A shock new report by an influential committee of MPs has finally admitted that jobcentre staff are working to sanction targets, despite previous official denials.
UnemployedNet submitted a Freedom of Information request on this issue last year, and was assured by the head of Jobcentre Plus, Neil Couling, that targets were not being set.
In response to the question “Do Jobcentres have league tables and/or targets for number of benefit sanctions, whether provided from the DWP centrally or by another mechanism?” he replied “No.”
But the report by the work and pensions select committee confirmed that targets were driving up the number, with chairwoman Dame Anne Begg saying:
“An unprecedented number of claimants were sanctioned in the year to June 2013. Whilst conditionality is a necessary part of the benefit system, jobseekers need to have confidence that the sanctioning regime is being applied appropriately, fairly and proportionately and the Government needs to assure itself that sanctioning is achieving its intended objective of incentivising people to seek work.”
The committee called for jobcentres to focus on getting people into work, not getting them off benefits, while admitting that many had seen their income taken away without good reason.
It called for staff to use common sense in applying sanctions, an unlikely outcome while targets are still in place.
Research for the MPs showed that one-in-five unemployed people has been sanctioned from 2008-12, and that the number was going up sharply.
The government is currently undertaking a review of the system, but this is limited to considering how information is flowing to claimants, and the committee called for a wider-ranging enquiry into how they are working.
It would consider whether they are applied fairly and encourage work, or if they simply push more people into undeserved poverty.
The MPs also believed jobcentres were doing a poor job of assessing the needs of the unemployed, and believed that the support provided needs to be tailored more to ensure it is truly useful.
Anne Begg said "The processes by which JCP currently establishes claimants’ needs are haphazard and prone to missing crucial information about a person’s barriers to working, including homelessness and drug dependency. A more thorough and systematic approach to assessing claimants’ needs is required."
The government has increased the workload of jobcentres at the same time as cutting the number working there - nearly a quarter lost their jobs between 2010 and 2012 - and plans to raise it further, including requiring some long-term unemployed people to attend their local office every day.
The committee was doubtful about whether this could be achieved with the current funding, suggesting that Iain Duncan Smith would need to either find more money or drop some of his policies.