Opposing sanctions

14 May 2014


Defending PCS members, supporting unemployed workers and disabled people.

The PCS DWP Group conference 2013 carried motion 146. The motion noted the ever increasing hostility of the Tory led government towards unemployed workers and the disabled. It highlighted their disgraceful attempt to demonise these groups in society identifying them as scroungers and their continual ramping up of the sanctions regime.

Conference welcomed

  • the work done by the GEC to ensure that DWP management do not impose DMA referrals targets on members working in Jobcentres
  • the advice issued by the GEC opposing the threat of PIPs if members do not refer enough customers for DMA action
  • the guidance from the GEC about the health and safety risks posed to members as a result of operating a tougher sanctions regime.

Conference went on to instruct the incoming GEC to:

1. Continue to oppose sanctions targets and pressure on members to meet targets
2. Work with claimant groups

3. Use the media to expose the pressure imposed on our members and the social consequences of sanctioning claimants

4. Use the PCS parliamentary group to campaign in Parliament to ensure that the pressure faced by PCS members in Jobcentres and the consequences of sanctions on claimants is exposed.

This branch briefing gives a report to branches of the continuing work since conference last year by the GEC, regions and branches to oppose sanctions.


The GEC has continued to campaign in the past year using negotiations with the DWP, providing detailed guidance to branches and members, using the media, political lobbying, working with other unions and pressure groups and consulting PCS members in a survey.

Negotiations with the employer and the Couling investigation

The GEC has taken every opportunity to meet with Work Services management. At every meeting PCS has raised the issue of targets and the ‘expectation’ on many members to sanction customers. We have provided evidence to the employer that targets exist and explained our opposition.

Following a series of Guardian newspaper reports exposing a target regime in respect to sanction referrals, and in the face of evidence provided by PCS, the Work Services Director Neil Couling carried out an ‘investigation’. The GEC PCS met with the Director and emphasised our concerns.

The investigation “found no evidence of a secret national regime of targets or widespread secret imposition of local regimes to that effect.” The findings ruled out a target culture and blamed ‘rogue managers’. As the ‘investigation’ was limited to only the information provided by the media and PCS, the GEC does not accept that it was a thorough or meaningful examination into the target culture in Jobcentres.

The GEC therefore rejected the findings and has continued to campaign and defend PCS members the unemployed and disabled.

The GEC has also continued to challenge the use of Performance Improvement Plans (PIP) against members for not imposing enough sanctions. We believe that this demonstrates the existence of numerical targets. DWP is currently considering amending or removing the conditionality PIP as result of the persistence of our arguments.

Guidance to members and branches

Conditionality and sanctions is discussed by attendees from regions to every meeting of the quarterly Work Services Advisory Committee. Working closely with the WSD Advisory Committee the GEC have been six specific briefings on conditionality and sanctions in the last year. The GEC has also issued three workplace posters on sanctions.
The GEC has provided regular guidance to members including advising members that they can use discretion when deciding whether to make referrals to decision makers about sanctions and conditionality. The GEC has also encouraged branches to hold members meetings and regional events.

The GEC advice has stressed to members that they are entitled to be accompanied by a PCS rep at meetings to discuss informal performance and PIPs. The GEC has also encouraged members to get union advice and representation where DMA referrals are highlighted as a performance issue.

Exposing sanctions in the media

The GEC has worked closely with the PCS national press officer to use the media to expose the use of sanctions and conditionality targets and expectations. This led to an internal investigation and the Independent Review of Sanctions.

PCS full time officer Charles Law was interviewed on Panorama on the rise in the use of foodbanks and the link to benefit sanctions.

Political lobbying

The GEC gave evidence to the Work and Pensions Select Committee in September 2013 following a written submission to the DWP Select Committee’s examination into the role of Jobcentre Plus in the reformed welfare system. Our evidence was welcomed in the committee’s findings for exposing the ‘get them off benefit by any means’ and target based culture of sanctioning in many Jobcentres. A further review of the conditionality regime has been recommended.

The GEC met with Matthew Oakley who was appointed by the DWP Secretary of State to undertake and Independent Review of Sanctions and we provided him with detailed evidence of our members concerns.

The GEC have also raised several parliamentary questions forcing government minister Ester McVey to state in parliament that there are no targets or expectations for sanction referrals.

The GEC worked with the NEC to submit a motion to the TUC Congress in 2013 on campaigning for a better social security system which set TUC policy opposing the sanctioning regime

Working with other unions and pressure groups

The GEC has worked closely with Unite community union branches and agreed a joint statement to be used in local campaigns against social security cuts. The GEC has recently worked with Unite Community union officers and agreed detailed joint guidance to claimants explaining their rights. The guidance is now being produced by Unite for national distribution to other unions and unemployed centres.

PCS has met and agreed a statement with Disabled People Against the cuts and Black triangle to enable us to work closely on protests against sanctions and stricter benefit regulations.

The GEC has also met with a large number of unemployed workers centre representatives and DPAC and agreed joint campaigning work.

In local groups up and down the country PCS union reps and branches have actively campaigned for a better benefit system based on need.

Survey of PCS members in the DWP

The GEC have recently surveyed PCS members in the DWP who tell us that 61% have been pressured to refer claimants for sanctioning where they believe it may be inappropriate. 72.8% have seen an increase in verbal abuse, and 37.9% gave seen an increase in physical abuse. Unsurprisingly, 70% of members that responded do not believe that sanctioning positively impacts on claimants finding employment. 76.7% have also noticed an increase in food bank referral requests. The GEC are now demanding that Work services respond to these findings.


The role of PCS members

The GEC has noted with concern some attacks on PCS and our members because of their role in implementing the governments’ welfare reform programme. PCS has been criticised by some for not fighting these attacks on welfare by instructing our members to refuse to implement them.

It is understandable that activists and campaign groups are angry and frustrated that the government’s attacks on those least able to defend themselves cannot be easily stopped in this way.

National PCS legal advice is that non compliance by PCS members with sanctions, assessments or workfare would amount to illegal industrial action, the GEC is committed to working with the NEC in line with national conference policy to explore ways of including non cooperation with sanctions in a future legal trade dispute ballot.

The GEC strongly believe that a few thousand PCS members cannot refuse to implement these attacks on their own. We are concerned that a blanket instruction not to implement sanctions would isolate PCS members supporting the union line, and leave them open to dismissal from a hostile employer.

The governments’ welfare reform programme is an attack on all working class people. and because there is a political consensus amongst all the mainstream parties around welfare, based on bashing the poor and privatising services, then maximum unity is required to defeat it. That is why PCS raised the issue at TUC Congress. The most effective way of defeating sanctions and welfare reform attacks is to have the widest possible united campaign based in the trade union movement and in the communities. That is why the GEC has worked so hard with Unite community union branches and will continue to work with branches and the NEC to identify areas for targeted action that could have an effect on such policies.

Future campaign action

There is still much to be done and conference this year will debate a motion that calls upon the GEC to –

1. Campaign amongst our membership in support of decent welfare services

2. Highlight the cuts to welfare.

3. Build confidence amongst our members to develop a co-ordinated response to these attacks both politically and industrially

4. Continue fight sanctions targets

5. Continue to work with claimant groups

The GEC will continue to work with regions, branches and members to implement conference policy, defend PCS members and support unemployed workers and disabled people.

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