements or providing mandatory training, and by acting as a point of information for claimants and other claimants’ organisations:We expose and take action against companies and organisations profiting from workfare; encourage organisations to pledge to boycott it; and actively inform people of their rights.67

Informing people of their rights means proposing a model of activity opposed to and subversive of the ‘activated’ welfare subject.

Undoing the legitimacy conferred on workfare, in part by its association with psychology, is a central concern of the campaign, as is counteracting the variously inflected negative stereotype of unemployed people. The ‘naming and shaming’ of organisations participating in workfare has led large numbers to withdraw and is a central factor in DWP efforts not to publish names of those involved. For example, the DWP argued (in appealing the Information Commissioner’s decision that they must publish the names of companies involved in Mandatory Work Activity) that making this information public “would have been likely to have led to the collapse of the […] scheme”.68,69 Concerns that mandatory placements undermine the meaning of volunteering have also led many voluntary agencies to sign a ‘keep volunteering voluntary’ agreement, undertaking not to take part in workfare schemes.70

As is the conclusion:

The participation of psychology and psychologists in the delivery of coercive goals in welfare reform clearly raises ethical questions.

Now comes the inevitable response (via the BBC):

The DWP said Friedli and Stearns’ report had no basis in fact and was just relying on anecdotal evidence from blogs and social media.

“We know that being unemployed can be a difficult time, which is why our Jobcentre staff put so much time and effort into supporting people back into work as quickly as possible,” said a DWP spokesman.

“We offer support through a range of schemes so that jobseekers have the skills and experience that today’s employers need.”

The government plans to place 350 psychologists in job centres by the end of the summer to help benefit claimants beat depression and get back into the jobs market.

Claimants will also be offered online cognitive behavioural therapy to boost their “employability”.

The DWP should get out of its comfort zone, end this unhealthy spiral of denial, and face up to its own cognitive and behavioural problems.


Complete Review of Vicious and Arbitrary Benefit Sanctions Needed Says MPs’ Report.

Get Rid of the Sanction Regime!

The report below in today’s Guardian shows that nobody can ignore the crisis caused by the ‘Sanctions Regime’.

A drive to ‘get’ benefit claimants, to make their lives a misery, to ‘force’ them into jobs that are not there, to spy on our every move,  has meant what?

It’s meant acts of wanton cruelty, people left without the basics of life, food shelter, their children hungry and distressed, people driven to despair…

That’s the Liberal-Conservative Coalition’s most enduring legacy.

We call for an expansion of this review to include the prosecution of those responsible for causing great hardship to claimants, the criminal investigation of those committing fraud against claimants in the DWP, and for the government Ministers in charge of the sanctions regime to be brought to Justice.

Independent review of benefit sanctions urgently needed, say MPs

Cross-party report comes amid concerns that financial penalties have been issued inappropriately and caused hardship and destitution.

A wide-ranging independent review of the government’s controversial benefit sanctions regime is urgently needed to address widespread concerns that it is unfair, excessively punitive, and does little to help people get into work, according to a cross-party committee of MPs.

The MPs’ report follows a short inquiry undertaken amid public concern that sanctions were being imposed inappropriately, causing hardship, destitution and ill-health, and routinely forcing jobseekers to rely on food banks to survive.

Sanctions are financial penalties, stopping claimants’ benefit payments for at least four weeks for apparent breaches of jobcentre rules, such as missing appointments or failing to carry out enough job searches.

The committee chair, Dame Anne Begg, said: “No claimant should have their benefit payment reduced to zero where they are at risk of severe financial hardship to the extent of not being able to feed themselves or their families, or pay their rent.”

The committee also recommends the creation of a body similar to the Independent Police Complaints Commission which would investigate all cases where an individual dies or kills themselves while in receipt of working-age benefit. The inquiry was set up partly in response to a petition signed by over 200,000 people shocked by the death of diabetic former soldier David Clapson, who died penniless in July 2014, 18 days after sanctions were imposed on him.

Comment here: Work and Pensions Committee finds no evidence that sanctions help benefit claimants into work

More directly: Benefit sanctions: the 10 trivial breaches and administrative errors.

Read this and Weep:

The recent MPs’ inquiry into sanctions heard copious evidence of claimants being docked hundreds of pounds and pitched into financial crisis for often absurdly trivial breaches of benefit conditions, or for administrative errors beyond their control.

