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Friday, March 22, 2013 

Someone's lying.

The leaking of an email from a Jobcentre adviser manager in Walthamstow which seems to suggest there are league tables and targets in place for the sanctioning of those on benefits is little short of a bombshell.  It can only be explained in one of four ways: the letter is a hoax; the manager herself is lying, and saying there are league tables in place to try to get her staff to sanction more "clients", which doesn't really make any sense unless there is some sort of pressure on her which isn't in the form of league tables; the Department for Work and Pensions' regional managers are acting on their own initiative, against the apparent express wishes of ministers, and are drawing up league tables based on how many claimants are sanctioned by specific Jobcentres; or Iain Duncan Smith and Mark Hoban are lying through their teeth, including to parliament, which ought to lead to resignations.

It seems to judge by Duncan Smith's appearance in the Commons today that the letter is indeed genuine, so we can dismiss the first explanation.  Indeed, he seemed to be suggesting that the reality was a mixture of the second and third explanations, and that "innumerable orders not to employ targets" had gone out to Jobcentres.  Who then has been drawing up these league tables, seeing as they do appear to have existed?  Was it senior Jobcentre staff or officials within the DWP?  Seeing as Duncan Smith seems to have known that targets had been put in place before, why exactly is it that staff seem to have directly disobeying his orders?  Will the staff responsible be disciplined as result?

I know the variation on Hanlon's razor which suggests we shouldn't blame conspiracy when cock-up often more adequately explains such discrepancies, yet even if this the case, it doesn't alter the fact that IDS and his junior ministers are ultimately responsible.  The conspiracy explanation also helps us to understand exactly why ministers were so determined to stop compensation being paid to those sanctioned; many it would seem have been not because of any real refusal to take a job, a placement or look for work, but because Jobcentre staff are being given targets to hand the sanctions out regardless of infractions.  Moreover, it also suggests I might well have been too harsh on Liam Byrne on the DWP budget: it looks as though sanctioning is indeed built into the system, which also explains why the pressure being put on Jobcentre staff has been so immense.  If they don't stop enough people's benefits, further cuts may well be needed.

To say these revelations are disgusting doesn't even begin to adequately express how vile it is that some of those looking for work in the current job market have been denied the meagre amount of money they receive due purely to the pressure being put on Jobcentre staff.  It also reopens the debate on the work capability assessment and ATOS, and whether targets are also in place for them as to how many they should be declaring are fit for work.  If they are at the Jobcentre, why wouldn't they be elsewhere in the benefit system?  Whatever the ultimate explanation, one thing ought to be apparent: regardless of Labour's failings on opposing the coalition, the real enemy is the coalition that regards the most vulnerable in society as easy targets.

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