672 staff members were physically assaulted in 2012/13 compared to 465 in 2011/12. The number of recorded instances of verbal abuse or threats rose by over 50% reaching 35161 whilst the number of ‘other’ incidents – which can include damage to property or fights breaking out which do not involve staff – has doubled and now stands at 6399.
The DWP claim changes to the way some incidents are reported has contributed to this huge rise in staff facing assault or abuse, however it is likely that changes to social security are also a major factors.
Jobcentre staff can now stop or sanction benefits seemingly on a whim with unofficial targets set by bosses to end as many claims as possible. Claimants who face sanctions are placed under unbearable financial pressure. A recent report from Citizens Advice described horrific tales of dietary needs going unmet, attempted suicides and people forced to beg due to sanctions. Homelessness charities have reported that sanctions are causing some people to lose their homes.
With claimants under pressure like never before to endlessly look for jobs which aren’t there – or facing sanctions for the most ludicrous reasons – it is unsurprising that tensions are running high in Jobcentres.
Alongside this, Jobcentres are now working with a very different group of claimants to previous years. Many people stripped of sickness benefits do to being assessed as ‘fit for work’ are now forced to sign on in Jobcentres. Some of this group will include people who display what social workers call ‘challenging behavior’ whether due to substance misuse or other factors. Long term unemployed people, who in a very small number of cases may have extensive criminal pasts or a history of anti-social behavior, are now being singled out for special harassment in Jobcentres. An evaluation of a recent workfare scheme warned that welfare-to-work companies were unable to find unpaid work placements for some people due to a ‘risk to placement providers’.
Jobcentre staff are poorly trained to deal with people who may be chaotic or violent, yet they now have more power over people’s lives than social workers, probation offices and other social care professionals. These workers, who have comprehensive risk assessment strategies and information sharing procedures, earn considerably more than the salary of an average Jobcentre worker.
With ‘conditionality’ for benefits set to increase even further over the coming years, the risk to DWP staff is only likely to get worse for those on the front line of Iain Duncan Smith’s welfare reforms.
Sign the petition to abolish all benefit sanctions without exceptions and join the upcoming Week of Action Against Workfare.
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