A typical example is the following anonymised list of sanctions reported by food bank clients to the Trussell trust charity:

  1. Man who missed appointment due to being at hospital with his partner, who had just had a stillborn child.
  2. Man sanctioned for missing an appointment at the jobcentre on the day of his brother’s unexpected death. He had tried to phone Jobcentre Plus to explain, but could not get through and left a message which was consequently not relayed to the appropriate person.
  3. Man who carried out 60 job searches but missed one which matched his profile.
  4. Man had an appointment at the jobcentre on the Tuesday, was taken to hospital with a suspected heart attack that day, missed the appointment and was sanctioned for nine weeks.
  5. Man who secured employment and was due to start in three weeks. He was sanctioned in the interim period because JCP told him he was still duty bound to send his CV to other companies.
  6. Young couple who had not received any letters regarding an appointment that was thus subsequently missed. Their address at the Department for Work and Pensions was wrongly recorded. They were left with no money for over a month.
  7. One case where the claimant’s wife went into premature labour and had to go to hospital. This caused the claimant to miss an appointment. No leeway given.
  8. One man sanctioned for attending a job interview instead of Jobcentre Plus – he got the job so did not pursue grievance against the JCP.
  9. Man who requested permission to attend the funeral of his best friend; permission declined; sanctioned when he went anyway.
  10. A diabetic sanctioned and unable to buy food was sent to hospital by GP as a consequence.

Sometimes sanctions have a bizarre, nightmarish quality, such as this one, reported by Highbridge and Burnham-on-Sea food bank and cited in a recent Church Action on Poverty report:

We had a number of customers who had been sanctioned including one guy who had been sanctioned for being late for his appointment at the jobcentre because the queue was so long it took him to past his appointment time to be seen. He was sanctioned even though he had arrived at the jobcentre in plenty of time.

Or this one, cited on the A Selection Of Especially Stupid Benefit Sanctions tumblr website (and taken from a local newspaper report)

You apply for three jobs one week and three jobs the following Sunday and Monday. Because the jobcentre week starts on a Tuesday it treats this as applying for six jobs in one week and none the following week. You are sanctioned for 13 weeks for failing to apply for three jobs each week.

The consequences, however can be severe. One claimant, Glenn McDougall, recalled his experience of being sanctioned three times in written evidence to the work and pensions committee inquiry:

On the first occasion I cancelled a jobcentre appointment to go to a job interview. It was short notice however I phoned the jobcentre to inform them and was assured on the phone that it was ok. I was sanctioned two weeks JSA. I appealed this and was found to be in the right and the money was paid to me, which was great, but in the interim I had to go two weeks without a penny to my name. I missed other job interviews because I had no money for transport and went without food, electric and heating for some of that time. It was a cruel punishment issued arbitrarily, had a negative impact on my jobseeking and diminished my respect for the benefit system massively.

The committee heard that claimants with learning difficulties, were especially vulnerable to sanctioning. Here’s an example provided by the charity Mencap:

AP has a learning disability and was given 30 job searching actions every week after he applied for JSA. These actions included accessing UJM [universal job match] every week. However, he did not have the IT skills necessary to do this and was not given support by JCP [Jobcentre Plus] to do this. He had, however, still been pro-active in applying for jobs. He showed the JCP several pages of handwritten job notes. They would not accept these as they were handwritten and not using UJM. He was then sanctioned. Given his lack of IT skills and the lack of IT support by JCP, Mencap argues that handwritten notes are a reasonable adjustment. He had already been sanctioned by JCP several times.

More on site.

It makes you boil with rage.

Written by Andrew Coates

March 24, 2015 at 11:40 am

Lord Freud Bounces Back at House of Lords – Celebrates Sanctions and Job Coaches.

Most people would have thought that Lord Freud would have gone into hiding after his comments that some disabled people were ‘not worth’ the minimum wage.

That he would be right now trembling in some dusty bunker, grasping at a bottle of whisky, swallowing tranquillisers  and contemplating a loaded revolver on a desk in front of him.

Not so!

The dapper gent found time last week to pontificate on the government’s success in renaming”client-facing people” “Job coaches” and other “transformations” his department has brought into the world.

During his generously paid attendance at the House of Lords, that is.

A few half-hearted and meaningless words (‘full and unreserved apology’) about his vile statement and the old boy is away again!

Sanction “safety nets”, encouraging Monetary Policy Committees,  transforming roles, work coaches….

Does he ever stop?

Tuesday, 21 October 2014.


House of Lords. 

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what progress they have made in implementing the Oakley report on Jobseeker’s Allowance sanctions.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Work and Pensions (Lord Freud) (Con): We welcome the findings of Matthew Oakley’s review and have published our response, in which we accepted all his recommendations. We know that sanctions play an important role in conditionality, and it is crucial that the system is operated effectively and fairly. We are taking forward all recommendations and have already completed a number of improvements.

Baroness Lister of Burtersett (Lab): My Lords, as welcome as any improvements are to this punitive sanctions regime, given that Mr Oakley himself acknowledged the narrowness of his brief, the historically high level of sanctions and the accumulating evidence, including from food bank providers, of the hardship that they are causing, will the Minister now accept the growing demand for a more thorough, independent review of the whole sanctions system, as called for by the Work and Pensions Committee?

