More on DWP cruel and unusual Jobseeker Directions

Last week I wrote about ‘Maggie‘, and the fake psychometric ‘test’ that she’d been ordered to take by the DWP under threat of losing her benefits. That series of posts has been one of the most read since I started this blog, getting picked up by a number of mainstream news sites and sparking a huge amount of comment.

The vast majority of this comment was as outraged as I was, although some didn’t see what the ‘big deal’ was, and a small number of posters (primarily on the Guardian‘s version of the article) took the line of ‘Why not? Anything you do to encourage/force people to get a job is fair game‘, which was no less depressing for being unsurprising.

One theme that came through strongly in the comments was from psychologists with experience of conducting (ethical) trials – that of how crucial it is, for any such ‘randomised control trial’ to be valid, to know your subject.

In other words, to make any trial effective and ethical, researchers need to first research the person about to undergo the trial. Very clearly, this was not the case with ‘Maggie’. With permission, I’m going to show you something that shows just how ludicrous – and cruel – it was to threaten her with the ‘sanction’ of her benefits if she failed to comply with the instruction. It makes me uncomfortable to expose someone in this way, even anonymously, but I believe it’s necessary to show just how ‘cruel and unusual’ these ‘directions’ and sanctions can be.

It will also show you how unexceptional this level of inappropriateness is.


‘Maggie’ received another ‘jobseeker’s direction’ – this one to attend an ‘NCFE Enterprise Skills Assessment‘ course, again with the warning that failing to do so could result in sanction. As part of this course, she was instructed to complete an ‘enterprise skills assessment’ form. The course, and the form – just like the online ‘My Strengths’ test – resulted in her phoning my friend (her neighbour) in distress.

Here is page one of the form, with her name removed:


The underlined section tells the person completing it to make sure they save their work regularly – even though she was given the printed form and was not completing it online. Nothing major per se, but a small example of the lack of care taken to make sure that these mandatory, threat-backed activities are not confusing to people who might have limited literacy and computer skills.


Page 2 of the form requires respondents to define the term ‘enterprise’ – something which is not easy to define even for highly-literate people with a good vocabulary. It also tells them to ‘complete an audit of your enterprise skills’. Does the DWP, or the organisation conducting this course on its behalf, really imagine that ‘complete an audit’ is a clear instruction to a lot of long-term unemployed people? And there’s that word ‘enterprise’ again.

Now page 3:


This page, which was completed as a group activity, gives a good ‘Maggie’s level of literacy – and removes any doubts that might linger about whether the fake online ‘My Strengths’ test was appropriate in any sense for someone with ‘Maggie’s level of skill with words – especially with the addition of a sanction threat for ‘failing to comply’. The serious and distressing nature of this threat should not be underestimated.

Sanction length

Initially, the length of sanction that could be imposed for non-compliance with a JSD was between 1 and 26 weeks – which is bad enough. The immediate, unilateral imposition of a withdrawal of income lasting 6 months is an insane cruelty that must be obvious to anyone with even a trace of compassion.

But it has become much worse. As the DWP website shows, since 22 October 2012, the maximum length of a sanction is 3 years – and the minimum length, for a first ‘offence’, is 4 weeks.

Four weeks loss of benefit if you don’t complete an unethical, bogus ‘test’, or fail to comply with any of the other ‘hoop-jumping’ we impose on you.

Is it happening?

When asked by the Guardian about the fake ‘test’, the DWP claimed that nobody would be sanctioned for failing to comply with the instruction – an obvious untruth, since my article carried a copy of the threat, in black and white, in the JSD letter.

But this is no mere threat. In the 12 months up to October 2012, no fewer than 778,000 benefit sanctions were imposed on claimants – equating to almost one in 20 unemployment benefit claimants sanctioned every month. This is three times the 2005 level and a clear indication of this government’s aim of using sanctions as a cost-cutting measure.

Around 40% of these sanctions are overturned on appeal – a level that, in itself, demonstrates that these sanctions are being applied wantonly and without due cause or process. However, the appeals process takes considerable time, and by the time benefits are reinstated many people will have run up debts with legal or illegal loan-sharks that will not be covered by back-dated benefit payments.

And some will have committed suicide, in despair at the loss of their income.

This policy not only inflicts misery, but costs lives.


In March, it was revealed – and of course denied, in spite of the evidence – that the DWP is setting Jobcentre Plus centres targets for the number of sanctions they apply, with advisors threatened with disciplinary action if they fail to meet their targets.

This must qualify as cruel and unusual treatment of the unemployed and of Jobcentre Plus workers.

Which brings us back full circle, I guess, to those commenters who thought the fake ‘test’ was no big deal, or that ‘anything goes’ when it comes to forcing ‘scroungers’ to find work.

