Tuesday, 19 November 2013

The prison experiments and what they teach us

You may have heard of the Stanford Prison Experiment.  It was conducted by a psychology professor, Philip Zimbardo, at Stanford University in 1971.  In brief, he set up a prison in the basement of the university and divided a group of students into "guards" and "prisoners".  The aim was to see how easily the "guards" could slip into their roles and perhaps take it to extremes, as well as seeing how the "prisoners" accepted their roles and how they behaved.  Anyone could leave at any time (but only two students did leave early).  Zimbardo decided to stop the experiment after six days because some of the guards had resorted to psychological torture, and Zimbardo himself realised that he was allowing it.  The experiment has often been cited to show how normal, sane people can become bullies and even torturers when the situation encourages them to so so; and how "prisoners" can passively accept their fate.
In 2002 the BBC decided to repeat the experiment, but in a more careful way.  It's described on the study's website.  The conclusions are more nuanced, but it's particularly interesting that a rebellion by the prisoners was successful.
What has all this got to do with the normal topics of this blog?  Well, I thought about it yesterday when the comments were mounting up about the behaviour of some Jobcentre and WP staff.  They are, in a sense, the "guards".  They could just as easily have been the "prisoners", the clients, but having been given the role of power, some can slip easily into authoritarian attitudes and bullying.  They are under pressure from the group.  Compassion is discouraged.  "You park your conscience at the door," as Polly Toynbee's correspondent said.  Indeed, if you don't join in you will lose your role, i.e. your job.  And this is being directed from above; you not only have permission to behave brutally, you are being told to do so.  The "prisoners" are powerless.  Rebellion would require the sort of co-ordinated action which is seen as impossible.
I'm reluctant to explore this any further.  Read up on the experiments and see what you think.


  1. What a scary world we live in.. the poorest have no voice, no one listens, people have fallen for the propaganda so they can justify the treatment of those in need.

  2. Very interesting blog post- but how do the poor rebel against their one source of income? it's a totally different scenario to a prison where the guards are themselves reliant upon the prisoners for financial dependance. it doesn't seem possible.

  3. Protest could be done with flash-mobbing Jobcentres and WP offices. How would individual offices cope with 100+ clients suddenly appearing on the premises en-masse and clogging the system up with valid, but time-wasting requests?

  4. I have to agree that most, yes most in my experience advisers at the jobcentre are 'bullies'. The ones that just sign you on and check your job search are fine, perhaps even a little too friendly at times! It's the ones that are employed to give you a 40 minute grilling every once and awhile that are the bullies.

    Now I'm on my post work programme support, I'm having to deal with some bloke that's on a serious power trip! I've had no support what so ever, just condescending abuse and an attitude that clearly views me as scum. Apparently it is my fault that the work programme with A4e was useless!

    I've made my first ever complaint as a result. It will be interesting if they start to treat me even worse as a result.

    1. Sick of the Work Programme20 November 2013 at 14:55

      Good for you- I hope you get somewhere with it. It might also be worth contacting your local MP about the way you have been treated.

  5. I made a comment on one of your blogs a week or so back detailing how I had been informed that a doubt had been raised against me for failing to accept a job- the only catch that the 'job' was self employed and that the company wanted a large amount of cash from me up front 'for the paperwork and all that.' In short, it was an obvious scam.

    However, the advisor was quite adamant that scam positions weren't advertised on Universal Jobmatch and that all posts on the site are legitimate. I'm sure we have all seen the advertisments for Pirates and Mafia hitmen in recent months but no, this lady could not be reasoned with. I tried to argue but it was pointless- even though I remained quiet, civil and polite a burly security guard was called over as well as the Jobcentre manager because I was supposedly being aggressive. I really wasn't. I was just trying to make it clear that I hadn't turned down a job, just avoided a scam.

