13 November 2015

The Joys of Regulation 23

The Jobcentre's powers to compel claimants to do things (useless or not) have limits but they have a nice little trick to get around the regulations.

Let's say you want to put on an information session for 50 jobseekers. Maybe you believe it's a good and useful session and compelling attendance your chosen group of claimants is the right thing to do. Or, more cynically, you know it's a great way to frustrate and inconvenience them into closing their claim. No problem - it works either way!

There's no official way to compel attendance at a Group Information Session - the guidances says:

5.  There is no mandatory requirement for claimants to attend a Group
Information Session and as such DMA action does not apply.  If a claimant
does not attend their Group Information Session their claim must not be

So what a lot of Jobcentres are doing is to issue a letter inviting claimants to the session but which goes on to say that afterwards they'll have an interview with an advisor and threatens that failure to attend the interview could result in loss of JSA.   This is "correct" because the The Jobseeker’s Allowance Regulations say:

23. A claimant shall participate in an interview in such manner, time and place
as an employment officer may specify by a notification which is given or sent to the
claimant and which may be in writing, by telephone or by electronic means

What many jobseekers have found (me included) is that there is in fact no interview - just the session which may or may not be useful - and certainly wasn't in my case.

It's time it stopped

8 November 2015

Derbyshire Mandatory Youth Activity Programme: What the DWP didn't learn

This local scheme involved 8 weeks of  24 (some sources imply 30) hours/week unpaid work by claimants  plus some supported jobsearch. It was mandatory and very like some of the other DWP "Workfare" schemes.

On the face of it however, there was a crucial difference. According to the guidance

4. DMYAP is aimed to test whether a period of activity at the 26 week claim
point, will have a positive impact on sustainable job outcomes

Now, if we for a moment forget that this was a nasty untested mandatory scheme, there's actually something very exciting here - an intention to see if the scheme works!

So I asked for the results. After a tussle, the DWP sent me their evaluation reports. The main one is here and disappointingly reports "It has not been possible at this time to look at the employment impacts of DMYAP.". That's unfortunate especially since finding out about "sustainable job outcomes" was the avowed purpose. I look forward to a further report that covers this vital point!

The report is not without interest as a look at what they investigated hints at what the real priorities of the DWP were:
  • It showed a modest drop in claims. This is unsurprising - you do something unpleasant to claimants  and they go away.
  • There is a lot of data on how much money the scheme saved.
  • It claims to have improved the performance of  staff by giving them more time to work with those that were not randomly selected to go on DMYAP.
I'll keep prompting the DWP on the job outcomes issue.

12 October 2015

Shirebrook (Mansfield Station Road) Jobcentre and Sports Direct

Readers may remember my post a few months ago about how this Jobcentre had a much higher sanction rate than any other in the country. The DWP explained: "The main reason for the high proportion of sanctions recorded in Shirebrook is the high number of locally advertised, suitable job vacancies which are not applied for.'' Put another way, there are loads of jobs in the area but the local claimants can't be bothered to apply for them and are rightly sanctioned.

I said at the time that it might be true and I've come across a possibly related related story. 

This other story concerns "Sports Direct" whose largest depot is less than a mile from this Jobcentre. It is alleged in the Daily Telegraph (!) that they are bad employers:

"Or what about the allegations of sharp work practices at Sports Direct’s biggest depot in Shirebrook, near Mansfield?

In April, a Channel 4 Dispatches investigation claimed to have exposed some shocking working conditions.

Among the policies the programme claimed to have uncovered included the public shaming, through tannoy announcements, of employees who bosses think are not working hard enough, and a "six strikes" rule where someone can be sacked for committing too many minor infringements.

The list of a 36 potential "strikes" included talking, spending too long in the lavatory, taking time off sick and even failing to have a clipboard and pen on hand at all times, Dispatches claimed.

Workers told the documentary that they live in fear of being fired at any moment and that security is so tight they are frisked at the end of every shift"

So it might be that the reason people are refusing to apply for "the high number of locally advertised, suitable job vacancies" lies in the reputation of this employer.

