Tag: Targets

Work Programme continues to harm people with mental health problems

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The Government’s Work Programme is making the lives of people with mental health problems worse, and having a detrimental impact on people’s ability to work, research by a leading mental health charity has found.

A report from Mind said the flagship scheme, which requires people to take unpaid work allocated by contractors or face losing their lifeline benefits, was taking entirely the wrong approach and actually damaging people’s motivation and capacity to work.

The research found that most people who are on the scheme because of their mental health problems reported worsening health issues due to their experiences of it.

83 per cent of people surveyed said the scheme’s “support” had made their mental health problems worse or much worse.

The latest statistics from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) reveal that less than 8 per cent of people being supported by Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) have moved into employment through the Work Programme. Around half of people on ESA are being supported primarily because of their mental health problems.

Tom Pollard, Policy and Campaigns Manager at Mind, said:

“These latest figures provide further evidence that the overwhelming majority of people with disabilities and mental health problems are not being helped by the Government’s flagship back-to-work support scheme. A recent report from Mind found that people with mental health problems are less likely to be supported into employment through the Work Programme than those with other health conditions and are more likely to have their benefits sanctioned.”

Even more worryingly, the majority of respondents to our survey said the Work Programme was actually making their health worse, and as a result they had needed more support from health services and felt further from work than previously. Mind is calling for everyone with a mental health problem who is receiving mainstream support through this scheme to be placed onto a new scheme and offered more personalised, specialist support which acknowledges and addresses the challenges people face in getting and keeping a job.”

Additionally, over three quarters of people – 76 per cent – said the Work Programme had actually made them feel less able to work than before they were coerced to participate in the scheme.

The results resonate with figures released in a number of previous years suggesting that people on the Work Programme are actually far less likely to return to work than people who are simply left to their own initiative.

In the first year of the £450 million programme, just two out of 100 people on the scheme returned to work for more than six months.

In 2013 Labour’s then shadow work and pensions secretary Liam Byrne described the scheme as “literally worse than doing nothing”.

Mind’s chief executive Paul Farmer wrote:

“Cutting someone’s support for failing to meet certain requirements causes not just financial problems but a great deal of psychological distress too.

Mind was one of a group of six mental health organisations to respond to a Work and Pensions Committee Welfare to Work inquiry within which we voiced concerns with the system and made a number of recommendations for improving benefits and back-to-work support. A number of schemes deliver far more effective support to people with mental health problems, at a fraction of the cost of the Work Programme.

WorkPlace Leeds, for example, delivered by Leeds Mind, costs much less than the Work Programme and achieves far better outcomes, with nearly a third (32 per cent) of people with severe and enduring mental health problems gaining paid employment. Schemes such as these are far more helpful and effective in supporting those ready and able to work into fulfilling, appropriate paid employment, relevant to their individual skills and ambitions.

We wholeheartedly support the Government’s aspiration to halve the disability employment gap by helping a million more disabled people into work. However, this will only happen if bold changes are made. As the Welfare Reform and Work Bill makes its way through Parliament, Mind is calling on Employment Minister Priti Patel to overhaul the benefits system, by focusing less on pressurising people and investing more in tailored, personalised support. We’re calling for everyone with mental health problems on the Work Programme to be taken out of this scheme, and instead given alternative support which acknowledges and addresses the challenges they face in getting and keeping a job.”

There are perverse political incentives for pushing people onto workfare programmes. The DWP has simplified its performance measures and now primarily targets the move by claimants away from benefits, or “off-flow”, as a simple and intuitive measure of performance. However, this gives no information about how individual jobcentres perform in supporting claimants to work. Some may have found work but, in more than 40 per cent of cases, the reason for moving off benefits is not actually recorded.

The government does not track or follow up the destination of all those leaving the benefit system, and so the off-flow figures will inevitably include many having their claim ended for reasons other than securing employment, including sanctions, awaiting mandatory review, appeal, death, hospitalisation, imprisonment, on a government “training scheme” (see consent.me.uk  and the Telegraph – those on workfare are counted as employed by the Labour Force Survey, which informs government “employment” statistics.)