    Anyway, the security guard asked me to leave the office- he actually threw my signing book at me as I was getting up to leave. Not hard and not from a great distance, but he did it with a smile on his face and I felt about two inches tall in front of what was a pretty full office. A few people laughed and the advisor that had raised the doubt cackled after me as I scurried out... 'We'll write to you!'

    Well, the letter arrived today and yes, I have joined the masses who have disappeared from the unemployment figures. I have been sanctioned. My rights of appeal were detailed in the letter and of course I will do everything I can to pursue them.

    I know I said it in my last posting a few weeks back, but if anybody could give me some guidance i really would appreciate it. I have worked for a long time and so am pretty unfamiliar with how these things work. It's all so much more real now that the letter is here and everything is official.

    Thank you all in advance.


    1. Contact ECAP (Edinburgh Coalition Against Poverty). You have only 5 working days to appeal your sanction. Send your appeal by recorded delivery.

    2. I have a similar problem,I have attended an interview with a PPI Claims company and feel that I have got the position,I asked about the salary and when it would be paid and the response was "It depends upon how many clients you sign up" I pointed out that it stated £270 pw plus commission "Yes,but that depends on when we receive the commissions" Ok, but how about the base pay? We will discuss once you start. I googled this Company,they have moved several times,the Company name changes but the Directors stay the same they have a trail of CCJ's..I pointed this out to the Adviser and showed them a printout "If they are on UJM they have been vetted" Ok,but recently in order to use UJM you had to check a new box,stating that the DWP was not liable for loss due to fraud? "You must accept the position or face a sanction"

    3. So sorry to hear this has happened, although when I saw your original post, I feared the worst. DWP have some information online (which you may have already seen) but as above, try to find expert advice (CAB etc, although they're struggling for capacity) and write to your MP.

      Whilst I'd be reluctant to say that anyone should be compelled to take a commission only job, your case - large cash sum demanded up front and so on - is so obviously a scam that hopefully common sense (and a bit of human decency) will prevail, although I'm struggling to be especially optimistic.

      DWP info about the appeal process here: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/gl24-if-you-think-our-decision-is-wrong

    4. Rich your worth a million of the people who treated the way they did.

    5. Reading the above stories fills one with both despair and anger! The sad thing is that JCP staff are but mere cogs in the wheel of a much bigger machine. They are only one step above the people they're supposed to be serving.

      Come the day when JCP is privatised / outsourced (and I can certainly see it happening the way things are going), up to half the current staff will lose their jobs. The remainder will be employed by a private contractor on worse terms and conditions. Who will the look to for tea and sympathy then?

    6. Thank you to everyone for your support. Rich

  6. So it looks like the incompetent Smith is going to be 'questioned' about his use of dodgy stats. 105,000+ signatures collected from change.org has led to this:


    We'll wait and see what if anything comes of this.

    1. I think the people behind the petition (and I signed it) are over-claiming somewhat. The meeting was arranged anyway, postponed because the Annual Report was delayed, and the committee had already questioned the civil servants about dodgy stats. Still, it will be interesting to see whether he is really held to account.

    2. I am in two minds about petitions, One there is no legal mandate for the government to accept it, which is the big problem, Two it can give people a feeling of doing something when in reality Point one occurs.

      I still sign them, but i have doubts of their effectiveness

  7. After my visit to both the WP and JCP this week it is apparent that like IDS they have not a clue,I have one more visit with the WP and I am done,2 years wasted,they have given me so many tasks to complete before I exit,I asked what is the point? you have offered no support,training or even advise,but now you want me to visit charities,job clubs,higher education providers and possible work placement opportunities,where were these over the last 2 years? At the JCP "Oh,were getting you back!" Yes,what training opportunities are available? "You will be interviewed in the coming Months,you should of had a letter already" Well I have not received it yet,can you tell me when? "Sorry we can't give you that info" You just said I should of had it,I don't want to miss it "You will be informed" Ect,Ect I asked if they would note in my file that I requested conformation "The system will not allow it" can you write it?..Blank stare..You do know how to write?(stupid comment,frustrated) It appears that the motive is not about finding jobs (that do not exist) rather Sanctions,cynical? You bet your sweet £SS

  8. http://www.pcs.org.uk/en/department_for_work_and_pensions_group/dwp-news.cfm/independent-review-of-sanctions

    1. It's good that the PCS wants to use the opportunity to bring out the real issues with sanctions, but you notice that the "review" isn't concerned with such minor matters. Just, do the victims understand what's going on.

