It breaks down the sanctions performance by district, and includes a column headed “direction of travel”, with red and green arrows showing whether a district is up or down on the previous month’s performance.
DWP ministers have acknowledged that they collect this data, but on Monday night Lord Freud told peers this was purely in order to “correct the anomalies”.
But the mounting documentary evidence and reports from staff suggest that on the ground these scorecards result in targets and pressure on staff who are not meeting apparently expected levels of sanctions.
Numerous jobseekers who have had their benefits stopped for weeks or months after being told they are not doing enough to find work have told of the hardship of being penalised and have disputed the fairness of the sanctions.
The numbers in the scorecard are revealing. They indicate that in January alone more than 85,000 sanctions were applied or upheld against claimants, and that most districts were down on the previous month’s performance.
The spreadsheet shows detailed further information on sanctions: 24,000 of these “adverse decisions” came from referrals by work programme providers. Almost 1,400 decisions were made against recipients of employment and support allowance (sickness benefit).
The figures include referrals to mandatory work activity (MWA), with 1,442 claimants sent to work for their benefit during January. Arrows show almost all districts were increasing the numbers of people they sent to MWA.
This is how it works
To illustrate, a claimant who receives a four-week sanction for failing to show proof of actively seeking employment may then fail to attend the jobcentre to sign for their benefit, as no there is no financial benefit.
“After the sanction is served, they will make a fresh claim to jobseeker’s allowance. The office in question will claim the off-flow, and the statistics look favourable. However, the cost of making a fresh claim to benefit in real terms is around £500 and is therefore [a] false economy at its worst in order to try to climb up the league table – which, despite all assurances, do exist within clusters, districts and regions for all departmental targets.
“Simply put, the targets imposed for sanctions is a way for district managers to fudge figures in order that they are seen to be doing their jobs, whereas the government continues to stress that the off-flow should always be into sustainable employment and is being kept in the dark about the reality. All advisers at my place of work and most in the district have been given mid-year review statements (on which performance-related pay is based) which include a target to achieve 6% DMA referrals, although again this has been widely denied.”
The existence of these targets is denied by politicians such as IDS. The government line in public at least is that they do not exist and that any manager enforcing such targets will themselves be in trouble. What is being uncovered here is a secret subverting of the governmental process. How can such subversion be said to represent the democratic will? How can any decision about sanctioning be made in a way that is accountable? How can the civil service be acting in an impartial way?