A shocking new testimony has shown that the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) staff and managers intentionally inflicted psychological harm on benefit claimants, engaged in unofficial sanctioning targets, and pushed disabled people into work, despite the risk to their well-being.
The evidence comes from new interviews with 10 civil servants who worked for the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and its contractors under the coalition government between 2010 and 2015.
They spoke, on the condition of strict anonymity, to academics from Sheffield Hallam University, who have now revealed how the introduction of a more disciplinary social security system, with more rigid benefit sanctions and conditionality, inflicted years of institutional brutality on claimants between 2010 and 2015.
The authors, Dr Jamie Redman and Professor Del Roy Fletcher think it’s the first time that research has demonstrated how DWP workers have been able to commit such brutal acts on benefit claimants in vulnerable and precarious situations.
The two academics built on the work of the Polish sociologist Zygmunt Bauman, who explained how modern bureaucracies can produce psychosocial factors that empower ordinary people to carry out destructive practices.
And they illustrate how a shift in DWP policy through the new Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government elected in May 2010 pressured DWP staff to refer more claimants to have their benefits sanctioned.
The policy reforms also saw the performance of jobcentre staff measured by off benefit flows, the number of claimants who stopped getting an out of work benefit, even if those people hadn’t secured a job.
This helped lead to an enormous rise in sanctioning rates between 2010 and 2013, reaching more than one million sanctions in 2013 and rising about 345 per cent above their 2001-08 average level.
For their research, Redman and Fletcher interviewed a JobcentrePlus (JCP) manager, three JCP front line staff members, one Work Programme front line worker who had previously worked for JCP, one DWP decision-maker, and four Work Programme front line staff.
They were told how top-down pressure on staff, through sanctioning tables and off flow targets that were legitimised by the government, acting as a moral anaesthetic which made invisible the needs and interests of the claimants they were sanctioning.
This enabled workers to view their caseloads with what Bauman called ethical indifferences, and one JCP worker explained how staff would usually treat claimants with disrespect and use psychological abuse as a technique to decrease the number of people claiming benefits, pushing them until they either just cleared off because they couldn’t take the pressure or they got sanctioned.
The thing is, we were raised by our parents to question authority and follow our inherent curiosity about the world.
Top-down management destroys curiosity and ownership, it’s antiquated, and most importantly, it doesn’t work, and this management culture doesn’t just put an unimaginable amount of stress and pressure on people, it also smothers individual capability and interest and then people don’t feel like they want to do anything at all.
And because I said so isn’t an effective way to stimulate and align people, and people despise being told what to do, or think without understanding the logic behind it, and we all know how unsatisfying it feels to have our ‘why’ questions ignored, and be told, ‘because I said so.’
Sadly, this ‘because I said so’ management technique is common in top-down. It shuts down interest, and limits people from utilising their knowledge and experience to improving the status quo, and instead of increasing employment, the ‘. I said so’ method, lowers the employment rate because people then just don’t see the point of working.