Group “signing-on sessions” leave Jobseekers feeling abandoned

Jobseekers queuing outside a Jobcentre Plus
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Claimants of Jobseekers Allowance (JSA) are being abandoned in Jobcentres throughout the UK as staff are too busy dealing with Universal Credit claimants. It has come out that JSA claimants are being asked to sign-on in groups of 9-15 as work coaches are too busy with Universal Credit claims. This has left those on JSA with no support in trying to find work.

Michelle who had a stroke in 2012 had been visiting the Torquay jobcentre fortnightly to sign-on with her specialist disability work coach. She told me that her coach was extremely accommodating and always very helpful.

Then abruptly last month she was informed that things were changing.

“My work coach told me that my next appoint last month would be a group session. But none of us were told that this would now permanent and we won’t have a work coach anymore. They are are all dealing with UC (Universal Credit).’

“We go every two weeks. Get given a talk about job seeking. Hand our evidence over and sign the electronic pad. There are about 12 in the group’s so far.

We have been told this is now permanent and we only (for now) will go on UC if we get a job or decide to switch.”

She also told me how this move could affect her health.

“I easily can get confused and stressed in larger groups. So this is one area that worries me. That my stress levels will go up. I have high blood pressure and due to stroke stutter when stressed.”

“You feel your privacy has gone a little too.”

This is not an isolated incident. I put out a tweet last night asking if others had experienced a similar situation and I got plenty of feedback.

I also received plenty of messages about this subject. What I came away with is that jobseekers feel abandoned and helpless. There are some claimants that under the DWP’s own rules would be classed as vulnerable. To have them left with no support is simply unacceptable.

Staff struggling to cope

Universal Credit Key Facts (Credit NAO)

Universal Credit Key Facts (Credit National Audit Office)

A report by The National Audit Office (NAO) in June highlighted just how much work jobcentre staff are expected to do.

At the time of the report 815,000 people were on Universal Credit. Since the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has sped up the roll-out this number will have risen drastically.

The NAO found that in March 2018 each work coach was dealing with an average of 85 claimants. What’s more shocking is that DWP target for 2024/25 is 373 claimants per coach.

Case managers are expected to be dealing with a staggering 919 claimants each by 2024/25.  No member of staff can offer tailored support when they have that many people to deal with.

The damning report concluded that “Universal Credit has not delivered value for money and is uncertain it ever will.”  

Esther McVey was quick to deny this calling it “world leading”. Then again, anything bad about the Tory flagship scheme is branded wrong or out of date so that can be taken with a pinch of salt.

More will suffer

While it may only be Jobseekers Allowance claimants that are suffering just now, it’s hard to see how Universal Credit claimants won’t suffer the same fate as claimant numbers grow.

The government has praised Universal Credit for its impact on getting people into work. “1000 people a day into work since 2010” they are always claiming. They neglect to say that zero hour contract workers and people with even just one hour a week are part of the statistics they use. It’s not a fair representation is it?

I contacted the DWP for comment on this issue but they refused to comment unless I got the National Insurance numbers of the claimants affected. In the day and age of GDPR and to be honest just a respect for security, I was not willing to ask people for personal details such as that.

A spokesperson said; 

“We cannot comment without being able to identify the individuals we’re responding to and understand their claims.”

I replied with a list of six jobcentres that group signings have been occurring and advised that I did not feel comfortable asking jobseekers for personal information over the internet nor should they be asking that I do so.

They have not replied at the time of this article being published.

Alex Tiffin

@RespectIsVital on Twitter

Universal Credit Sufferer on Facebook

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  • If work coaches work 37 hours a week (normal for civil servants) and there are 60 minutes in an hour they work 2,220 minutes.
    Divided between 919 claimants this gives each claimant 2.41 minutes, which amounts to just under 2 minutes 25 seconds per claimant, per week.
    (Assuming of course the work coach takes no tea-breaks and never uses the lavatory during working hours, which would reduce the time they could spend on claimants further. )
    One hopes that the DWP plans to buy them some new computers. On the ones they have that time could easily be used up just trying to open and close their client’s online journals.

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