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.

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