Yesterday’s Dispatches documentary turned out to be both an attack claimants and Jobcentre staff with little provided in the name of balanced journalism. Along with embarrassing attempts to prove how easy it is to ‘beat’ the system, the programme also revealed the stunning revelation that Jobcentre’s are a bit shit when it comes to actually finding people a job.
This will come as no surprise to anyone who’s claimed benefits over the last few decades although it is apparently big news to the latte slurping Tarquins at Channel 4, most of whom have probably never done a real job in their lives.
The first half of the programme included the laughable paint sting, in which a man with paint on his clothes went to sign on and, in Dispatches’ view, was not adequately interrogated about why he had paint on his clothes.
This followed the intrepid documentary team inserting a line of text into someones CV which wasn’t immediately spotted by Jobcentre staff and the outrageous scandal of someone not filling in their job seeking activity record properly.
The rest of the programme was largely devoted to publicly humiliating a Jobcentre Plus manager who seemed to have little idea of what is actually going on at the front line in Jobcentres. Channel 4’s sleuthing will however have come as little surprise to Jobcentre staff, who yesterday were on strike over oppressive working conditions and unrealistic target setting.
Whilst the programme heavily featured the Jobcentre’s inability to provide claimants with decent CVs, it completely overlooked the companies involved in the £5 billion Work Programme, who’s job it is to actually help people find work.
Despite the Work Programme proving to be a hugely expensive failure, with job outcome rates currently less than would be expected if claimants were left to their own devices to find work, this very real scandal was completely ignored by the programme. As was the fact that half a million benefit sanctions were handed out by Jobcentres last year for precisely the kind of breaches of job seeking activity that the programme attempted to reveal is widespread and unchecked.
The views of Jobcentre staff, under increasing pressure to harass and sanction claimant’s were completely ignored. The PCS Union, who have long complained about the horrendous pressure their members are under to strip claimants of benefit, were also not given any space to air their views.
The whole dire affair appeared to be laying the ground for privatisation of benefit services, with a handful of recruitment sector spivs brought in to show how much better they would be at the job. What the programme didn’t say is that Jobcentre staff deal with hundreds of claimants a day unlike the cosy one to one sessions that the private sector pretended they would offer.
The blame for the shambles at the Jobcentre lies directly Government Ministers like Iain Duncan Smith and Chris Grayling. Shamefully they got off scott free in the documentary which instead preferred to blame claimants and front line workers for the problems caused by this Government.
The PCS Union and their members deserve full support in their struggle to end the culture of harassment of both benefit claimants and Jobcentre staff at the DWP. It is true that not everyone has a great experience at the Jobcentre, which all too often resembles an organisation tasked with policing and sanctioning claimants rather than actually supporting them into work. But it is equally true that this is not the fault of front line workers, a significant number of whom have previously been claimants themselves.
Whilst the DWP have pretended to be upset at Channel 4’s desperate attempt at muck raking, the likes of A4e and G4s will once again be laughing all the way to the bank as they eye yet more lucrative Government contracts. The entire Dispatches team should hang their heads in shame for producing such shoddy sensationalist garbage which will no doubt result in yet more baseless abuse aimed at both unemployed people and public sector workers.
Channel 4 are today boasting that 2 million people watched the programme, which was endlessly trailed before the show with lurid trailers featuring the ‘tricks of the benefit cheats’. In contrast last week’s documentary on the brutal health assessments sick and disabled claimants face, which have driven people to suicide, was buried in the middle of the Olympics with no such extensive pre-publicity. Channel 4 have shown quite clearly whose side they are on, and it ain’t ours.