DISCLAIMER: This is speculation. I could be entirely wrong linking these issues - but I might not be. Further work is needed to get to the truth. This FOI request may help resolve the issue

18 August 2015

Excellent truth-seeking by Welfare Weekly

The headline is "Exclusive: DWP Admits Using Fake Claimant’s Comments In Benefit Sanctions Leaflet" and the full story shows how they used the Freedom of Information Act to unearth the evidence.

21 July 2015

The efficacy of neuro-linguistic programming by the DWP

Nice bit of work here by Frank Zola, a veritable thorn in the side of the DWP.

The DWP looked to be embracing "neuro-linguistic programming" and forcing it on welfare claimants. It's controversial but does NLP work - or more to the point, does the DWP have evidence that it works?

The answer according to the results of Mr. Zola's FOI request is "DWP does not hold any recorded information in relation to your requests around Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP)"

I.E. the DWP doesn't know. A nice example of this technique

23 June 2015

The Mystery of Mansfield Station Road Jobcentre

The suggestion that Jobcentre staff have targets to find ways to stop payment of benefits to claimants ("sanctions") is still very much alive and there's been a curious related development.

It started off with an FOI request to find out how many JSA claimants there were at each Jobcentre so it would be possible to calculate sanctions per claimant at each office. This got slightly complicated because the names of the offices were not consistent across both sets of data. It's a problem we had ourselves when we attempted a similar exercise last year

After some persistence, Anna Smith succeeded in getting consistent office names and data - a good result!

When Anna looked at the data, she noticed something strange:

``At Mansfield Station Road, the sanctions rate (calculated as [total number of sanctions] / [total number of claimants]) is 23% over the two years. The average rate at all Jobcentres is 5.5%. This would make the rate at Mansfield Station Road twice that of any other Jobcentre.''

She submitted a review request and the answer was not the data error I expected - it was much more interesting than that:

``We can confirm that the figures we supplied for Mansfield Station Road Jobcentre in Shirebrook are correct.

Shirebrook has a very active and buoyant job market, offering a variety of vacancies including; warehouse, catering, cleaning, administration and driving. These job vacancies are easily commutable for the residents of Shirebrook and offer a variety of shift patterns. The buoyancy of the local labour market is reflected in the Jobseeker’s Allowance register at Shirebrook greatly decreasing.

Work Coaches are there to support jobseekers into employment. This involves completing quality interventions with our jobseekers to ensure their Claimant Commitments are robust and they continue to satisfy the conditions to receive benefit. The main reason for the high proportion of sanctions recorded in Shirebrook is the high number of locally advertised, suitable job vacancies which are not applied for. ''

In short, there's loads of jobs in Shirebrook but the local unemployed can't be bothered to apply for them and the Jobcentre is dealing with this robustly by sanctioning them.

Now, this could be true and it appears to be evidence of the system working correctly. It's still surprising that Mansfield Station Road Jobcentre should be so far ahead of the field. It's possible that staff have changed their approach to adapt to their local factors.

Another possibility is that the available vacancies don't look attractive/feasible for many of the unemployed in this former mining area. I'm inclined to reject that possibility because claimants could still apply for these jobs even if they believed they stood no chance of getting an offer. I would also expect similar communities to have somewhat similar statistics.

I'm pretty sure Mansfield Station Road Jobcentre are doing something different but I can't tell if it's justified or not.

24 March 2015

A Good Source of Evidence

The House of Commons Work and Pensions Committee report "Benefit sanctions policy beyond the Oakley Review" is out today and has links in to lots of evidence - including our FoI request about Benefit Related Deaths - blog post here

23 March 2015

Sanctions help jobseekers into work of some sort

This may be the final post in this series that started here. You will recall that Esther McVey said there was evidence that the imposition of benefit sanctions helps claimants into work. Along the way we've seen mainly old, non-UK data used to support this. I asked the DWP if they had anything based on UK and/or recent data.

