Monday 19 August 2013

Making sure unemployed workers are no 'push over' or 'sanctions fodder'

Spreading the word
Guest blog by Alan Wheatley of the Kilburn Unemployed Workers Group

One of our statements/slogans is 'Benefiting Brent & Camden & Beyond'. The major focus in our weekly business meetings is casework. It's a great 'crowd gatherer' to the point that our meetings attract as many as 12 on a regular basis, with some coming from as far away as Hackney, Wandsworth and Bromley though our core is predominantly from the boroughs of Brent and Camden. We are also very ethnically diverse, with African-Caribbean, Indian/White British mixed race, Serbian and Greek representation. We are also well-balanced by gender, and while most are disabled we also have people not applying for disability benefits. In more of an andragogy  LINK of the oppressed than a pedagogy LINK, our casework sessions reflect the fact that we've 'all been there' and can pool our knowledge and expertise in response to what is thrown at us by increasingly oppressive jobcentre workers and privatised contractors.


 The armoury of tactics and strategies that jobcentre and privatised contractor staff throw at JSA, Work Programme and ex-Work Programme clients to make them sanctions fodder include the entrapment of getting them to fill in their personal details and signature on forms before whatever they are supposed to be agreeing to has been written yet, or the staff member obscuring everything but the signature space. Yet another ploy that is becoming more and more the norm for people who have been parked on the Work Programme for a year is to be told to apply for as many as 14 jobs per week and to sign on at the jobcentre not just fortnightly but five days a week!

How many hours per week would a quality processing of one job application per week take? Multiply that by even 7 and add the practicalities of signing on five days per week and would you not be working more than a 48 hour EU Working Time Directive week? And people re-registering at the jobcentre after being 'parked' on the Work Programme for a year are also told to show their last six months bank statements.(1)

Yet this is abuse that follows on from a year of neglect. Consider the bargaining power issues in the fact that the claimant has no real bargaining power and their 'client adviser' at the Work Programme company can have as many as 250 people on their caseload.(2) But a counter-response that the Kilburn Unemployed Workers Group is finding increasingly effective is to make sure that a person going for, say, a re-registration interview at the jobcentre does not go alone. We reckon that that kind of 'first aid' makes whatever follow-up tribunal action less taxing or even unnecessary. The oppressor — who has probably been threatened with being sanctioned themselves if they do not meet targets — realises that the person in front of them is not 'a push over'.(3)

(1) See reference to 'payment-by-results' at
(3) Some abusers arguably do not need to be threatened with sanctions to collude in the sanctioning of benefit claimants. Perhaps what Transline are more concerned about in the case of their worker Kelly Stone is that she broke 'commercial confidentiality' rather than that she delighted in a sense of the negative influence she could have on others' lives?

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