Lord Freud: I will respond to the noble Baroness in a moment, but first I would like to take this opportunity to repeat briefly the apology that I made last week. I want to make a full and unreserved apology for the comments that I made at the Conservative Party conference. Of course disabled people should be paid

21 Oct 2014 : Column 548

at least the minimum wage, just like everybody else, and I am profoundly sorry for any offence that I caused.

I turn to the noble Baroness’s question. Matthew Oakley found that benefit sanctions provide a vital backdrop in the social security system for jobseekers, and the OECD has ranked the UK as mid-table for the strictness of its sanctions regime. My right honourable friend Esther McVey has looked at these recommendations more widely and has made sure that we are reviewing claimant communications for all JSA claimants, not just the ones whom Matthew Oakley looked at, and that we are introducing a new IT interface to make sure that our relationship with local authorities works more smoothly.

Lord Forsyth of Drumlean (Con): My Lords, does my noble friend think that the largest annual fall in unemployment ever recorded, which was announced the other day, and the fact that 116,000 more disabled people are in work, might just have something to do with the painstaking work that he has done, both for the previous Government and for this Government, in bringing about the welfare reforms that are bringing to so many people, able bodied and disabled, the opportunity of a place in the workplace?

Lord Freud: As my noble friend said, the issue is that we are doing everything we can to help people into the workplace. It was a very encouraging assessment from the Monetary Policy Committee of the Bank of England, which said:

“A tightening in the eligibility requirements for some state benefits might also have led to an intensification of job search”.

That echoes something that the deputy governor had said a little while before. It is apparent that our reforms are working, with employment up by 1.7 million since 2010 and record numbers of people now in work.

Earl Attlee (Con): My Lords, the Oakley review suggested that some claimants do not understand—or even open—their correspondence about sanctions. What are we doing about this?

Lord Freud: Matthew Oakley was very concerned about the communications aspects of talking to claimants about sanctions. We have taken that point very seriously. Indeed, we have accepted his recommendations on that and are going further; we are reviewing and improving all our claimant communications on sanctions across every benefit, and we aim to ensure that people understand that they have received a sanction and why they have received it. We have introduced a claimant communications unit that tries to get the language right—because, as many noble Lords know, some of the language that the DWP put out in the past was clunky at best.

Baroness Sherlock (Lab): My Lords, I wonder whether the Minister has taken the opportunity to read the evidence that was given to Matthew Oakley when he did this report. I accept that sanctions are a necessary part of the system, but it is quite clear that many people have been sanctioned who have done literally

21 Oct 2014 : Column 549

nothing wrong. Look at the evidence from the CAB of the man sanctioned twice for missing appointments with his Work Programme provider; in fact, he had been to all the appointments with a company to which it had subcontracted him, but he was sanctioned. Then there was the man who was sanctioned after being told to be in two different places at once and the woman who was sanctioned for being in hospital having treatment for cervical cancer, despite having given advance notice of her hospital appointment to the system before she went in. I could go on. There is a very real risk of claimants starting to believe that the Government are more concerned with cutting their benefits than getting them into work. Will the Government sort this?

Lord Freud: My Lords, it is clearly utterly important that the sanctions regime is fair to people. We have put in layer on layer of protections and safety nets in the machine. People have, to start with, five days to respond to the letter saying that we are looking at a sanction. Then it goes to a decision-maker and then, if claimants do not like that, to a mandatory reconsideration, which is an extra layer. Then you can go into the tribunal process, and we have hardship. We are putting many measures in to make sure that we run this system as fairly as we possibly can.

Lord Kirkwood of Kirkhope (LD): My Lords, I associate myself with the remarks made earlier by the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth. Having worked with him closely in the past four or five years, I think that the Minister plays an absolutely crucial and effective role in the important reforms that are designed to assist low-paid families in this country, and if he was not here, things would be harder to deliver on time and on budget. However, the scale of sanctions surprises me, with 800,000 or 900,000 sanctions per year. That is not something that I expected ever to see. The claimant commitment that we have is beginning to appear to be used as a coercion document to get people to do things that they do not really want. Will the Minister look again at the report that Professor Paul Gregg did some years ago, which suggested that the way in which to get an appropriate use of sanctions is to involve the claimants at an early stage in a joint enterprise to get a claimant commitment to work?

Lord Freud: My Lords, we have really transformed the role of the client-facing people in Jobcentre Plus and turned them into work coaches; that is what the claimant commitment does. It is something that has been done very recently. The relationship between claimants and the work coaches has changed very substantially already.

DWP Launches Public Information Tour for Universal Credit.

Hat-tip UK Civil Disobedience.

The DWP, following the Home Office’s “go home” illegals vans, launches a new campaign to bring their message to the public.

Universal Credit is due soon….