Inflicting this kind of psychological and emotional torture on people is unethical and despicable. The threat of benefit sanction is no idle one. Sanction causes misery, fear and hardship that most of us are fortunate to find difficult to imagine – and not only to claimants but to their innocent dependents, too. It costs lives.

Threatening people with it for the sake of making them ‘jump through hoops’ is indefensible and unconscionable. Threatening them with it to scare them into taking a meaningless test that has been unethically used without permission of its owners is worse still.

And doing so without the ‘due diligence’ of making sure they’re literate and computer-literate enough to have a chance of complying is either unforgivably reckless or else betrays a ‘planned misery’ strategy of manoeuvering people into a position where they ‘fail’, specifically for the purpose of taking away their life-support.

Or, quite possibly, both.

51 responses to “More on DWP cruel and unusual Jobseeker Directions

  1. Thanks for posting this and your previous postings. It might be worth putting in a FOI request in a few months to ask specifically how many people have been sanctioned for failing to complete the online psychometric test or the Enterprise Skills assessment (is this also being run online in some places, as the paperwork might suggest?). And do claimants have to achieve the assessment criteria to complete? What happens if they are unable to? Shouldn’t this put them into another category of claimants?

  2. If asked to define enterpirse the only 2 things that come to mind are the star ship enterprise and the ferry that sank, I don’t think the DWPrats would accept that.

  3. ld like to see that FOI as well.. chances are it will be refused tho, that or they will deny anyone was forced to take the test or sanctioned.

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  5. another mad scheme , three nursing angency’s are only employing people who can speak POLISH.( ofcourse all our elderly and other people needing sheltered housing can speak Polish)( was told at one when I phoned to complain,’ our clinets are old and stupid they can;t understand anyway;’

    • Now that kind of attitude infuriates me! I hope I never have to go into POLISH sheltered housing! PFFTT!

  6. I wonder if the people who promote the “enterprise” mantra are aware how much it makes them sound like Maoists. Just how much are you personally doing to help the revolution? Sorry, that’s not enough. Here’s some “re-education”, and we’ll take your money off you to concentrate your mind on getting the right answer next time.

    These people really, really don’t get it. They don’t understand that not everybody is well-educated, middle-class, and just waiting for someone to have a word with someone’s Dad to get them in the door.

    My money is still on incompetence rather than malice, but after a sufficiently pile of incompetence has been dumped on you for a certain amount of time, I guess the distinction can easily become blurred.

    • This is the best explanation of the “Enterprise” and “Business” cult I’ve read in ages. I’ve often advanced the same argument myself. Similar aspects of this cultish behavior also have a distinctly Maoist tinge, including the ritualised self-denunciation (“self appraisal”, mandatory self criticism in performance review etc.) for low-level employees in large companies and the imposition of permanent revolution (“change management”, “change agenda”) on public sector workers as well as the pervasiveness of politically-correct thoughts and actions. This is strictly in the Maoist sense, not in the Daily Mail “PC gone mad!” sense, which in itself it is a very Maoist politically-correct line of thought, that is counter-revolutionary to question.

      Examples such as “UK Plc.” (the repeated cultic mantra of instilling the revolutionary doctrine of enterprise/business into the national identity, turning it into a revolutionary identity), and the replacement of counter-revolutionary terms with ideologically sound / politically correct counterparts (“Passenger/Patient/Claimant/Service user > “Customer/Client”, “Subscriber/User” > “Consumer”, “Department/Section/Sector” > “Business Unit/Business Area” etc.) as well as the revolutionising of common speech by the insertion of auxiliary words of no specific meaning but which make the sentence ideologically charged, i.e. “innovation” all reinforce politically-correct thinking and help to impose an ideological monoculture.

  7. Could this be considered as cruel and unusual punishment and against the HRA , likewise it is much the same as when a classroom of children is held back after the bell as punishment and illegal, it is deliberate and mass social prejudice.

  8. Reblogged this on Vox Political and commented:
    Here’s a further analysis of the DWP’s fake psychometric test, going into the effect of having to take it on individual jobseekers.
    For me, the point that sprang out of this one is that around one in 20 jobseekers are being sanctioned every month – because it corresponds exactly with the leaked documents showing that Job Centre Plus has been set a target, to sanction five per cent of Jobseekers. That’s one in 20.
    And yet the DWP claims it has no such targets. Another example for Sheila Gilmore’s list, I think.

    • Some areas have a higher % performance measure.

      It seems some Advisers are issuing JSD’s for each referral they make, which is inappropriate.

