Jobcentre Manager: “There Are Now Targets For Bullying Claimants Off ESA”
Many thanks to Benefits And Work for their very useful summary of a very important article.
Earlier this month Benefits and Work reported that there had been a massive and unexplained rise in the number of ESA sanctions, with the total quadrupling in the course of a year. The Guardian’s Polly Toynbee, however, has interviewed an anonymous jobcentre manager who claims that they now have targets for bullying claimants off ESA.
Polly met the jobcentre manager, in secret, who told her how the sick are treated and what harsh targets she is under to push them off benefits.
“I just met a jobcentre manager. It had to be in secret, in a Midlands hotel, several train stops away from where she works. She told me how the sick are treated and what harsh targets she is under to push them off benefits. A high proportion on employment and support allowance have mental illnesses or learning difficulties. The department denies there are targets, but she showed me a printed sheet of what are called “spinning plates”, red for missed, green for hit. They just missed their 50.5% target for “off flows”, getting people off ESA. They have been told to “disrupt and upset” them – in other words, bullying. That’s officially described, in Orwellian fashion, as “offering further support”. As all ESA claimants approach the target deadline of 65 weeks on benefits – advisers are told to report them all to the fraud department for maximum pressure. In this manager’s area 16% are “sanctioned” or cut off benefits.
“Of course it’s not written down anywhere, but it’s in the development plans of individual advisers or “work coaches”. Managers repeatedly question them on why more people haven’t been sanctioned. Letters are sent to the vulnerable who don’t legally have to come in, but in such ambiguous wording that they look like an order to attend. Tricks are played: those ending their contributory entitlement to a year on ESA need to fill in a form for income-based ESA. But jobcentres are forbidden to stock those forms. These ill people’s benefits are suddenly stopped without explanation: if they call, they’re told to collect a form from the jobcentre, which doesn’t stock them either. If someone calls to query an appointment they are told they will be sanctioned if they don’t turn up, whatever. She said: “The DWP’s hope is they won’t pursue the claim.”
“Good advisers genuinely try to help the mentally ill left marooned on sickness benefit for years. The manager spoke of a woman with acute agoraphobia who hadn’t left home for 20 years: “With tiny steps, we were getting her out, helping her see how her life could be better – a long process.” But here’s another perversity: if someone passes the 65-week deadline, they are abandoned. All further help is a dead loss to “spinning plates” success rates. That woman was sent back to her life of isolation: she certainly wasn’t referred for CBT. For all this bullying, the work programme finds few jobs for those on ESA.”
Read Polly Toynbee’s full article in the Guardian here