Monday, 25 March 2013

Who cares?

If it weren't for the Guardian we would know nothing about the retroactive legislation to save Iain Duncan Smith's face, nor the mealy-mouthed response of Labour.  We wouldn't have heard about the argument about sanctions.  Today, for instance, we read that the head of Jobcentre Plus, Neil Couling, has sent a letter to staff reminding them that "there are no national targets for applying sanctions and individual targets should not appear in performance agreements."  The article says, "Numerous jobcentre staff have contacted the Guardian since last Friday's story on targets for sanctions to claim such targets are part of the jobcentre culture. There may be a dispute about definitions that is fuelling the disjuncture about what is being said at national level, and what is reported at local level."  
But we learn that 40-odd Labour MPs had the gumption to vote against the bill – good for them. Labour's line is that they have secured an enquiry into sanctions. Well, unless they ask the people who have been, and are being, affected by these punishments, any enquiry will be at best pointless and at worst a whitewash.
Why are the rest of the media so silent on the issue?  I did hear the legislation raised briefly on BBC Radio 4's The Westminster Hour last night, but it was skated over very quickly.  The rest of the press has no interest at all.  I think it's because it's complicated.  The Guardian has a political editor, Patrick Wintour, who  knows the subject; and the Guardian is "left wing".  Occasionally the Independent publishes a considered story.  But that's about it.


  1. Patrick Wintour of the Guardian is on top of this subject. He says this evening that a leaked newsletter from the JCP in Malvern – some distance from Walthamstow – gives the lie to Neil Couling’s claim that Walthamtow JCP was only an “isolated incident.”

    1. Thanks for that. It's the original article, updated with the new leak. The idea that an office which punishes "too few" people is therefore one of the "worst-performing" is sickening.

    2. It seems that blame for this is being passed down the line. Apparently DWP and jobcentre managers have confused "measurement" and "targets" , Harrrrumph!
      Of course the number of sanctions should be counted. This is basic information and should be (and is) publicly available. What has happened here is that somewhere in the food chain someone has interpreted this as a target or a Key Performance Indicator.
      Bearing in mind the seriousness of this and the length of time it has been going on I am of the opinion that the responsibility lies at the top of the food chain rather than lower down. Whatever happened to ministers taking responsibility for their departments?
      As for a 12 month enquiry. A sop to try to get that idiot Byrne off a hook of his own making. We all know what it will say (isolated cases etc. etc.) and by the time it appears it will be page 23 news,

    3. I couldn't agree more! It's extremely telling that sanctions are seen as being the goal - the more the better. Surely sanctioning should be seen as a last resort and a sign that the system has failed in that instance. Hence, if there are to be league tables, the one at the top should be the one with fewest sanctions. Staff should be placed on PIPs for sanctioning too many people and seasonal chocolate treats given to those who sanction nobody.

  2. A very enlightening exchange from the House of Lords that proves targets exist, only the DWP call it 'regulating their business' or 'correcting the anomalies' or anything else except targets.

    Lord Freud:
    My Lords, I must repeat what I have just said. Clearly, we have internal management information. It is vital that we keep it, and we publish a lot of it. We need to understand why some areas, some jobcentres, have higher rates than others and why some have lower rates. Some may have very good reasons for having lower or higher rates, while others may not. We therefore need this information to correct the anomalies, and that is normal business practice. It may be that in particular cases a jobcentre manager is told, "You are running very high or very low figures, and you cannot justify the reason for that, so you need to get more into line". It may happen. I have not got the particular details.

    Baroness Hollis of Heigham:
    In that case, what is the difference between coming more into line and targets?

    Lord Freud:
    The noble Lords opposite know exactly how targets operate because they operated a target regime. Targets are when people are incentivised to perform to particular figures.

    Baroness Hollis of Heigham:
    What if they are incentivised by the threat of being punished?

    Lord Freud:
    They are usually incentivised to reach targets, and we do not run a target regime. The no-targets message has gone out repeatedly.

    Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton:
    My Lords, I fail to understand the Minister. Surely if someone is asked to regulate their business, as he calls it, in order to get to the norm, what is the difference between that and a target?

  3. I have just finished Jonathon Robinson's book 'In It' detailing his prison sentence and the things he saw when locked up. What I found most interesting though, being a reader of this blog, was the way he described A4e's role in providing teaching contracts to help prisoners develop basic literacy and numeracy skills whilst serving their sentences.

    It is basically what one can expect when attending the work programme- chaotic, worthless [a 2 week course on correct usage of a dustpan and brush] and all to quick to issue 'sanctions' for non compliance- but prisoners are, by their nature, a captive audience and so unable to complain. after all, if people don't listen to that great scourge the unemployed, who's going to pay attention to men and women behind bars?

    jonathon is currently having an interesting debate with an ex a4e employee who provided prisoner teaching services on his twitter profile [@IN_IT_THE_BOOK]. some interesting snippets-

    @marianyoung1 Not at all - just want to be VERY clear that #A4E is not worth the paper it's written on @ prison. Please read events of Sep 1

    @IN_IT_THE_BOOK Don't need too; believe me, was just an employee of a crap company; however, I did my job well & was getting paid at time.

    There's a lot more, check out his twitter page [@IN_IT_THE_BOOK] if you're interested. Personally I think this could be the next big A4e scandal. Whatever you think about the rights of prisoners, the public money spent on contractors in jails should always be value for money.


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