Okay, why would you punish your clients? That seems to be what A4e and the rest are doing, as more and more people are "sanctioned". Let's dispose of the myth, perpetuated by Jonty Olliff-Cooper, that it's not A4e which sanctions people, it's the DWP. As someone pointed out, that's like saying that it's not the traffic warden who gives you a parking ticket, it's the local council. And now that punishment means at least 3 months of destitution, the situation is really serious.
If it's a case of people refusing to engage with the WP, or any other programme, altogether, then they know what the penalty is. But I'm hearing more and more stories of punishment for supposed failures to comply which are very worrying.
I'm not naive. I know that there are two sides to every such story, and I don't automatically believe what I'm told. How could I? But much of it rings true. For instance, we learned recently that one in five of all the homeless people referred to the WP has been sanctioned. It's not difficult to see how that could come about. Homeless people can't lead organised lives, and they can't rely on getting any post. But what about all the stories of people being punished for missing appointments they weren't aware of, or being told that an appointment was being changed and then being punished for not attending on the original date? Such incidents have been described in comments on here, and in others which I haven't published.
There seems to be something terribly wrong with the systems, and I don't know whether they are peculiar to A4e. Perhaps an employee could tell me whether I've got this right. When a client is perceived to have done something wrong, like missed an appointment, a click of the mouse "raises a sanction doubt". This may be accompanied by an explanation, but the "doubt" stands. The system then sends all these to a central point, which forwards them, often minus the explanation, to the DWP. The client is then notified by the DWP that he's being punished. Thus, someone who has been told that he needn't attend an appointment because he'll be away on a training course gets his income stopped. The articulate and persistent client can sometimes fight these sanctions, but the misery they are causing is immense. The system should be changed.
There's another worrying trend. Hostility between client and adviser is nothing new, and is inevitable sometimes. But more people are reporting encounters which go against the DWP's own guidance on the behaviour of the professionals. I recall the middle-aged chap who said he came back from his first appointment almost in tears at the bullying nature of the meeting. A woman talks about her husband being spoken to as if he were a naughty child. And I recently had a horrifying comment which I couldn't publish because it identified the people concerned (please, please will the author of that get back to me) describing how an ex-soldier has been punished for not showing due respect to his "adviser". Respect, certainly in this case, doesn't seem to work both ways.
Most clients, I know, have good, friendly relationships with the staff employed to work with them. There will always be a small minority who really shouldn't be in the job, or whose training has been inadequate. But now, with pressures on staff ever greater and punishments so severe, the situation does seem to be getting worse. And that's dangerous.
The question remains: why would you punish your clients? Every client represents an opportunity to make a profit, and the DWP's answer to failing providers is to take away the clients. I asked the same question back in June when it was reported that in the first 8 months of the programme A4e had requested 10,120 punishments, only 3,000 of which had been accepted by the DWP. Don't those figures show what's wrong? At the time Corporate Watch said, "By the time it's finished, more people will have been sanctioned by the Work Programme than properly employed through it." How true. And why? The answer must be that every punishment is seen as a warning to others.
Please note that I can't deal with "not for publication" comments by giving individual advice or answering questions. If you have a query or want to say something, please frame it in such a way that I and the regulars can respond on the blog.