Inside the Jobcentre – An Employees Tale

 My experience working in a job centre call centre as it transitioned from taking Income Support claims to pursuing people on Employment and Support allowance; looking for any reason to remove their benefits.

 

I  became employed by the Department for Work and Pensions in July 2014 as part of an apprenticeship scheme that saw hundreds of people hired across the country. I initially had reservations about applying for the job as I have serious concerns about how the DWP carries out its business; however, being unemployed at the time, application was mandatory. Initially the job was to take inbound telephony claims for Income Support and Jobseekers Allowance.

During the period of training and first few months I managed to calm my conscience. My training providers talked about how we would be helping people, who were often vulnerable, in their time of need. I was even able to bend the rules a little to help as much as I could. I once spent about an hour helping one woman who was struggling with intense anxiety. Anxiety that was only exacerbated by being declared fit for work during a benefits reassessment. She cried through the entire call.

Despite this I kept hearing snippets of the attitude that many staff members held. People were willing, even excited at the chance to end calls and refuse to take claims. They subtly, but surely made it clear they felt the claimants were beneath them and not to be trusted.

About two months into my contract the entire contact centre got called into a meeting. A bunch of suits told us of exciting times to come, the end of the drudgery of taking claims. We were transferred to a small but growing part of the DWP. The group made outbound calls to people claiming various benefits. The purpose of these calls was to use information gleaned from other government departments to try to find reasons to remove people’s benefits.

The response of my colleagues worried and distressed me. There was excitement and anticipation. They couldn’t wait to get stuck in and take money back from the scroungers. The particular scroungers we were tasked with chasing were sick people, ESA claimants.

A month had to pass before we were due to start the training for the new job. I tried to tell myself I would help whoever I could, that I had bills to pay so I had to do the job. But the feeling of disgust at what I would have to do would not go away. I began applying for other jobs.

I discussed my fears with my manager, I told her that only 0.7% of money spent on benefits is lost to fraud, I told her amount of money withheld from deserving claimants dwarfs the money lost to fraud, I told her I thought it was abhorrent that we would accuse poor sick people of fraud. She told me to suck it up.

I got much the same from other colleagues I talked to. “Who cares they deserve it.”

Finally the first day of training came. I saw first-hand the people who would be my bosses and the mentality they held. In a speech that lasted over an hour the head of the department spouted ideological bullshit, the crowd lapped it up.

She told us that, since its creation, her department had saved enough money to buy an entire new hospital (Or fund tax cuts for the rich I thought).

She told us how the work of one of her team had ended up on Saints and Scroungers, and if we worked hard enough we could too. (She thought appearing on that disgusting show was a good thing!)

She told us how people were often scared off benefits after receiving a phone call even though no fault could be found.

She told us how members of her team rarely took their full holiday entitlement; they loved hounding the benefit scroungers more than they loved a vacation.

I quit the next day.

We must challenge the prevailing attitude that has taken hold of our Job Centres . The presumption of guilt must end, to the assumption of idleness must end, and the ideological dogma ruling our Job Centres must end. These people are supposed to provide a social security, instead they only serve to provide social ostraczation.

Perhaps this is too much to ask. Not long ago I bumped into a former colleague, he described his new job to me as “Giving bums and hobos a hard time.” Apparently he thought this would help them to “Sort their lives out.”

Low Pay – and How The Parties Plan to Deal with It

A look at the cost of living crisis, and the plans the political parties have drawn up to combat it.

The Problem

Supermarket receipt

The spectre of low pay hangs over the heads of the poorest and neediest British citizens. Since 2010 over a million people have been pushed onto poverty wage, meaning that most people in poverty in this country are in employment. The country has experienced the biggest drop in living standards since the Victorian era. While the billions spent on Working Tax Credits end up subsidizing corporations such as Tesco, and Sports Direct.

The living wage foundation says that £7.85 per hour is a wage that is high enough to maintain a normal standard of living. The minimum wage is  £6.50 p/h.  The six major parties (Including the SNP as they could be the third largest party in parliament after May 7) all have different visions on how to deal with the cost of living crisis.  

The Plans in Brief 

The Conservatives

George Osborne said in 2014 that the country can now afford to raise the minimum wage above inflation but I find no explicit number pledged.

The main thrust of their plans to improve the lot of the low waged is to increase the tax-free personal allowance to £12,500.

The Labour Party

The Labour have pledge to preside over a rise in the minimum wage to £8 p/h by 2020.

They also plan to reintroduce the 10p tax rate, which they claim will lower tax for 24 million people. They also have plans to introduce tax breaks for companies paying the living wage.

The Liberal Democrats

Liberal Democrat policy appears to focus on removing minimum wage workers from paying income tax; which they will do by raising the income tax personal allowance to £12,500, but not until 2020.

There is little mention of any action on the minimum wage.

The Scottish National Party

The SNP are fighting for the powers to set minimum age to be devolved to Holyrood, where they will increase the minimum wage at least in line with inflation. It is their stated aim to eventually pay a living wage.

UK Independence Party

UKIP’s policy rests entirely on increasing the lower income tax threshold. They are the most generous offering a rise to £13,500.

The Green Party

The Greens are promising the immediate implementation of a Living Wage after May the 7th with a promise that nobody will be paid less than £10 p/h by 2020. The differential in minimum wage based on age will also be abolished.

Income tax plans are in flux until the publication of their manifesto, as they have presumably been rewritten after the dropping of the Citizens Income policy.

The analysis

Increasing the tax threshold at which lower earners start paying income tax, offered by the Conservatives, the LibDems, and UKIP appears to be a sensible idea. No doubt it would have some effect on the finances of millions.

However large sections of people employed on minimum wage are part-time workers; meaning they pay little or no income tax, so for many this policy means nothing. Indeed income tax for the low waged is a relatively small burden when compared to Council Tax and VAT. Meaning their energies might be better spent in Council Tax reform.

Labour’s commitment to an £8 p/h minimum wage by 2020 is questionable. The minimum wage has not yet recovered, in real terms, to pre-crash levels. To beat the pre-crash levels the minimum wage would have need to be around £8.50 p/h by 2020.

The SNP have a slightly fairer offering, at least the minimum wage would keep pace with inflation. However without a commitment to a Living Wage people are still going to struggling to make ends meet.

The Green Party are the only party advocating an immediate change to a living wage, which is a noble and achievable aim. Obviously the vested interests of big businesses and the CBI are lobbying hard against the policy in Westminster, using scare tactics of job losses, but they did the same when the minimum wage was introduced in 1998. There were no job losses then, nor will there be any now.   

min wage

The establishment parties’ policies are at best timid, and at worst harmful. A revolution is needed to crush the cost of living crisis, but it will not come from Westminster.

Originally posted on Quazen.com