      A JSD sanction helps the Jobcentre Plus office achieve their internal performance measure and is crude way to ensure the benefit system. is being policed and to achieve off flow.

      However, the minister has stated many times that there is no right or wrong level of sanctions. Therefore, I do not understand where the % level comes from and who determines the rate!?

  9. Good leaders use coercive power only as a last resort. Excessive use of coercive power can ultimately undermine the person or organisation using it.

    Coercive power can produce results in the short term, but it relies on intimidation rather than mutual respect and consensual agreement.

    JCP Advisers are management grades and one of DWP’s core values is respecting people!

    When potential Advisers apply for the job they also have to provide examples of strong leadership skills!

    • I can only assume that either the goalposts have moved or else they’re not policing their appointments properly! That said, I suspect the current system wears advisers down and makes them very cynical.

      • I never used a JSD! I don’t like blowing my own trumpet, but I did get amazing results – people into work, business and training🙂 And, happy customers!

        I tried the sanction approach and it worked to a limited extent, but I was unhappy and because I targeted the hard core rather than the vulnerable it was painful for the office too!

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  11. Having re-read the post, I realise the assessment was for poor Maggie again.

    These types of assessments are aimed at graduates and people setting up a business.

    Therefore the criteria for issuing a JSD has not been met again for Maggie.

    This makes me so mad!!!

  12. The whole stinking episode dovetails very well with the IDS faux-stats view that 95% of jobs are advertised on line. Subjecting people like Maggie to these tests is just a quick & dirty way of pandering to IDS preconceptions. These tests find out who hasn’t got the skill or literacy to complete them no matter what distress this causes, and in the process make the victim feel they are to blame for “failing” – so also falling on those with few resources to complain. The really, really awful part about sanctioning threats it makes them feel culpable for their own sanctioning. It make me want to cry. Tell Maggie we do care.

  13. Remember that it is now common for Jobseekers to be sanctioned for making spelling mistakes on their Jobseekers Activity List – not too hard to see the same “direction” being used with this crap. And i don’t believe it is cost-cutting: it’s a right-wing hidden agenda to destroy what they refer to as “welfarism’ …

  14. As an informed individual, I can tell you that there are no targets. No member of staff would ever be disciplined for failing to meet a target.

    Instead, a mean percentage (Origin unknown) presented to you will place the average intervention level at (say) 20% and an unspoken implication given that to manage to keep to the ‘average’ makes you a skilled, competent worker who might get a fitted (for promotion) tick one day. (It is self-evident proof that great minds think alike if you turn out the same percentages as all your colleagues – all the time).

    If the worker exceeds the ‘average’ then he is mildly chastised for being too keen to pounce on his poor ‘Clients’.(They have rights, you know)!

    However if he fails to maintain the ‘average’ then his skills are called into question and after a few ‘friendly’ warnings, your usefulness as a worker is called into question. If a few of these interviews fail to pull you into line, then the next step is to re-assign (demote) you as unfit for purpose. You would then NEVER be fit for promotion again, your career would be over. It gives workers something to think about!

    But, you would never be sacked for failing to keep to a target because there isn’t one.

    Consequently, people are wasting their breath accusing these organisations of imposing targets, because they really don’t.

    • This is trued only insofar as the action is not “disciplinary” it’s “competency”. As a PCS Representative I’ve had to defend members against threats of “competency” action for not reaching these non-existent numeric targets. It scares me that in an open-plan office, with staff being given these targets which are then denied by ministers, that claimants will believe that it is merely the whim of the adviser. Jobcentres could become battlegrounds in the coming year. Of course, I can’t put my name to this as I will be subjected to disciplinary action.

      • The Jobcentre have a duty to protect the public purse and this will be incorporated into the business objectives.

        If an Adviser never takes Decision Making Action, this may look a bit odd. It would be a bit like having a police officer that never makes an arrest.

        Sanctions, apparently help the off flow target. If the Adviser is achieving this target, then an individuals competency should not be called into question. There are other ways to get Jobseekers to comply, which normally involves giving them right help and support.

        The difficulty from what I have read is, due to the pressure applied to achieve the internal measure and as a result the wrong people are sanctioned.

        It is much harder to challenge the hard core clients, who often know the system better than the Jobcentre staff or those that are aggressive.

        I know a criminal lawyer and she tells me the hardened criminal often escape punishment; the first offender who may be sorry are more likely to be penalised.

        A relative of mine forgot to attend an appointment at the Jobcentre, he was only 19 and was used to the routine of work, it was a simple mistake. He chose to tell the truth and received a 2 week sanction. This put his life into chaos.

        The First offence sanction is now 4 weeks, which is equivalent to a months wages and hence the current problems with people wanting to commit suicide, as it takes weeks to get your payments sorted again.

