Tag Archives: Nudge Unit

Working Full Time And Think You’re Safe From The Jobcentre? Not If The DWP Get Their Way.

When I click my fingers you will wake up, and all your benefits will have been stopped.

Are you striving hard enough? The nudge unit is watching you.

A study released by the DWP today shows that tens of thousands of Tax Credits claimants  – some of them with full time jobs – have received letters and texts encouraging them to contact government busy-bodies for advice on how to increase their earnings by finding a new job or gaining promotion.

This startling fact is contained in an evaluation of the ‘In-work progression advice trial’ quietly carried out in 2014.  This pilot scheme, run by the DWP in conjunction with the shadowy Nudge Unit, involved 75,000 Tax Credit claimants receiving a letter encouraging them to contact the National Careers Service for advice on how to progress in work.  Around half of participants also recieved a text message.

Claimants were chosen largely at random from those earning a monthly income of £330–£960, so those working full-time at the then minimum wage were included in the study.  When Universal Credit is fully introduced (stop laughing) part-time workers will be forced to endlessly look for ‘more or better paid work’ during the hours they are not working.  They could even be sent on unpaid workfare schemes and if they refuse then vital in-work benefits, including money required to pay for housing costs, could be stopped.   What this pilot suggests is that policies are being considered to ensure even those with full time jobs are subject to Jobcentre conditionality if they are paid low wages.

Of course what the evaluation of the scheme showed is that it was a fucking disaster.  Of the 75,000 people offered this so-called help from the National Careers Service only 1.1% agreed to take part.  Of those only 19 were prepared to take part in the evaluation of the scheme despite being offered a twenty quid shopping voucher by the DWP.  15 people who hadn’t taken up the offer also agreed to be interviewed.  Such a small sample out of tens of thousands of people renders the results of this research worthless as even the Nudge Unit quacks know.  But this is about manufacturing evidence, not any real attempt to find out if this is something people actually want or need.

Of the few people researchers spoke to they found exactly what you would expect.  Many older claimants, such as those in their 50s, were quite happy with their work and saw no reason to change anything.  Often people had caring responsibilities that limited what work they could do – usually looking after children or elderly relatives.  Interestingly both those who took up the advice and those who didn’t were found to have similar motivations and attitudes to work.  Many lone parents said they would look to progress in work as soon as their children were older.  Others had clear career goals already and were merely curious about any advice offered.  It turns out that people are quite capable of making their own decisions about work and their lives, usually on perfectly rational grounds, without any help at all from the government.  Also, and amusingly, the evaluation found that the magically written ‘self-efficacy’ letter, presumably produced by the nudge unit, had no impact at all on whether people got in touch.

Whilst this pilot encouraged participants to call the National Careers Service – a fairly benign helpline which does not have the power to sanction benefits – the report provides some chilling pointers to the DWP’s plans.  In a section discussing how advice might be provided in the future it mentions that Jobcentre Work Coaches might be used as ‘delivery agents’.  Whilst the report’s authors note that Jobcentre staff were not included in the pilot study, they say they include this suggestion for ‘policy reasons’.  More ominously elsewhere in the document it says that “current evidence explores attitudes, communications and support needs outside of the conditions of Universal Credit. It will therefore be important to understand how these factors are affected when the idea of compulsion is introduced.

What in-work conditionality for benefits shows, no matter how it finally takes shape, is that it is no longer enough to be hard working, you are expected to constantly compete.  The days when a life working as a council care worker or cleaning up the park might have got you some kind of civic award or picture in the local paper when you retire are long over.  There is no dignity in work now – not real work.

Instead the Tories imagine a UK PLC – some kind of giant version of The Apprentice, full of selfish grasping wankers, ruthlessly fucking each other over until the second we retire – if we get to retire at all. They want to make us like them – obsessed with money and status above all else.  And so the people who do the hardest work in society, vital work on which everybody’s lives depend, are now to be re-cast as scroungers, who aren’t trying hard enough and so need to be punished with forced work, compulsory ‘personal development’ training and benefit sanctions.  It is the worst of all worlds – cut-throat capitalism mandated by a nanny state that seeks to control every second of our time unless we become rich enough to shake them off.  Economically enforced ideology designed to manufacture Tories and destroy any notion of community or solidarity.

Welcome to dystopia, now get back to fucking work.

You can read the evaluation at: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/in-work-progression-advice-trial-evaluation

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Meet The Nudge Unit – The Snake Oil Salesmen At The Heart of Government

look-in-my-eyesA bungled government sponsored online personality test has drawn scrutiny over the weekend after the Skawkbox blog revealed that no matter what answers the respondent gave to the probing questions the results were almost identical.

