Since reading this excoriating article by Polly Toynbee in yesterday's Guardian I've been asking myself how I would react if I was still working in the welfare-to-work system. It's many, many years since I worked for a year as a teenager in what was then the Labour Exchange; but only a few years since I worked on the New Deal contracts. There has always been a "sanctions" system. If you weren't available for work or actively seeking work, you lost your benefits. But it took Iain Duncan Smith to introduce a reign of terror and direct staff to throw as many people as possible into destitution.
Toynbee says that jobcentre staff are "mostly decent people", and I would agree. So what do you do, as a decent person, if you find yourself caught up in this? One strategy is to make sure the facts get out there, like the "regular 'deep throat' correspondent" who has described to her how, "You park your conscience at the door".
Part of me thinks I couldn't stay in the job. But walking out isn't that easy, unless you can walk straight into another job (which is unlikely these days). You wouldn't get any benefits for a very long time; and when you were finally eligible to sign on you would have to go to the jobcentre. Not much of an option if you've been loudly blowing the whistle meanwhile. So do you stick it out and try not to become part of the culture? That, according to the informant, leads quickly to losing your job.
It is horribly easy to become part of the culture when something as wicked as this is going on. You start by dehumanising those you deal with. These are not unfortunate people who deserve support and consideration. They are idle scroungers. All of them. That's what you're being told, and what the propaganda has been telling you for years. They are not part of society, as you are, not "hard-working families". So if you treat them like rubbish and they react badly, they just confirm your opinion. History is littered with such treatment of minority groups who have been made scapegoats for other people's sins.
So I don't know what I would do. But I do know where the responsibility for this misery lies. And it's not just on Iain Duncan Smith, guilty as he is. It's on David Cameron, who appointed him and keeps him in his job, presumably because he approves of what he's doing.