Jobcentre staff struggling to cope

Sean Dempsey, Jobcentre worker

When the latest plans for cuts in benefits were announced, familiar trumpets were blown about the Work Programme and Mandatory Work Activity (MWA).

But the parliamentary committee overseeing the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) was utterly scathing about the privatised Work Programme, with its derisory success rate of 5.5%.

DWP staff are even less forgiving, as we have been dealing with the people returning from two years on the Work Programme, still with no CV or transferrable skills.

Work Programme staff are more pressured than ever, with a frightening turnover as people are burnt out.

The only improvements are a result of jobcentre staff being used to provide services to the Work Programme client group. Yet Avanta, G4S and the rest are still reaping profits from the benefits system.

MWA – four weeks unpaid work of up to 30 hours a week – is a programme essentially designed to bully people off Jobseeker’s Allowance.

The scheme is outsourced to Atos, which profits from finding placements. The placements are almost exclusively in local charity shops, with which DWP advisers often have contact anyway.

Most alarming is the new plan for jobseekers completing the Work Programme to attend their jobcentre daily from nine to five for up to six months.

Staffing is already a problem. In one region, another 4,000-odd staff are to go by the end of the next year, through so-called natural wastage.

Redundancy packages have come out. So the most common reaction to Iain Duncan Smith’s grandiose rhetoric is, ‘Where are we getting the staff?’

Basic functions in some offices – such as holiday or sickness cover – are breaking down under the strain, with staff told to just get on with it and squeeze in the extra work.

This has given rise to suspicions that the new plans might mean yet another private venture.

Pressure is also being exerted on the Flexible Support Fund – the discretionary fund that advisers use to pay for travel to jobcentres.

At my jobcentre, it costs some people £9 to get in, as smaller local offices have been closed. If people were attending every day, two thirds of the paltry payment of £71 a week would be spent on travel.

One thing we can be sure of, whatever the solution of the Rt. Hon. Millionaire for Work and Pensions, the people getting something-for-nothing are not benefit claimants.

Instead it is the Tory allies in the private sector, swallowing more lucrative public contracts or hosting more free labour and reaping the resultant profits.

The anti-workfare campaigns showed that a movement uniting the unemployed and unions can bring down Tory plans – the latest suggestions must face the same fate.