Universal Credit is already a success, according to Lord Freud speaking at Warrington where a trial has begun,

We haven’t had anything like the problems that some people have been predicting,” he added. “Some people have asked for advances but it is a minority.

“One of the benefits is it gives many people the chance to get out of the poverty problem of having bits and pieces paid here and there.

“You can never collect enough money to make vital bigger purchases.

“The new system means they can budget more successfully.”

2nd of August, Warrington Guardian.

Meanwhile staff at the DWP tell a different story,

Staff working on the biggest shakeup of the welfare state in its history have described the project as “soul-destroying” and “unbelievably frustrating”, with some saying they are under so much pressure that they can only engage in “firefighting and panic management”.

3rd of August. Guardian.

Written by Andrew Coates

August 3, 2013 at 2:51 pm

Labour to Keep Benefit Cuts: Will They Keep a (renamed?) Work Programme?

This is a key part of Miliband’s speech on Welfare,

State benefits could rise by less than inflation each year under a Labour government because of the cap on welfare spending announced by Ed Miliband.

Until now, Labour has suggested it would restore the link between benefits and inflation if it regains power. It voted against  breaking the link in April, when the Coalition Government pegged the annual uprating to 1 per cent for the next three financial years up to 2015-16.

Is this clear? Well not entirely,

Labour sources told The Independent that a decision on whether to restore the link would  not be taken until much nearer the election. It would not be financed by extra borrowing. If the party were in government now, restoring it would be funded by bringing back a 50p top rate of tax on earnings over £150,000 a year, which was cut to 45p in April.

Katy Clark, a Labour MP, warned that “some of the most vulnerable,” including the disabled, would lose out if Mr Miliband’s benefit cap were not set high enough. “The devil will be in the detail,” she said.

Miliband also said this,

“Overcoming worklessness, rewarding work and tackling low pay, investing in the future and recognising contribution: these are the Labour ways to reform our social security system.

“We have always been against the denial of opportunity that comes from not having work. And against the denial of responsibility by those who could work and don’t do so. This country needs to be a nation where people who can work, do. Not a country where people who can work are on benefits.”

Now what are they going to about the failing Work Programme?

To remind us all, Richard Johnson said in the Guardian that the work and pensions select committee found this.

The committee acknowledges that the WP simplified the sector. It has shifted things to payment by results, supposedly reducing risk to the public purse. The contractors are highly variable in quality. Their performance is improving, for some jobseekers anyway, but they are running the service with massive caseloads. “Creaming and parking” (helping the jobseekers that are easier to find work for and ignoring the hard ones) is endemic. Specialist services, to address complex jobseeker needs such as disability or homelessness, are underused, and specialist subcontractors get a raw deal. The WP also fails to engage adequately with employers and has a poor relationship with Jobcentre Plus.

The fundamental flaw is laid bare in the £248m that the committee says the Treasury is clawing back for underspend on the WP in 2012-13 – money that was allocated and that contractors haven’t earned.

The initial WP concept (as set out by Lord Freud, now responsible for the rollout of universal credit) was based on the simple notion that it costs a shedload of money to keep people on benefits – more than £100m a day. Surely, it is better to invest in welfare-to-work programmes to reduce the benefit bill through moving people into work. If the Treasury can’t find the additional cash for extra welfare-to-work programmes, then get private sector firms to fund it and pay them back out of the benefit savings they generate.

Some people, even after years of unemployment, find their own job. Money spent helping this “deadweight” will be wasted. Some people, however, are at risk of getting stuck on benefits and never moving off them. The higher the levels of disadvantage, the more complex their needs are likely to be, and the more expensive any solutions. But the jobseekers that cost more to help will be the ones that deliver a greater return in reduced long-term benefit liability.

It appears that this link between programme investment and savings has been forgotten. The payments made to WP contractors, as noted by the committee, are ineffectively targeted. The contractors are not incentivised to risk spending on jobseekers who appear hard to help. With limited overall funding, contractors are trying to protect themselves by disinvesting in the programme, running with caseloads of up to 180 jobseekers per adviser. This creates a vicious cycle, with high caseloads meaning low outcomes, meaning further disinvestment.

The £248m underspend gleefully recouped by the Treasury represents a massively increased risk to the public purse. It indicates lower levels of “off-flow” from benefits to employment, which will push up the benefit bill in future years. With those mostly likely to be parked on the WP representing the biggest risk. The programme is applying a sticking plaster, counting the unused splints, and leaving the patient crippled.

We would add that that

  • The Work Programme is simply not finding people jobs.
  • It offers no real training.
  • The companies that run it form a lobby to grab more public money regardless of results.
  • It creates an army of people unhappy with their treatment (sanctions, bullying, absence of courses).
  • It is bloody useless.

The worst thing that Labour could do is to offer a new version of the Work Programme.
We need work creation, not another system of outdoor relief for the unemployment business.