The latest phase of the government’s tough-but-fair approach to welfare reform has been unveiled, with two new schemes encouraging jobseekers to get off benefits and into work.
As part of a pilot project, unemployed people in Brougham are being handed over to private consultants Head First for ‘Empowerment Training’. The 1:1 courses, which are compulsory for all claimants referred by a Jobcentre advisor, consist of the jobseeker enduring 20 minutes of derisory laughter from an ‘Empowerment Coach’, then being made to literally grovel to qualify for their next benefit payment.
A spokesman for Brougham Jobcentre explained: “This is a service run by skilled professionals and is designed to empower customers and motivate them to step up their efforts to find work.”
The DWP also confirmed that claimants who refuse to attend the sessions or walk out would risk having their benefits stopped.
The spokesman added that the “innovative” and “personalised” scheme was already showing positive results, as the number of claims in Brougham had dropped by 10% since it was introduced.
However the scheme is not so popular with claimants, who have dubbed it “humiliation therapy”. One person, who did not want to be named, said: “I lost my job and I was already in debt, and then I was referred here, they said for ‘advice’. I was called into a room and I asked: ‘How am I going to pay my gas bill?’ The guy just pointed to his shoes and said: ‘You can start by licking these.’”
When challenged on the controversial methods of the programme, government minister Liam Hoban said, “We are facing an epidemic of worklessness which demands bold new solutions. Rather than complaining, jobseekers should be grateful that we’re giving them an opportunity to boost their employability skills. If they can’t find work on their own and are taking money from hard-working taxpayers, then they obviously need help to change their attitudes and be more resilient if they’re going to be of value to employers again in the future. If they won’t do the right thing and accept that help then I think it’s perfectly reasonable to show them that a life on benefits won't be worth living.”
Alongside this new approach, the DWP is trialling a new nationwide online scheme, run in partnership with private firm Virtua, which it says has been set up in response to concerns from taxpayers about how benefit money is being spent. 200 people claiming Universal Credit are being identified and tracked on a database which can be viewed by the public at the website www.benefittracker.gov.uk. Subscribers can also follow the movements of particular jobseekers via Twitter. It is expected that within a year registration on the site will be mandatory for anyone claiming out of work benefits.
The site, which is automatically updated in response to community interactions or when jobseekers make purchases with Universal Credit funds, is now active and is being updated daily. Tweets which have appeared so far include the following:
#UC1295383 9.03am: Neighbour reports curtains drawn, music heard last night, no answer to mobile - To monitor further
#UC0539355 11.35am: Jobseeker spent £1.50 on takeaway coffee - Adviser to give counselling re: savings of home consumption
#UC0839258 15.47pm: Feedback from agency: jobseeker declined offer of 4 hours work 5-9pm Reason: “not enough notice” - Sanction applied
#UC0459382 10.30am: Jobseeker failed to attend Positive Thinking session, no reason given - Sanction applied
#UC0922521 9.45pm: Message received from Police Community Liaison Unit - This claim is no longer active
Defending the scheme against accusations of intrusiveness and bullying, a government spokesman said it was “in the public’s interest to see how their money was being spent,” and “those who were making genuine efforts to find work and not hiding a luxury lifestyle should have no reason to object.”