While waiting for that, I dug up a paper based on recent UK data that says that "sanctions are an ineffective tool for improving labour market performance." Along the way also I discovered another paper that says that "Benefit sanctions not only reduce unemployment durations but also reduce post-unemployment employment duration and earnings."

Today I got the response from DWP. No, they haven't  got anything based on more recent UK data. So I've thanked them and sent them details of what I found.

18 March 2015

Sanctions help jobseekers into poor quality work?

Some of the papers the DWP and I have been reading suggest that (imposed) sanctions help people into jobs while others say the contrary. I've found more work based on Swiss data that says "Benefitt sanctions not only reduce unemployment durations but also reduce post-unemployment employment duration and earnings."

This is quite logical. For a start, the data is from 1998-2003 when the Swiss unemployment rate was around 1.5-4.5% (See http://www.tradingeconomics.com/switzerland/unemployment-rate) so there may have been "scroungers" refusing to take available jobs. However, sanctioning them has pushed them into lower quality jobs. This is understandable too - jobseekers will have taken just about any job to alleviate the crisis but the sanctions actually harmed longer term prospects.  In more detail:

"The clear persistence of negative sanction effects on earnings up to two years after unemployment exit may be explained by lock-in into the accepted job or by faster return to unemployment. Once the individual has accepted a lower-quality-job, it may be difficult for him/her to catch up with the non-sanctioned people by quickly changing to a better job. Moreover, individuals who accept a worse paid job are more likely to leave this job and return to unemployment. Both lines of reasoning explain why sanctions lead to a reduction in post unemployment earnings."

When you study the DWP literature, it is all about getting people into work as soon as possible. The idea that being a more selective jobseeker could be a better long-term approach doesn't seem to have occurred to them.

Related posts here and here and now here

15 March 2015

Sanctions help jobseekers into work? (Contrary evidence)

I wrote recently about the debate over the effectiveness of sanction as a tool to get the unemployed to try harder and get jobs. The DWP had come up with a load of evidence that it is effective although that evidence is non-UK and old enough to be from a different employment climate. I've asked for more recent research based on UK data but in the meantime I've found some myself. It comes from Howard Reed of Landman Economics and is published by Oxfam.

HOW EFFECTIVE ARE BENEFIT SANCTIONS? An investigation into the effectiveness of the post-2012 sanctions regime for Jobseeker's Allowance claimants uses a technique similar to that used Boockmann to analyse data from Germany during 2006-7. Sanction rates vary from place to place - as I have shown myself - so this should be reflected in re-employment rates. Boockmann used this to show that sanctions helped people into work but Reed found "The results show no evidence that Jobcentre Plus districts with higher rates of sanctions between October 2012 and June 2014 experienced greater decreases in unemployment or increases in employment than districts where sanctions were used less often" and goes on to say "Overall, this report finds that sanctions are an ineffective tool for improving labour market performance."

A slight weakness in this paper is that it appears to accept the geographic variation in sanction rates as essentially random. There's some work by David Webster showing that sanction rates tend to be higher in areas of high unemployment. Perhaps staff are keen to encourage jobseekers to try harder in jobs deserts? Somewhat futile!

A further related post is here

10 March 2015

Sanctions help jobseekers into work?

Benefit sanctions are supposed to give jobseekers an incentive to take necessary action to get in to work. Agencies such as Citizens Advice say they can be counter-productive when actually imposed "Claimants are distracted from job-hunting as they focus on putting food on the table and keeping a roof over their head." In contrast, on 4 February 2015, Rt Hon Esther McVey MP, Minister of State for Employment told the Work and Pensions Committee "... and there is further research that, should somebody have been sanctioned, it helps them into work afterwards."

So I asked for the evidence and (unusually for the DWP) they sent it!