        If you speed you can potentially kill yourself and others, but the fine is only £60. The JSA sanction regime, in my view does not match the crime.

        IDS has said Jobcentre staff should use their discretion. I am not sure if this is happening in every office?

        Are staff getting the right support and training to tackle the difficult claimants who may not have any intention of working. If they are not, then questions of competency cannot apply.

      • From experience, I see that where staff have to ‘exercise their discretion’ and sanction a certain number of ‘customers’, they are more that likely to select someone with a civilised, quiet demeanour that is unlikely to give the officer a hard time on receiving the bad news. Compare this with the the loud-mouthed thug that will go on a terror rampage and disrupt the office for days on end needing police intervention seldom finds themselves inconvenienced in any like manner.
        Of course this is so, sad but true. They are only human after all! I must confess to the temptation myself when the back-to-the-wall unpalatable decisions just have to be made. “Do I give this person a break or would I rather keep my job?”

        Self-preservation is the name of the game in 21st Century Britain. Which side of the counter would you rather be on?

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  16. And some of them will still be trying to pay off ‘overpayments’ due to ‘not fit for purpose’ Capita’s shambolic work 4 local councils. Contemptible rancid spivs I’m afraid – am starting to wonder if David Icke’s alien lizard theory has merit !

  17. One in 20 unemployment-benefit claimamts sanctioned every month. People being made destitute.

    Government policy can only be implemented if tens of thousands of civil servants carry it out. Why aren’t the workers in the DWP organising a collective refusal to implement this barbarism? When people are sanctioned, they starve

    • See my post above. Sorry for all the typos. I usually post when I am most tired!

      I am sure some staff will be resisting the process. Refusal to sign Performance Improvement Plans etc.

      You can see postings on the FOI site, where it is appears that the local managers do not know the rules. FOI postings verify that policy is written many times and this can lead to ambiguity and confusion for local staff too.

      District Managers have more freedom than ever before under the ‘Freedoms and Flexibilities’ policy. This brings both advantages and disadvantages. Civil Servants are used to rules and it is inevitably mistakes will be made. The pace of change is very fast too and this will also create confusion for local staff.

      You can read about F&F’s which is referred to the ‘anything goes policy’ on the PCS website.

  18. Pingback: ‘Positive psychology’ student comments on DWP’s nudge-’test’ | The SKWAWKBOX Blog·

  19. The word enterprise to me denotes “self employment” its often used by policy makers where self employment, small companies etc is being pushed. I wonder if this is a sneaky way to find people they can push into thinking about self employment. you know the oh look you knit, you could sell your items on etsy and you know go self employed we have an handy 32 weeks credit for will get tax credits so that will help you…yadda yadda.

    Its make me so angry, as a qualified trainer that worked with people in the comunity, good support to improve confidence, skills etc does work..but only when the intent is to trult support people not make it up as you go along noddy ideas.

    • Good point. Self employment is a good way to help the economy and some people may never have thought of this route out of unemployment.

      As a business mentor, it is really encouraging to see so many young people thinking about setting up their own businesses.

      The Jobseeker has to jump through quite a number of hoops to obtain the New Enterprise Allowance.

      In Maggie’s case, the assessment was inappropriate for her.

  20. Please sign this then SHARE it across as many media formats as possible

    This is going to take some, i believe more than any other petition so please get this out to everyone you can!!


    Our FB Group – Disabled UK:

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  23. Job Centre threatening sanctions if I don’t move home because I have difficulties getting to potential work sites due to lack of public transport – surely this can’t be legal??

  24. Hi Just

    Could you provide more information please?

    Have you held down jobs at your current address?

    What format have the threats been delivered please?


  25. Jobcentre advisers who are corrupt. Need to be named and shamed. And
    to achieve this, you will need to report
    them, to your Local MP. Your MP. Will
    investigate the problem that you have,
    with your Corrupt Job Centre Adviser.
    If they are looking for ways to Sanction
    you falsely, they are breaking the law. Not only can they lose there Job, they can also be prosecuted,
    in a Court of Law. Athat is a fact.

  26. I know what an enterprise is – it’s a business. Either large (like Marks & Spencer) down to very small (one or two people). Banks are lambasted for not lending to “SMEs” (Small to Medium Enterprises).

    How is that relevant to someone seeking employment? I’m educated to degree level and I have no idea what the aim of this psychometric so-called ‘test’ is.

  27. This type of behaviour by the DWP
    must not only unlawful but someone must be held responsible for clear fraud and unfair practice.Why are they allowed to continue these given that the courts have ruled this is unlawful? Are they above the law?

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