Workfare programmes offer further opportunity for imposing sanctions, too. Last year, Iain Duncan Smith met a whistle-blower who has worked for his Department for Work and Pensions for more than 20 years. Giving the Secretary of State a dossier of evidence, the former Jobcentre Plus adviser told him of the development of a “brutal and bullying” culture of “setting claimants up to fail”.

“The pressure to sanction customers was constant,” he said. “It led to people being stitched-up on a daily basis.”

The whistle-blower wished to remain anonymous but gave his details to Iain Duncan Smith, DWP minister Esther McVey and Neil Couling, Head of Jobcentre Plus, who also attended the meeting.

“We were constantly told ‘agitate the customer’ and that ‘any engagement with the customer is an opportunity to ­sanction’,”  he told them. 

Iain Duncan Smith and his department have repeatedly denied there are targets for sanctions.

“They don’t always call them targets, they call them ‘expectations’ that you will refer people’s benefits to the decision maker,”  the whistle-blower says. “It’s the same thing.”

He said that managers fraudulently altered claimants’ records, adding: “Managers would change people’s appointments without telling them. The appointment wouldn’t arrive in time in the post so they would miss it and have to be sanctioned. That’s fraud. The customer fails to attend. Their claim is closed. It’s called ‘off-flow’ – they come off the statistics. Unemployment has dropped. They are being stitched up.”

The Department of Work and Pensions no longer meets the needs of people requiring support to find work. Instead it serves only the requirements of an ideologically-driven, irrational and authoritarian government.

 

Related

The Government are under fire for massaging employment statistics

A letter of complaint to Andrew Dilnot regarding Coalition lies about employment statistics

544840_330826693653532_892366209_nPictures courtesy of Robert Livingstone

Research shows only a fifth of 2 million people find employment after losing jobseeker’s allowance

430835_148211001996623_1337599952_n (1)Further to an article I wrote last November – Government under fire for massaging unemployment figures via benefit sanctions from Commons Select Commitee – it’s emerged that the Coalition’s claims regarding an increase in employment are again under scrutiny after research shows only a fifth of 2 million people find employment after losing jobseeker’s allowance.

Fresh research, presented at the Commons Select Committee inquiry into welfare sanctions on Wednesday, suggests that hundreds of thousands are leaving jobseeker’s allowance because of benefit sanctions without finding employment, though the report’s authors cannot provide an exact figure.

Written by academics at the University of Oxford and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, the report raises questions about why so many of those losing their benefit then disappear from the welfare system – possibly to rely on food banks.

The Guardian reports that Professor David Stuckler, of Oxford University, said that benefit sanctions “do not appear to help people return to work. There is a real concern that sanctioned persons are disappearing from view. What we need next is a full cost-benefit analysis that looks not just narrowly at employment but possibly at hidden social costs of sanctions.

“If, as we’re finding, people are out of work but without support – disappeared from view – there’s a real danger that other services will absorb the costs, like the NHS, possibly jails and food support systems, to name a few. Sanctions could be costing taxpayers more.”

However, the Department for Work and Pensions, which is expected to announce a further rise in UK employment on Wednesday, countered that it was “proud” that 1 million jobless people were now subject to the “claimant commitment”, which sets out tougher requirements on the jobless to find work or risk losing their benefit payments.

Iain Duncan Smith, the work and pensions secretary, said: “It is only right that in return for government support – and in return for their benefits – jobseekers are expected to do all they can to find work. Although on benefits, they still have a job: the job is to get back into work.

“The claimant commitment, which is deliberately set to mimic a contract of employment, makes this expectation explicit. It has created a real change in attitudes. Already more than a million people have signed up to – and are benefiting from – this new jobseeking regime.”

Seems that Iain Duncan Smith forgets that it’s not government money that supports jobseekers, but rather their own, which was paid in tax contributions, in good faith that should any of us need state support, that support would be there to ensure we don’t become destitute or starve. It is not jobseekers attitudes that create jobs and a decent wage: that is the role of the government.People who are sanctioned can hardly be described as “benefitting” from a social scheme that was originally designed to support, not punish.