  9. Brace yourself Ethel!....I may of actually found a Job,not through the WP/JCP but on my own.I went in with a rather bad attitude,but the offices were brilliant,no role playing(Admiral Insurance) just old school interview practices,salary,what is expected of you and what you can expect of the company....Even if I do not get the position(I nailed it) what a boost!

  10. even though it's not a competition, I think my story is equal, if not more weird than the two early ones.i got sanctioned last month because my phone was stolen by a pickpocket on a train and the jobcentre sanctioned me for 3 weeks because i wasn't available for work because i couldnt be contacted by phone!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    1. Sick of the Work Programme23 November 2013 at 10:04

      That's abuse! I hope you appealed, complained to the Jobcentre manager and wrote to your MP about this. If it isn't bad enough having your phone stolen, it's appalling that you should be punished for the thief's actions by having your only source of income removed for nearly a month.

    2. Just before christmas too. i couldn't even argue it was all rubber stamped in about 3 minutes and i was ordered out the jc until my next signing date!!

    3. You can sign on without a phone or an email address. why does this site scare people with false infomation?

    4. Do you actually know what you're talking about, or is this just theory?

  11. The relevant internal guidance extract below is taken from the Availability and Actively Seeking
    Employment chapter of the Labour Market Conditions Guide.
    188. The JSA Regulations do not specify that claimants must keep written records of their job
    search. However, encouraging a claimant to keep a written record of the steps they have taken
    can help them to remember what they have done, and will help to build up a picture of the
    progress the claimant is making in their efforts to find work.
    189. A claimant may have set up their own records, but if their record keeping is inadequate, or
    non-existent encourage them to use the Jobsearch Activity Log (ES4).
    190. The evidence of jobsearch produced when they attend to have their regular reviews may
    be in various forms:
     information they have provided from their Universal Jobmatch account;
     evidence in writing from employers, employment agencies, or other organisations which
    they have contacted;
     copies of letters they have sent to employers;
     the claimant’s un-corroborated written evidence, for example an ES4;
     the claimant’s verbal evidence
     evidence from previous Jobsearch Reviews recorded on LMS.
    In response to the question you have raised about requiring jobsearch evidence from Universal
    Jobmatch. Advisers cannot mandate claimants to give them access to their Universal
    Jobmatch account, nor can they force a claimant to print out screen prints of their UJ account.
    The extracts below from Chapter 3 of the Universal Jobmatch Toolkit clearly explain the
    parameters when assessing what a claimant has done to look for work within Universal
    Actively Seeking Employment
    82. We cannot specify to a JSA claimant how they provide us with records of their jobsearch
    activity and Universal Jobmatch will not change this – it is not therefore possible to require
    JSA claimants to give DWP access to their Universal Jobmatch account.
    83. Personal advisers and assistant advisers will continue to review jobsearch activity and
    record the outcome on LMS in the usual way for JSA claimants and look at all the evidence

    1. I admire your persistence (I assume all 7 anonymous comments were yours?). The problem is that, whatever it says in the regulations / guidance, advisers can decide that the claimant isn't doing enough. Everything you posted relates to evidence of job search, not to being available, and advisers demand that you be at the other end of a phone at all times.
      Again, if you have personal experience, let us know.

  12. Off topic (again) but an interesting article in The Guardian:

    It would seem that A4e are in the business of "pauper management".
    I will not complain to the ASA if they wish to include the description on their website and notice boards.


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