1 May 2014
Members are thanked for their completing the survey and for the additional comments that many provided. This circular provides the full results and sets out the next steps we will be taking.
We have requested to discuss the results of our survey and the implications arising from the damning Work and Pensions Select Committee report with Work Services Directorate (WSD) Management. We are meeting the Work Services Director on 1st May, and have provided them with the full results.
PCS is demanding that DWP must take action to stop the target and ‘expectation’ culture for sanction referrals, which is shown by 23% of those surveyed having an explicit target for sanction referrals, and 81% having an ‘expectation’ level. These levels are shocking as both DWP and Ministers claim that targets do not exist at all.
It is no longer acceptable for WSD Management to deny that there is a problem or claim that issues are just isolated incidents. They must take responsibility for the regime that sees 61% of surveyed members experiencing pressure to refer claimants where they believe it may be appropriate.
Worryingly 36% of members stated that they have been placed on Performance Improvement Plan (PIP), and 10% have gone through formal poor performance procedures for not making ‘enough’ referrals.
It’s clear that performance procedures are being used to push staff into making more and more referrals, rather than used to challenge staff who ‘refuse to sanction’ as DWP claim. Poor performance action can lead to dismissal, it is therefore a thinly veiled threat to your employment if you don’t make ‘enough’ referrals. Nor is there any evidence that staff who make an excessive number of referrals are challenged using the same procedures.
The specific PIP tool designed by WSD management to monitor sanction referrals completely contradicts the Employment Minister’s statement to Parliament on 24th January 2014 which said that “there are no sanction targets or expectations for numbers of referrals.”
The GEC will continue to challenge WSD management and provide advice to members on how they can resist this action. Members are encouraged to seek help and support from a PCS representative if they find themselves under threat of action.
It is deeply concerning that 70% of those surveyed deliver adverse decision openly on the jobcentre floor. The default for this should be by phone or letter, and if necessary in person then the screened provision is there as a control measure. Screens should not be removed from jobcentres completely as they provide that much needed barrier for unacceptable customer behaviour.
Members have also reported a 72% increase in verbal abuse, and 37% have seen an increase in physically abusive incidents. Jobcentres are increasingly violent places to work. The introduction of tighter conditionality from 28th April will only introduce further risk to PCS members. Changes in the design and layout of jobcentres should not be taken lightly, we believe there is still a need for podiums as a barrier should situations escalate. Warm phones should only be removed where there is fully staffed assisted service in place.
We believe the survey results highlight the devastating impact the conditionality regime has on benefit claimants. 70% of members completing the survey did not believe that sanctioning has a positive impact on a claimant finding work, and 76% have seen an increase in foodbank referrals.
The government has stated that they make no assessment of the link between sanctioning and foodbank referrals. We believe that the Government must analyse and take responsibility for the effects of sanctioning on claimants and their families.
The GEC is working with the Unite Community branches and the Unemployed Workers Centre on joint work to raise claimants’ awareness of their rights and to produce campaign material. This survey shows that whilst some members may support some aspects of conditionality, the punitive regime with its target culture is opposed. PCS understand but do not accept the anger directed towards DWP staff because of sanctioning and other welfare reform issues. We will use the survey results to campaign against the regime, and also raise awareness of the views and feelings of our members.