Whistleblower tells of sanctions targets as IDS sticks head in sand

Tue, 10/12/2013 - 11:39 -- nick

Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith was faced with more accusations of sanction targets when he was questioned by MPs yesterday.

Appearing before the work and pensions select committee, Smith denied that sanction targets existed, despite being presented with evidence to the contrary.

This evidence included the testimony of a whistleblower who spoke to the committee on the same day, a former jobcentre worker from Manchester.

They told of a subtle system which lead not just to target setting and punishment for those missing them, but also to fraudulent activity to try to boost the number of sanctions.

The whistleblower spoke to The Guardian about their experiences, saying:

"They say to you that not enough people are coming off the claimant register and that if you do not get more people off the register you may be subject to an internal disciplinary assessment – a personal improvement plan.

"If you ask managers how many people you are supposed to get off the register, they say more and more continuously. It is your job to make the claimant's life difficult, they say. It creates a target culture."

This system, which does not set explicit numerical targets, helps ministers and civil servants within the Department for Work and Pensions deny their existence.

The explanation could account for why referrals for sanctions by frontline advisers have risen 45% in the last year while the number actually having benefits removed rose by 29%; staff are not looking after the interests of their customers but are trying to make cases that are unwinnable even where faults do not exist.

The whistleblower also said that they had wanted to deal with this issue internally:

"I tried to raise these matters on many occasions both face-to-face and in writing with management, but each time I was rebuffed and my concerns ignored.

"But the truth is that benefit claimants are being deliberately set up to fail in order to achieve sanction quotas without regard for natural justice or their welfare. Staff are being asked to behave in a manner that is against the department's values of integrity and honesty."

In perhaps the most serious allegation, they also said that managers had fraudulently changed a claimant's file to show that they had been asked to attend a jobcentre interview but had not turned up, an automatic sanction under current rules.

This backs up reports from Scotland, Walthamstow and elsewhere.

One anonymous whistleblower gave an interview to the Slutocracy blog last month, claiming not only that advisers were working to targets and being rewarded with bonuses based on achieving them, but also that they had faked claimant records to increase sanctions.

Smith appeared unconcerned when allegations were put to him by MPs, saying: "There are always one or two people operating in an organisation that have a different view," and suggesting the whistleblower should meet Neil Couling, the head of the jobcentre service, before Smith himself would meet them.

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