Jobcentre sanctions targets and tables - evidence mounts

Tue, 02/04/2013 - 14:23 -- nick

Today's Guardian is reporting further on the benefit sanctions story, as detailed last week on UnemployedNet.

Despite the denials of government and the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) of targets or league tables for sanctions, a scorecard has been published that lists the number of referrals and sanctions by district and region.

It also shows whether each district is increasing or decreasing the number of people it refers for sanction, the process that removes benefits from claimants for a fixed period if it is believed they are not looking for work hard enough.

The existence of the scorecard - labelled 'restricted commercial' by the DWP - suggests that, while not strictly a league table, the information is clearly available to each district to work out their ranking.

It shows that many Jobcentre districts are referring a high proportion of their JSA claimants for sanctions - Derbyshire leading the way at 17.6% - while the West of Scotland district refers the lowest proportion at 7.3%.

A number of Jobcentre advisers have contacted The Guardian to back up the existence of targets, even where they are unofficial or applied in different ways.

One wrote:

"There is officially no target to achieve referrals to DMA [decision-making and appeals] officers, but in Greater Manchester central and Cheshire district the target we don't have is 6% of our live load [those currently claiming]. Furthermore, despite not having a target to achieve these figures, all but two jobcentres within the district have had office-wide PIPs [performance improvement plans] imposed by the district manager specifically focused on increasing DMA referrals to increase 'off-flow' – the term used to mean ceasing to claim jobseeker's allowance.

"Across the north-west region the story is similar, with Greater Manchester east and west district having similar targets, now referred to as benchmarks, imposed."

He recognised the damage these targets could cause to unemployed people:

"When targets are imposed, the focus shifts not to those abusing the benefits system but to the most vulnerable and easy-to-hit claimants, those with language barriers, caring responsibilities and those moving from other benefits having been found capable of working."

Those least able to defend themselves, and those with more complicated lives, are most likely to be sanctioned even where they have the greatest need for support and fewest work options.

The Manchester adviser detailed reasons why many sanctions do not achieve the outcomes they are designed for:

"[Targets are] in no way reducing unemployment. To illustrate, a claimant who receives a four-week sanction for failing to show proof of actively seeking employment may then fail to attend the jobcentre to sign for their benefit, as no there is no financial benefit.

"After the sanction is served, they will make a fresh claim to jobseeker's allowance. The office in question will claim the off-flow, and the statistics look favourable. However, the cost of making a fresh claim to benefit in real terms is around £500 and is therefore [a] false economy at its worst in order to try to climb up the league table – which, despite all assurances, do exist within clusters, districts and regions for all departmental targets."

The threat to the jobs of advisers is real, and incentives slanted at sanctioning high numbers of jobseekers:

"All advisers at my place of work and most in the district have been given mid-year review statements (on which performance-related pay is based) which include a target to achieve 6% DMA referrals, although again this has been widely denied."

A second adviser who contacted The Guardian backed up the targets and incentives culture on the frontline.

"At my last review I was told in no uncertain terms that I needed to start identifying more people to refer for sanctioning and, as my next review looms, I feel under pressure now to start picking on people, otherwise I will be put on a performance improvement plan."

A PIP can eventually lead to the sacking of a adviser if its conditions are not met.

While the published scorecare is not strictly a league table, an email sent by Ruth King, a jobcentre adviser manager in Walthamstow, and leaked to The Guardian last week shows that the figures included are being turned into rankings.

King wrote: "As you can see Walthamstow are 95th in the league table out of only 109.

"Our district manager is not pleased … because senior managers are under pressure to improve our office output and move up the league he has to apply some pressure downwards.

"The 5% target is one thing – the fact that we are seeing over 300 people a week and only submitting six of them for possible doubts is simply not quite credible."

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