Jobcentre Plus.

The Scottish Welfare Reform Committee has heard evidence at Holyrood about Jobcentre staff bullying claimants, often reducing them to tears.

The Committee heard from witnesses who are claimants on a first-name basis only, because of fears that the disclosures may lead to sanctioning by the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP).

Nicholas Young, whose firm Working Links has a £167 million contract to find jobs for people on the Department for Work and Pensions’ (DWP) Work Programme, said conditionality – specifically benefit sanctions – “has had a really positive impact over a number of years”.

He claimed such “conditionality” is a way of “encouraging active participation.”

He didn’t provide evidence of his claim, and he didn’t elaborate into how punitive state sanctions that remove people’s lifeline social security – calculated to meet only basic needs such as food, fuel and shelter – could possibly be regarded as “encouragement.”

His evidence to the Welfare Reform Committee was at odds with other witnesses, including the director of another DWP contractor. Paul de Pellette, director of fellow Work Programme contractor Ingeus, said sanctions are a “disincentive” to building trust.

He said: “If you’re an employment adviser working in the Work Programme, one of the most important things to have is to build trust and rapport with the people who are coming through the door.

“Therefore, the sanctions regime in some regards could be viewed as a disincentive for that because the reality is you want to have trust and rapport.”

Contractors delivering the DWP’s voluntary disability employment scheme Work Choice also warned the UK Government’s decision to devolve the employment schemes to Holyrood but keep the responsibility for implementing sanctions was a recipe for confusion.

SNP MSP Joan McAlpine said the Work Programme contractors appeared “unmoved” by research which found people on the work programme “are three times as likely to be sanctioned than find a job”.

Mr Young said: “I am absolutely not unmoved at all. The plight and the personal circumstances of our customers is incredibly important to us.”

He went on to say: “Single parents have long had conditionality attached to their benefits regime. I think it has had a really positive impact over a number of years.

“Again, some disabled people will have conditionality attached to their benefits regime. I support the role of conditionality.”

He added: “I support the principle of conditionality as a way of encouraging active participation.”

However, although the Conservatives conflated sanctions with welfare conditionality under their welfare “reforms”, increasing the severity and frequency of sanctions as a punishment for “non-compliance”, sanctions and conditionality may also be regarded as mutually exclusive criteria, since state punishment need not be included in “encouraging” people to look for work.

Disabled people and lone-parents already face additional barriers to finding work that are out of their control, and so to punish people in protected social groups potentially on the basis of their characteristics is discriminatory.

Another issue that was discussed is that those on welfare-to-work schemes spend all day having to repeatedly cold-call frustrated companies who do not have any work to offer, MSPs were told.

One witness, “Donna,” who had been made redundant after working all of her life gave evidence to the Committee, she said that Jobcentre advisers had bullied her, making her ill and stressed. She was a former Church of Scotland development worker from Glasgow.

She said of her first interview with the Jobcentre: “He made me feel like I was imagining my problems and I didn’t have any problems,”

“I would have been in a mental institution if I had stayed with that first adviser.”

“He was saying to me: ‘It’s not like you’ve got a leg missing.’ Each time he made me cry.

“I would have been in a mental institution if I had stayed with that first adviser – or I would have shot him.”

Another claimant called “Jake”, also from Glasgow, said: “Sometimes you sit on the phone from nine to five each day making calls for jobs but you know you’re not going to get anything. It’s depressing.

“The booklet I got was all of the cleaning companies, the laundry companies, you were just to phone up and say you’re looking for work. Most of them would say: ‘Don’t phone here again.’”

SNP MSP Christina McKelvie said the system amounts to “class warfare” with “propaganda” against the unemployed.

“A report from the DWP suggested only 24% of people going through the work programme were successful and only 9% of them were in a job after a year,” she said.

“The DWP had paid the providers £1.8bn since the scheme had started for that kind of outcome. Is all of that money worth it?”

Labour MSP Neil Findlay said: “If it is as described, this is in effect state-sanctioned cold-calling. This has really disturbed and upset me. In fact it has disgusted me.

“The system that we have created and the atmosphere in this system is so wrong, I find it incredible the more evidence that people present to us.

“It also disgusts me what they have done to public services on the frontline having to deal with people going through this bloody system, because I don’t think for one second 99.9% of them want to treat people like this.”

Alistair Kerr, head of quality and contract compliance at Work Choice contractor Momentum Scotland, said: “Any performance contracts have to have elements of conditionality to them, but if that is to the detriment of the most vulnerable across the UK then surely that should not be a model that should be adopted by the Scottish Government.”

Whilst the devolution of some aspects of Social Security continue to be debated during the passage of the Scotland Bill, the Welfare Reform Committee has focused on the practical implementation of the social security schemes outlined in the Smith Agreement.

  • mili

    Tweeted @melissacade68

  • Aldo

    Would it not be nice if the SNP would tell us all there plans on new welfare powers , instead of bleating about the imaginary powers they claim we did not get !

    Surely the sick and disabled deserve to know there plans on things like medicals for recipients on DLA and PIP ?

    • srgc2731

      DLA % PIP Doesn’t exist severely disabled are being put onto ESA after a failed assessment

      2005 retired medically 30 + yrs working revieved £102 incapacity benefit the £60 works ill health pension was below the means testing limit

      Total Income approx £8,000
      no rent no council tax

      2012 healed by ATOS zero points
      took 11 months to go before tribunal awarded 15 points ( total 12 months con esa £102)
      2013 income related ESA £21 pw total income £4,000
      less £22 pw ct + bedroom tax total income £3,000 a £5,000 cut
      attend the jobcentre once every 12 months as they agree my conditions make me incapable of working unemployable
      in 2005 my doctors reports stated i had several

    • Aaron Boone

      The welfare powers the Scottish parliament will be getting are negligible. There is no means to abolish sanctions or the WCA. What are you on about?

  • Lynne Heal

    The whole infrastructure is all wrong and too many do NOT care

  • Aaron Boone

    Once again, work capability assessments and benefit sanctions, the two policies that cause by far the most suicide, destitution and general suffering in the DWP’s repertoire, are not devolved. These are not imaginary. These would save lives and prevent children from developing Victorian illnesses if they were devolved. It seems you give less of a shit about the present plight of the disabled and unemployed than you do about having a go at a political party for not announcing policy as quickly as you’d like them to.

    • Aldo

      Again you are wrong it will be solely down to the Scottish Parliament in how these benefits are distributed or increased including those that could qualify for these benefits .

      So far you are the only person I know who suggested different not even my SNP MSP has told me I was wrong .

      Absolutely no point in devolving the power unless you can administer it fully , so the SNP silence on the matter is telling ! Just like until recently the lie they spin about tax credits !

  • Fiona Gregory

    I only had one bad experience at the old JC. I wrote my job searches by hand as I do not have a printer. Applied for about 2 or 3 jobs per day. I devised my own table which made it much more easy to understand, and yet the lady said “it is too fat to fit in your file”. Well, surely that is HER problem, not mine? What do you think?