As many people will know…
Iain Duncan Smith and government plan to push more sick or disabled people into work. Pity that he and the DWP lie about the support that disabled claimants on JSA and in the ESA WRAG group will find when they’re forced to try and find work through jobcentres:
You’ll hear below a covert recording made last week with a person who used to work as a Disability Employment Adviser (DEA) in a northwest London jobcentre (this person now works in another jobcentre role). DEAs were specialist jobcentre advisers who had time and training to support sick and disabled benefit claimants. Government cut the number of DEAs in jobcentres by 60% by the end of last year. For months now, advisers have been telling me and the disabled claimants I accompany to jobcentre meetings that the loss of DEAs means there is now little support or help for sick and disabled benefit claimants at jobcentres. There doesn’t seem to have been much by way of a replacement service. Advisers say that there generally isn’t resource or time.
Last week at the northwest London jobcentre I was visiting, I asked the adviser in the recording if jobcentres in the area offered much in the way of specialist, back-to-work support for sick or disabled benefit claimants. You’ll hear the adviser say that there is little support for these claimants now that jobcentres are “getting rid of” DEAs. I have recorded other advisers saying very similar things in past months. The adviser in the recording below said that in her current job, she dealt with some people who have “bipolar and schizophrenia or psychosis” diagnoses, [but] “they’ve got to want to get a job for me to work with them.” I took this to mean that people who were longer-term unemployed because of the severity of their conditions and situations were parked and offered little beyond basic signon meetings with advisers and the occasional work programme placement (we knew mutually of claimants who had been in that category for a while):
“When I changed to this job, I had to like not think about those clients anymore and it’s really, really difficult, because I know they are having problems and I know they are struggling and there is no support for them.”
There is a transcript at the end of the post.
I’d already been told by another adviser at the same jobcentre that specialist support for disabled claimants there was thin on the ground. That adviser also said that the lack of specialists meant that sick or disabled people were more likely to be sanctioned – without access to DEAs or people with training, disabled claimants wouldn’t necessarily find reasonable levels of understanding if they fell foul of the DWP’s exacting jobsearch regimes. The DWP claimed that “jobseekers now have access to dedicated work coaches, who are trained to provide tailored support specific to their individual needs,” when I asked last year how the DWP planned to support sick or disabled claimants in jobcentres when DEAs went (other journalists seem to get the same fob-off). Problem is finding anyone on the ground who believes that this “tailored” service exists.
This is important. This is very important. We need to get to the bottom of things here. This week, the welfare reform and work bill returns to the House of Commons, where a plan to cut the Employment and Support Allowance rate may be returned after the House of Lords blocked it. Government argues (for reasons that escape me and doubtless anyone who thinks these things through) that reduced ESA payments would encourage people to find work. My (very big) problem is that government is peddling this idea on the back of a monumental untruth: that sick or disabled claimants who are forced to look for work will get “tailored,” help from jobcentres. From my evidence anyway, they’ll get nothing of the kind. They’ll be dumped in jobcentres, told to meet harsh jobsearch requirements and very likely sanctioned if they can’t.
On the ground, nothing adds. Nothing ever adds. On the one hand, we have the DWP telling us that sick or disabled jobseekers have access to dedicated, trained jobcentre work coaches with time to tailor programmes and on the other, I keep finding jobcentre advisers who tell me that nothing works and nobody has time for anything. “I was in a meeting the other day,” the adviser in the recording says, “and one of the bosses says “I think we’ve lost our way with the DEAs,” because they are just getting rid of them. They are getting rid of them… the line that they’re saying is that each individual adviser should be able to deal with people.”
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: somebody somewhere needs to force the DWP to come clean about the truth of its back-to-work offerings for sick or disabled people at jobcentres. I want the full details myself. In recent months, I’ve collected four examples of jobcentre advisers telling me and/or a family member of a benefit claimant that services for sick or disabled people at the local jobcentre are in very poor shape. The DWP can guff out all the press releases it likes about “tailored support” and specialist programmes for sick and disabled people and all the rest of it. Hard evidence of even some of that support needs to be seen. The doors to the whole scene should be thrown open. Support workers, family members, MPs, councillors and journalists should all be able to attend jobcentres, WRAG work-focused interviews and work programme “activities” for sick or disabled people to see what is really going on – or not going on, as it happens. If the government really is going throw a whole of people off disability benefits and/or demand that people on disability benefits find work, government needs to be very clear about the support that those people won’t get.
Et cetera. What a mess.
Adviser: I’m a bit upset, because when I changed to this job, I had to like not think about those clients anymore and it’s really, really difficult, because I know they are having problems and I know they are struggling and there is no support for them…
Me: I know… I was wondering if there was anything else replacing it (the DEA service)
Adviser: Not for the minute. I was in a meeting the other day and one of the bosses says “I think we’ve lost our way with the DEAs,” because they are just getting rid of them, they are getting rid of…
Me: …And nothing coming in. Ok, it’s all right, it’s just there are a couple of people who are possibly in need of that kind of understanding and support for…
Adviser: My job at the moment is I do deal with people who have got bipolar and schizophrenia, or psychosis, but I work with people who want to actually get a job. They’ve got to want to get a job for me to work with them now. That’s all that I can tell you for the minute. I’m so sorry…
Me: Never mind. It’s just to get a feel for what’s on the ground, because Neasden seems to be sort of the same-ish…
Adviser: Yeah, there’ s not a DEA… the nearest DEA is Ealing and Harrow possibly
Adviser: And they are all… between you and me, this is the line that they’re saying, is that each individual adviser should be able to deal with people.
Me: Yes, that is actually what the DWP told us… that there would be tailored support from the jobcentre advisers who …Never mind.