The Oxford-based research showed that between June 2011 and March 2014, more than 1.9 million sanctions were imposed on people receiving jobseeker’s allowance (JSA), with 43% of those sanctioned having their benefit claim ceased. Only 20% of those who left the benefit system gave as their stated reason that they had found work.

As I have stated before, the Department for Work and Pensions conducts no systematic research into what happens to those sanctioned, so the new findings start to fill an evidential gap in what has been one of the biggest but least publicised changes to the welfare system since the government came to power.

The 1.9 million benefit removals between June 2011 and March 2014 represent a 40% increase compared with the previous seven years. The figures are based on official monthly and quarterly data from databases covering UK local authorities between 2005 and 2014.

Dispute has arisen about a central aspect of government welfare reform centres on whether jobcentre staff, driven by senior management, are following arbitrary and poorly communicated rules that punish not just the minority of those who don’t look for work, but some of the most vulnerable in society, including mentally ill and disabled people. Many independent witnesses have urged the DWP inquiry at least to suspend the sanctions regime for those claiming employment support allowance, the main disability benefit. Evidence, however, strongly suggests that most people receiving sanctions want to work and that sanctions are imposed because of targets, and so are not related to any claimant claim of non-cooperation or unwillingness to work at all. Rather, it’s the case that sanctions are punishing the vulnerable for being vulnerable.

Study author Dr Rachel Loopstra, from Oxford University, said: “The data did not give us the full picture of why sanctioned people have stopped claiming unemployment benefit. We can say, however, that there was a large rise in the number of people leaving JSA for reasons that were not linked to employment in association with sanctioning. On this basis, it appears that the punitive use of sanctions is driving people away from social support.”

The study also shows widespread variation in how local authorities used sanctions. In Derby, Preston, Chorley and Southampton, researchers found particularly high rates of people being referred for sanctions. In some months, more than 10% of claimants in these areas were sanctioned – the highest rates nationwide.

Co-author Prof Martin McKee, from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, said: “There is a need for a cost-benefit analysis of sanctioning, looking at it not just in narrow terms of unemployment benefit, but also the bigger picture, focusing on employment, health, and other social costs.”

He added: “The coalition government has embarked upon an unprecedented experiment to reform social security. I hope policymakers will be informed by these findings and see the value of investigating the consequences.”

Separate evidence in front of the DWP select committee inquiry includes witness statements from former jobcentre staff suggesting senior management threaten staff if they do not take a harsh approach to claimants. There is also cumulative evidence that many of those sanctioned have little or no knowledge of why they are being punished.

The main union representing jobcentre staff, PCS – which was also due to give evidence on Wednesday to the select committee inquiry – suggests: “While there is considerable anecdotal evidence about the inappropriate use of sanctions, there is a lack of empirical evidence. We believe that DWP should publish a more detailed breakdown of sanctions, and specifically more detailed explanations as to why they were imposed. PCS’s survey of our adviser members showed that 61% had experienced pressure to refer claimants to sanctions where they believed it may be inappropriate to do so.”

DWP select committee member Debbie Abrahams said: “This government has developed a culture in which Jobcentre Plus advisers are expected to sanction claimants using unjust, and potentially fraudulent, reasons in order get people “off-flow”. This creates the illusion the government is bringing down unemployment.”

The government counters that its policies are turning the UK into “the jobs factory of Europe”, and dismisses the idea that the unemployment figures are being subverted by sanctions.

A DWP spokesman said: “As the authors admit themselves the data does not give a full picture. What we do know – according to independent figures from the Office for National Statistics – is that we now have a record number of people in employment in this country and there are two million more people in private sector jobs compared to 2010.”

That is a claim which is not very well substantiated by income tax revenue collected by the Treasury at all. (See also A letter of complaint to Andrew Dilnot regarding Coalition lies about employment statistics).


Related
: Cameron’s Nudge that knocked democracy down – a summary of the implications of Nudge theory

Jobless are being punished with hunger for claiming unemployment benefit, say churches

Hain’s horror as figures reveal four in five who have JSA sanctioned “don’t find work”

385294_195107567306966_1850351962_nMany thanks to Robert @LivingstonePics