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Jobcentres 'tricking' people out of benefits to cut costs, says whistleblower.

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Published on Apr 6, 2012

http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/20...

Rising numbers of vulnerable jobseekers are being tricked into losing benefits amid growing pressure to meet welfare targets, a Jobcentre Plus adviser has told the Guardian.

A whistleblower said staff at his jobcentre were given targets of three people a week to refer for sanctions, where benefits are removed for up to six months. He said it was part of a "culture change" since last summer that had led to competition between advisers, teams and regional offices.

"Suddenly you're not helping somebody into sustainable employment, which is what you're employed to do," he said. "You're looking for ways to trick your customers into 'not looking for work'. You come up with many ways. I've seen dyslexic customers given written job searches, and when they don't produce them -- what a surprise -- they're sanctioned. The only target that anyone seems to care about is stopping people's money.

"'Saving the public purse' is the catchphrase that is used in our office ... It is drummed home all the time -- you're saving the public purse. Feel good about stopping someone's money, you've just saved your own pocket. Its a joke."

The claims came as the big businesses handed contracts to get the long term jobless into worktoday said the government should privatise jobcentres so that their firms could work with people who have been jobless for less than a year.

Statistics from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) show the total number of cases where people have lost their benefits has soared since the beginning of 2010 to 75,000 in October, the latest month available. The figures also reveal the number of claimants with registered disabilities being cut off has more than doubled to almost 20,000 over the same period.

This follows a change in the rules in April last year where sanctions were extended to claimants who were late for jobcentre interviews and other less serious offences.

When a claimant is sanctioned their jobseeker's allowance is stopped. They then have to apply for hardship payments, which are usually about half the allowance, or just over £30 a week. John, in Wigan, has been sanctioned for six months and says he has to rely on food parcels and must sleep on his friend's couch. "It's left me in a state of depression. I've lost weight, I'm tired ... I feel like I've been attacked for no reason."

The whistleblower blamed the targets. "We were told suddenly that [finding someone to sanction] once a week wasn't good enough, we were far behind other offices, and we went to a meeting where they compared us with other offices, and said we now have to do three a week to catch up. Most staff go into work and they're thinking about it from moment one -- who am I going to stop this week?"

The DWP denies there are specific targets, but the Guardian has seen email evidence of referral targets in one office, and the issue of targets has been raised by employees on online forums.

The DWP said: "To say that we are targeting vulnerable people is ridiculous. We only sanction people if they do not adhere to their agreement. We are massively expanding the help and support that jobseekers will receive to ensure that they get the right help and support to get into work. If someone is incapable of work, they will continue to receive unconditional support."

But the whistleblower said the policy hit the vulnerable instead of hardcore benefit cheats, who he said were a small group. "The young often fall into it, because they haven't been there long enough, they are generally a major target. The uneducated are another major target. I've seen people with ... seriously low educational standards and it's easy to exploit them."

He said staff had different ways to ensure they could stop benefits for a set amount of people. "So, for example, if you want someone to diversify -- they're an electrician or a plumber, they may not want to go into call centres or something. What you do is keep promoting such and such a job, and you pressure them into taking it off you, the piece of paper. Then in two weeks you look at the system, you ask them if they applied for it ... they say no -- you stop their money for six months.

"You very rarely see the hardcore taken because they know the forms -- they know it better than the staff, the system."

Shirley Cramer of the charity Dyslexia Action warned that the true impact on people with learning difficulties was likely to be higher because in many cases it was a hidden disability. "Because we know there are large numbers of them, and that they are hidden, and that they are over-represented in disadvantaged groups, they are very much at risk. And we know that with a bit of help they can be terrific employees."

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