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
This blog has no sources of funding so here’s a quick reminder that you can help ensure it continues by making a donation.