The test, which has already been inflicted on some unemployed claimants,  turns out to be the work of the controversial ‘nudge unit’.  Formally known as the Behavioral Insight Team, this seems to be a  flaky operation of Oxbridge toffs and policy wonks established to ‘nudge’ people into doing what David Cameron wants them to.

This shambolic operation, currently running at a cost of around half a million a year, have managed to devise an online personality test which will tell you your ‘signature strengths’ even if you don’t bother to answer any of the questions.  In a further example of this Government’s incompetence when it comes to anything at all to do with computers or the internet, a bit of further digging revealed a not for public consumption presentation left hanging about online for all to see and which details more of the work of the Nudge Unit.

The online personality test is nothing new.  Welfare to work sharks like A4e have attempted to inflict anything from Neuro-Linguistic Therapy (NLP) to crystal healing (probably) on claimants in an attempt to cure people of unemployment.  It seems that old any piece of bullshit can now gain currency if it helps to further the myth that unemployment is caused by unemployed people and not by a fucked economy.

What is new is this kind of pseudo-scientific garbage emanating from a government department which has the stated aim of tricking people into behaving as the state desires them to.  Yet even this turns out to be bogus.  The Nudge Unit’s techniques are far more than a combination of bribes and threats with a little bit of propaganda thrown in than any secretive thought control racket.  The unit’s boss, David Halpern comes across like a sort of slightly spooky marketing manager who’s read a couple of books by Paul Mckenna and now wants to be him.

One so called success was recently splashed across the newspapers after they claimed to have doubled the number of people paying car tax after redesigning letters sent out to non-payers and adding the phrase “pay your tax or lose your car” in big letters at the top.  Yet this isn’t a nudge it’s a threat.  “Pay your tax or we’ll kill your children” would no doubt have been even more effective.  Does it really take a team of government funded boffins to teach the DVLA how to threaten people better?

Just as importantly however, the DVLA did not take up their recommendations.  In fact outside of frothy PR pieces for the Nudge Unit there is no easily found hard data available into this trial.

Elsewhere the Nudge Unit boast about how they cut carbon emissions from some public buildings (PDF) by:  “changing the defaults around when heating and cooling systems were turned on and offŠ”.  In other words when asked how to cut the electricity bill they said “look into my eyes” and then mumbled something about turning the heating down.   Did I mention that these clowns are costing half a million a year.

There are suspiciously few available details of their other so called success stories, which they claim include encouraging people to pay fines quicker by sending them a text message and persuading people to insulate their lofts by offering to pay to have lofts cleared as well – which is actually a bribe, not a nudge.

The Nudge Unit claim all their interventions are based on evidence from Randomly Controlled Trials.  In a document co-authored by surprise Tory collaborator Ben Goldacre, the unit describe this evidence based approach.  Unfortunately they have forgotten one very important part of the scientific process which is ‘peer scrutiny’.  If they do not publish their studies in a clear and accessible way – with all the necessary background data –  then we really only have their word for it that these trials have demonstrated the results they claim.  And they are Government spin doctors.  Which means they probably lie.

Now it may be that all this information exists buried on a government website or filed in a dingy office somewhere.  But it certainly isn’t available on the Nudge Unit’s own website, or their boring blog.  In fact over the last two and a half years they have only published five documents and none of these contains anything like hard scientific data.  Perhaps someone should nudge them to make sure they’re actually awake.

One post on the blog contains details of a scheme for unemployed people they ran at Norwich Jobcentre.  They claim they were able to increase the number of people who came off benefits within 13 weeks (note off benefits, not into jobs) by as much as 20%.  They even have a graphic to prove it.  Yet as is pointed out in the comments, they managed to bodge the trial.  Three different changes were implemented into the way claimants were treated at the Jobcentre which they claim resulted in people coming off benefits quicker.  But even if their results are accurate, and withstand statistical analysis, that means they don’t know which of the three measures actually worked.  The Nudge Unit say they will release a ‘report’ into the study soon which will explain everything.  Don’t hold your breath.

Far from being a shadowy Government mind control operation, the evidence suggests that the Nudge Unit are just another bunch of pseudo-intellectual scam artists who’ve blagged themselves lucrative government non jobs at the tax payer’s expense.  It’s hardly surprising that a Government – who are as out of ideas as they are out of touch – are resorting to the dubious talents of snake oil salesmen preaching little more than the latest corporate fad.

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