Job Centre Plus: Statistics over people

There are many awful things wrong with this story of a man killing himself, but here’s something that sort of leapt out at me:

Mr Sanderson constantly struggled to find work and was unable to complete training as an electrician because the job centre would not continue to pay his benefit because his training stopped him from being available for job interviews.

(By the way: news story refers to him as a “former helicopter pilot” and he had been working as a windowcleaner. That, associated with the state of mind that leads a person to see suicide as the only way out, says ex-military to me.)

Let me just highlight this again: an unemployed man, on benefits, with a family to support, wanted to retrain as an electrician. This would have made him more employable and, as Job Centre Plus claims it wants, “Find the way back to work”. But he couldn’t take the training, because then he wouldn’t have been able to go to job interviews, and in order to keep getting the benefits his family were dependent on (his wife had been made redundant in 2009) he had to be available for job interviews. This makes no sense.

But it makes perfect sense in what a whistleblower at a Job Centre Plus told the Guardian in April this year:

“Suddenly you’re not helping somebody into sustainable employment, which is what you’re employed to do,” [the whistleblower] said. “You’re looking for ways to trick your customers into ‘not looking for work’. You come up with many ways. I’ve seen dyslexic customers given written job searches, and when they don’t produce them – what a surprise – they’re sanctioned. The only target that anyone seems to care about is stopping people’s money. ‘Saving the public purse’ is the catchphrase that is used in our office … It is drummed home all the time – you’re saving the public purse. Feel good about stopping someone’s money, you’ve just saved your own pocket. Its a joke.”

Agreeing to continue to support a family on benefits while the father trained as an electrician to give him a better chance of finding work and getting the family off benefits permanently, that doesn’t make sense if your short term quarterly objective is to do all you can to trick people into being sanctioned.

Because, as Job Centre Plus acknowledged by letter a month after the whistle was blown, “some” (they said) of their Job Centres had “set targets for the number of sanction referrals instead of relying indirectly on ‘benchmark levels’ for benefit sanction referrals”. They claim this was a misinterpretation. Was it? If it was their awful mistake, what, if anything, did they do to track down the people who had been tricked into being sanctioned – or, like Mr Sanderson, given up the idea of training because he had been told he would be sanctioned if he did try to retrain – and tell them “We’re very sorry, this was our fault, let us make it right?”

Nothing. I’m just guessing. But clearly, no one told Richard Sanderson, who died at his own hand in May 2011, that the rules had been “misinterpreted”.

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Filed under Benefits, Poverty

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