"The minister referred to a range of international evidence regarding the impacts on
employment following a benefit sanction. Recent studies from Denmark, Germany,
Netherlands and Switzerland show an increased employment uptake for recipients of
unemployment insurance or welfare benefits after a benefit sanction has been imposed"

See below for the research they've relied on together with some other data I thought was relevant:

Source Location Dates Typical SanctionUnemployment then/January 2015
van den Berg G, van der Klaauw B, van Ours J (2004) Punitive sanctions and the transition
rate from welfare to work. J Labor Econ 22:211–241
Holland 2003-2005 20% 1-2 months6%/7.2%
Abbring J, van den Berg G, van Ours J (2005) The effect of unemployment insurance
sanctions on the transition rate from unemployment to employment. Econ J 115:602–630
Holland 1992-1998(?) 5% 4 weeks?/7.2%
The Effect of Punitive Sanctions on the Transition rate from Welfare to Work Qureshi Denmark 2007-8 33% 3 weeks2.2%/4.6%
van der Klaauw B, van Ours J (2013) Carrot and stick: how re-employment bonuses and
benefit sanctions affect exit rates from welfare. J Appl Econometrics 28(2):275–298
Rotterdam, Holland 2000-2003 10%5.3% */7.2%
Svarer M (2011) The effect of sanctions on the exit rate from unemployment: evidence from
Denmark. Economica 78(312):751–778
Denmark 2003-2005 2-3 days or 3 weeks 15%5.7%/4.6%
The Effect of Benefit Sanctions on the Duration of Unemployment Rafael Lalive Switzerland 1997-8 3 weeks 100%4.5%/3.5%
Boockmann et al (2014) Intensifying the use of benefit sanctions: an effective tool to increase
employment? IZA Journal of Labor Policy 3:21
Germany  2006-7 10%9.5%/5%
Data source Click on the "Jobless figure for the country of interest. A * indicates incomplete data.

We could argue about the definition of"recent" but let's not other than to observe that the data for this research mostly pre-dates the general rise in unemployment during 2008.

During this period it was employers who had a hard time in the job market so lighting a fire under lazy "jobseekers" might well have persuaded them to take jobs that would otherwise have remained vacant.

At times of high unemployment it's still possible that some sanctioned jobseekers will compete very hard and get jobs that the non-sanctioned also tried for but total unemployment will be unaffected.

What would be useful is some research from a time of high unemployment, preferably from Britain and I've asked DWP if they have any However, the study in Germany at a time of 9.5% unemployment (Boockman) is close but it makes the usual mistake of  looking at higher employment of a small group subjected to a particular treatment while ignoring the displacement of their untreated competitors.

So, strictly speaking, DWP have answered the question. Things we don't know include:
  • How much evidence to the contrary is out there
  • If the DWP is aware of it
  • If there is more relevant UK evidence from a time of high unemployment


Severity of Sanctions 


This is another important factor. Most of the sanctions in the table above are less severe than current UK regime. In the UK, sanctions are for a minimum of 4 weeks and can go up to 3 years. Nominally they are 100% benefit cuts although the little advertised and restrictive hardship payments system can reduce them to to 40%. Form this is could be argued that the UK is more coercive leading to better results. There's two main objections to this logic:

  • The usual one about the futility of coercing people into non-existent jobs
  • Whether the jobseeker is close to destitution or not
To expand on the second point, some jobseekers have sufficient savings for a sanction not to be an immediate distraction from jobseeking while still unpleasant and "motivating". It's also plausible that for some claimants, it does (as mentioned above) render them "distracted from job-hunting as they focus on putting food on the table and keeping a roof over their head"

So, the research that's really needed should look at the effects of sanctions on near-destitute jobseekers. One way of detecting this is to look at the fate of sanctioned jobseekers  with very low savings. The DWP should have the savings data but so far as I know, they haven't attempted a correlation with fate.

Perhaps an FOI request for another day?

Part 2: Sanctions help jobseekers into work? (Contrary evidence)

19 February 2015

Benefit related deaths

It's often alleged that there is a connection between how the DWP treats claimants and the untimely death of some of them. The DWP sometimes investigates these cases, EG:

"The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has carried out 60 secret reviews into benefit-related deaths in less than three years, Disability News Service (DNS) can reveal."

