The Meandering Social Worker

wandering : wondering : learning

Archive for the tag “fear”

Claimants Tricked Out of Benefits, Says Jobcentre Whistleblower

There was a time when the JobCentre was there to help people find jobs. When I went into my local JobCentre in the summer of 2012 to inquire about work opportunities I was pointed towards a computer terminal and told to get on with it. It was made clear this was normal practice, no additional help normally available.

The blog from Beastrabban\’s Weblog below shows comments on a Guardian report from 2011 about the practices of JobCentres. My experience from 2012 and since suggests not a lot has changed.

In my recent voluntary work in the autumn of 2013 I worked with people who are terrified of being sanctioned because they have not met JobCentre demands to apply online for a specified number of jobs every day or every week. Some of these applications often have to be made online via a specific website the JobCentre can access to track claimants’ activity. The website is cumbersome to use and prone to faults. It doesn’t matter if the claimant has never used a computer before, or even if they know how to turn a computer on let alone access the internet, let alone cope with clunky inadequate jobsearch websites. It doesn’t matter that many online applications can take an hour to complete for even the most competent computer user. They still have to achieve the target of job applications using a system with which they are either unfamiliar or not confident. There is no support or sympathy from the JobCentre. Instead the claimants are expected to enlist the help of friends or family who are more familiar with computers and the internet if that’s possible, or find their way to public internet cafes (where these still exist and can become quite expensive); or the alternative option of using UK Online Centres which are usually most easily found in libraries where they are over-subscribed and time limited to an hour (not enough to fill in a job application with ASDA which takes an hour and a half for someone experienced at using the internet – I tried it) and with only the minimum of help and advice available. In larger towns the voluntary sector is filling in the gap with UK Online provisions but funding is poor and dependent on volunteers, many of whom themselves are there because they need the work experience to keep the JobCentre happy.

Meanwhile a whole industry has been created out of this situation. Private agencies who are publicly funded provide work related training, the better ones having offices where clients can access the internet for job searches.

But the greatest damage is in the stress caused by fear of sanctions. In some people their stress levels have become so high it has blocked their capacity to learn even the simplest of things.

Stress can do that. It can block the ability to learn. I’ve been there myself, in a particularly stressful work situation where I was conscious of the fact that while I could continue to function on a day to day basis I was completely incapable of learning from new experiences or even make the best use of ‘reflective’ learning.

I’ve also seen the effect in others when I worked with refugees from war torn countries: intelligent men (and sometimes women) whose terrible memories and experiences were so overpowering they struggled to learn new skills that would help them settle in their new environment (this effect was well known at the time but I will have to find the links to any further evidence and add it here later – in the meantime there is reference to the effect of stress on learning at

Targets and sanctions are the tools of the neoliberal, capitalist, managerialist, society and work environment that has been created over the last couple of decades. But it’s not effective. The weakest and more vulnerable, the already disempowered, are the victims of this society we have created. And it’s time we spoke up about the effect this is having.

Beastrabban\'s Weblog

This is another video from the Guardian’s Youtube channel. It’s an expose of how the DWP has set targets to get people thrown off Jobseekers’ Allowance. These revelations are made by a whistleblower, whose face is naturally shadowed and voice disguised. He states that there is competition between departments and offices to have the most people thrown off benefits. According to the Jobcentre employee, the staff have two option available for getting someone off benefits: either find them a job, ‘which is really difficult’, or have them thrown off benefits ‘which is really easy’. He states that the DWP deliberately targets the young, because of their lack of maturity and experience, the under-educated, and those with problems reading and writing, such as sufferers from dyslexia. They will not try to remove the tough and experienced from the benefits system.

Mike over at Vox Political has described Atos and the Coalition…

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A deep rooted fear

autistic son letterAn anonymous woman wrote a troubling letter to a grandmother caring for her 13 year old autistic grandson for the summer holidays.  When I first saw this come up in my facebook news feed I thought (hoped) it might be a hoax, but reviewing the source of the news it seems to be real.   Even if it was a hoax someone somewhere has written it.  It represents the views of someone somewhere.

The writer may be found by the local investigating (US) police, and may be ‘punished’ in law and possibly even within their own community.  But is that enough?  In posting it here I’m going beyond my own reactions of distaste at the language used and the views expressed, I’m reminding myself not only how deep rooted prejudice can be but how that prejudice is often fuelled by ignorance, fear and lack of understanding.

What was behind the thinking of the mother who wrote this letter?  Was she just disturbed by the noise?  I’m sure most of us can relate to that at some level, even if it’s only just having to listen to someone else’s music on the bus or train, especially if we perhaps have a headache or it’s been a long day and we are tired.

No, she demonstrates opinions that go way beyond the noises this young man made. She shows a lack of empathy and understanding for the grandmother of this young man, an ignorance of his disability.

But there’s something else in there too.  Her tone is one of anger.  What is she angry about?  Where does her anger come from?  Is she angry because she thinks her taxes are going to support other people, especially those she views as unable or unwilling to contribute back (as she clearly views this young man), as she says “what right have you to do this to hard-working people”?  She’s not going to be alone in her thinking like that, but it’s not just this one young person who is the target of such thinking: anyone who is disabled, whether from birth or accident, unable to work or ‘contribute’ to society in a recognised (and, in the view of some, acceptable) way, will be the target of this form of prejudice.  The logical progression of that kind of thinking is to kill off the elderly too!

But it seems that underlying all this is fear (it usually is).  She writes “[the noise he makes] scares the hell out of my normal children”.  Why are they scared?  Because she is scared?  Of course: children pick up on the fears and prejudices of the adults around them; they are replicating her emotions.  But what is she scared of?  What she doesn’t understand?  What she can’t control?  Scared it could have been one of her children the dice rolled that way for?  That’s something else many people can relate to: how many expectant parents, when asked whether they are hoping for a boy or girl, respond that they just want their baby to be healthy (ie, normal)?

This letter is cruel and bullying, written to cause hurt and fear.  The writer is, I believe, subconsciously transferring her fears to the recipient.  Deep down I believe she knows she’s wrong: she ends her letter by saying, “nobody wants you living here and they don’t have the guts to tell you”, but she too didn’t have the guts to sign her name to the letter.  Why?  No doubt she knows how society in general will view her lashing out at this grandmother, and that the grandmother will garner the most sympathy.

So much of social work is about raising questions.  Too little do we find even most of the answers.  Perhaps if or when the writer of this letter is identified those involved will be able to find the time to start asking some of these questions and deal with the cause and not just the consequences of her fears.

The World is Ruled by Fear

Dictatorship or democracy – who has the power?

Who and what keeps the people ‘under control’.

In the 1960’s and 1970’s the West was fearful of Russia and communism.  After the Berlin Wall fell and the old Soviet Union broke up these fears lost their power.

In the 80’s and 90’s public fears changed from communism to global warming and the end of the world’s resources – coal, water, gas.  We may yet run out of these resources but they are taking longer to come about than was suggested at the time and these fears have lost their power.

Although the promotion of the fear of global warming has continued the new millennium has seen it give way in the fear stakes to the “War on Terror” – fear of attacks on the West and the US from Muslim forces in particular, opening the doors to the proliferation of CCTV and oppressive security measures such as the recently exposed news of the US government’s official internet snooping of the world’s population.

What next?

It doesn’t matter.  Keep the people in fear of something and you keep them distracted from what the rulers and politicians are up to.

Whatever our personal opinions, whatever our politics, we need to be aware of what influences us and be prepared to take an independent viewpoint if we are to protect the vulnerable and weak in society.

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