This piece has been written by a local claimant who wishes to remain anonymous
Austerity continues to bite into the heart and soul of many citizens throughout Europe. In Britain the government and their subservient partners the Liberal Democrats along with a mainly supportive chorus from the opposition continue to call for more cuts and punitive measures in healthcare, education and welfare. It was a year ago that a man set himself on fire outside of Selly Oak jobcentre, and since then things have only got worse. A Birmingham Dad died from his heart condition 3 weeks after being declared fit for work by ATOS. Stephanie Bottrill killed herself, blaming the bedroom tax and someone jumped from a city centre car park just a few weeks ago, talking about government changes. There have been similar tragedies elsewhere in the country as a result of the attack on social security by all the major political parties.
The job centre and their master the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) have no solutions to tackle long term unemployment and skills shortages within the section of the population who are more susceptible to long/short term unemployment. There are many who could benefit from doing a full time college course and signing on but are told they have to do one or the other. In practice this just leads to people signing on rather then attempt education without any source of money to live on. Instead of gaining skills which would in the case of a BTEC, NVQ etc increase their chances of getting a job they allow people to idle away in a dogmatic process of signing on fulfilling routine job searches.
The work programme has been a costly failure which has not solved the problem. It is run by Private Agencies funded by European Tax Payers through the European Social Fund the only training is of the basic kind CV surgery, basic Skills courses but little else. The jobcentre offers little in the way of training to anyone over the age of 25 all of it outsourced to private companies who run very basic courses.
Most Jobcentre advisers are the enemy of the people they claim to be helping. just like the whole set up of the Jobcentre is general. Those advisers tasked with handling peoples’ circumstances are often little more then white collar policemen who are there to just bully and sanction people for very little reason. They and the orders of the DWP are not interested helping people into vocational training. The number of sanctions being handed out has increased hugely, and they can mean having benefits stopped for as long as three years. A local job centre offered easter eggs to staff who met sanctions targets.
Groups like Boycott Workfare have done a significant job in the curtailing the use of unpaid Jobseeker labour by the likes of big business like Poundland and Superdrug and major charities like the British Heart Foundation.
Whatever the root cause the prevalent political culture, the policy of the DWP and the kind of men and women employed in key sections of the Jobcentre needs to combated just as fiercely. The big unions talk about helping but have not taken real action to get their members to fight from the inside, to refuse to hand out sanctions, send people on workfare or deal with any of the paperwork needed to put people through the ATOS disability test. Unless they do more than talk it is up to claimants to take action to fight this.
An anonymous Jobcentre worker has responded
The ConDem government have launched a war on the poor, on working people and on our unions.
As a jobcentre worker I see the devastating effects of this war every day as some of the poorest people in society struggle to survive in a system that is stacked against them. Alongside many of my colleagues I was horrified when the government increased the minimum sanction from 1 week to 4. We struggle to help people who find that their only recourse is the food bank, and a council hardship scheme designed to be impossible to use.
As a PCS union rep I reject the characterisation of DWP staff as ‘the enemy of the people’ and ‘white collar policemen’. Only recently the DWP were caught out imposing disciplinary measures on staff who were not dishing out sanctions, and had to deny that there were targets for staff. When this was announced there was a sigh of relief across every jobcentre in the country. That some managers offered Easter eggs as an incentive to impose sanctions shows both how brutal they are, and how they have to bully and bribe us to sanction.
The PCS has a proud record of opposing government attacks, not just on our own staff, but on the benefits system. We have recently had 2 strike days over attacks on our wages, pensions and conditions and at both of them we welcomed speakers from anti cuts and welfare justice campaigns.
At the recent PCS national conference motions which were sent from Birmingham were discussed and passed which condemned the government war on the poor and supported further cooperation between the PCS and organisations such as Boycott Workfare.
The government seeks to divide us with their ‘shirkers and strivers’ rhetoric in order to defeat us all. If they can set the employed against the unemployed they will get their way. We all have a responsibility to fight to overcome these divisions, in order to fight the real enemy – the Condems, the bankers and the tax evaders.
This is written anonymously as it would get me the sack for publicly opposing DWP policy!