Understandably, people want to see these reviews in case wrongdoing is identified. Also understandably, the DWP don't publish them saying "Section 123 of the Social Security Administration Act (SSSA) 1992 makes it an offence for anyone who is employed in social security administration to disclose without lawful authority any information which he acquired in the course of that employment and which relates to a particular person" See here for an example FOI request where this and other arguments are deployed

However, a more modest request got better results Here the request was mainly for numbers

In the "60 peer reviews following the death of a customer":

1. How many reviews identified that all local and national standards had been
2. How many reviews identified that some local or national standards had not
been followed?
3. How many reviews identified that some local or national standards need to
be revised/improved?
4. What action has there been to date in the cases referred to in my questions
2 & 3 above?

This is essence of the response:

in fact only 49 of these reviews had been conducted in circumstances where the claimant had died.
33 out of the 49 cases referred to above contained recommendations for
consideration at either national or local level.

National recommendations have been referred to the Customer Journey team
for inclusion in their regular reviews. Local recommendations have been
referred to the appropriate office to be taken forward.

This isn't actually an admission of wrongdoing but it seems unlikely that many of the "recommendations" will be drawing attention to good practice in these unfortunate cases,

10May2015:  This related FOI response shows that 10 out of 49 cases had a sanction at some point during their claim.

17 February 2015

Sanctions comprehensive monitoring regime

The DWP tells the world "Sanctions are used as a last resort and the DWP has put in place a comprehensive monitoring regime to ensure that sanctions are always and only applied where appropriate to do so." (https://www.gov.uk/government/news/benefit-sanctions-ending-the-something-for-nothing-culture) There is a contrary view that many sanctions are capricious, arbitrary, bullying and driven by targets to get people off benefits. (EG: http://stupidsanctions.tumblr.com/)

So what's the truth? I chose to focus on the DWP's "comprehensive monitoring regime" as that sounds to me like data and evidence and we love that.

So I asked about it. Initially I just got some Quality Assurance Frameworks and a DMA Referrals Checklist. Interesting but no data. After asking for a review I got a "summary of the quality checks undertaken" - I've plotted the accuracy rate below together with the number of cases checked:

We can see that for some months, accuracy hovered between 90% and 95% which if you want to be picky doesn't quite match "always and only applied". I was more interested in the decline that set in during Autumn 2014. The peak in the number of cases checked is interesting too. It looks like "something happened" around that time and I'd be interested in ideas about what?

I think it will be interesting to ask the same question again later in the year to see if the decline is a decline or just part of a blip. 

Given the lack of data before April 2014, I wonder if the "comprehensive monitoring regime" wasn't actually in place back in November 2013 when the original claim was made?

10 February 2015

Sanctions used as a Last Resort

DWP people are often quoted as saying that sanctions are used as a "Last Resort" EG:

"Sanctions are applied as a last resort when claimants fail to do enough to find work, fail to attend appointments or have turned down job offers..." (1)

However, there are many claims that they as used as a first resort (2)

So what's the truth? We may soon find out via an FOI request "Number of people sanctioned for missing just one JSA appointment". This doesn't simply ask the obvious question, it also asks:

"If DWP don’t have this number, then how can Iain Duncan Smith possibly know, or be believed, that JSA benefit sanctions for failure to attend an adviser interview were only applied as a last resort?"

Strictly speaking, DWP can decline to answer that by arguing that it isn't "recorded information" but I note with approval the use of a technique I've blogged about before - ask for recorded information that should exist, force an admission that it doesn't exist and then comment adversely.

Another pertinent FOI request is about  "Sanctions comprehensive monitoring regime" which refers to this government statement:

"Sanctions are used as a last resort and the DWP has put in place a comprehensive monitoring regime to ensure that sanctions are always and only applied where appropriate to do so."

Finally, a request that asks rather directly for the evidence relied on for these statements that sanctions are used as a "last resort"

These requests are at various stages - stay tuned for updates

2 February 2015

DWP -STILL- have no idea if Workfare costs jobs or not

It's often alleged by Boycott Workfare and others that Workfare costs jobs. Why would employers recruit paid workers when they can get slaves from the Jobcentre for nothing? The DWP, aware of this allegation counter it by having "strict" guidelines that paid jobs must not be displaced. Nearly a year ago I took to wondering if they did any research, auditing, etc. to make sure the guidelines were kept to. The answer was they didn't.

Recently I asked essentially the same question again in hopes that the DWP would have now done some work on it. After a tussle it emerged that they still have no idea if Workfare costs jobs or not

``Although there are strict guidelines in place that providers must follow when sourcing appropriate placements I can confirm that we do not hold the information you requested for MWA and CWP placements``

This is very disappointing. As I pointed out a couple of weeks ago, the Irish equivalent of the DWP have commissioned some proper research and even chucked some "employers" off their scheme for displacing jobs.

The other disappointing aspect of this response is the determination of the DWP to coyly avoid admitting that they'd put no effort into this important matter. Their initial response gives lots of information about guidelines, the benevolent intent of schemes, how they are delivered, the contracted providers and meetings. What it does not do is provide the recorded information I requested on "all research intended to measure compliance".

I solved this by asking them to do a Review of their response and quoted the very useful Section 1(1) of the FOI Act that says they have to either provide the information or say that they don't hold it.

You may find this useful  if you want to be sure that a Government does not know something you think it should. For more on this technique, see here

14 January 2015

Irish "DWP" DO have an idea if Workfare costs jobs or not

I wrote last year about the DWP having no idea if Workfare costs jobs or not and I'm interested to find that their Irish equivalents, the Department of Social Protection were somewhat more responsible. They got Indecon International Economic Consultants to do a report - and published it

The Irish scheme is called JobBridge and typically offers the unemployed a 6-9 months "internship" for which they get €50 on top of their welfare payment each week.

The report actually looked for and documented cases where the scheme could have displaced paid employment. Some snippets from the somewhat dryly named section "6.1.5 Scheme deadweight and displacement" include:
  • 6.4% (of employers) indicated that they would have taken on paid employees in the absence of the scheme
  • It is also notable that the proportion of host organisations who indicated that they would have been highly likely to have offered paid employment to JobBridge interns in the absence of the scheme rises to 10.3% among large organisations employing 250 persons or more
  • Indecon also understands, based on information supplied by the Department of Social Protection, that a total of forty cases of suspected displacement were investigated by the Department since July 2011. Following investigation, it was found that these allegations were substantiated in four distinct cases and action was taken to disqualify these companies from participating in JobBridge.
That last item is particularly impressive - the Department of Social Protection were alive to the risk, investigated, took action and allowed publication.

My original FOI showed that DWP had done nothing like this. It's possible that a second FOI request that's in progress will yield better results. Update 02 February 2015: No, it didn't :-(

6 January 2015

Does the Bedroom Tax help people get into work?

Readers may remember my work on the idea that the Benefit Cap helped people get work and may be interested in whether other controversial  "Welfare Reform" policies increase employment?

The "Bedroom Tax" is one such policy and I'm grateful to Trudy Baddams for asking how many people has the DWP helped into work by introducing the bedroom tax

The answer was essentailly:

The information requested is not available and could only be provided at disproportionate cost. However one of the aims of the evaluation of the Removal of the Spare Room subsidy (RSRS) is to assess the extent to which, as a result of the RSRS, more people are in work, working increased hours or earning increased income. The Interim Report of this evaluation found that 18 per cent  of affected claimants had either looked for employment, or looked to earn more though employment-related income as a result of the RSRS. The final report of the RSRS evaluation will be published in late 2015.

 The Interim Report does indeed show affected people looking for work (or more hours/better pay) but also:

"Our survey found, however, that most (87 per cent) of those claimants who said they
have looked for work also said they that, in the first six months since RSRS had been
implemented, they had not been able to find work or secure better paid employment.

From the qualitative work with claimants, most participants who were able to work had
considered earning more through starting work – although this was not solely in response
to the reforms, rather that they had been hoping to do so anyway. Those who reported that
they were looking for extra hours or a better paid job more often reported that this was in
response to the policy."

So it doesn't look like the policy is actually getting people work.