Written by Standard Issue

In The News

Implementing the inhumane

The Department for Work and Pensions has been thrust back into the limelight with Ken Loach’s I, Daniel Blake. One former employee tells us about the daily horrors faced by its staff.

Dave Johns in I, Daniel Blake. Photo: eOne Films.

Dave Johns plays a benefit claimant failed by the system in I, Daniel Blake. Photo: eOne Films.

Reading all the editorial around I, Daniel Blake, I wanted to give more of an insight into life within the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), particularly from the perspective of the employees instructed to enforce the sanctions regime. After reading about how callously DWP staff treat claimants, I often get frustrated and end up muttering/shouting, “It isn’t like that!” Because it isn’t.

There’s a real story concerning those individuals on the other side of the desk: how they work and what they have to work with. About how on a visit to a Jobcentre Plus (JCP) office, all former minister Iain Duncan Smith wanted to know was how many people had been sanctioned that week – never mind the people the staff had successfully helped into work or training.

About how staff regularly sobbed at the end of a day dealing with the most desperate, often vulnerable, people in society, referring them to the local food bank (that they thought abhorrent and shameful in Britain in 2014/15/16), but being unable to give them the bus fare to actually get to it.

About how staff in one office had a man, who had been deemed fit for work following his Work Capability Assessment, collapse, have no pulse and require CPR by the staff until the paramedics arrived. He was resuscitated, but never regained consciousness. The only mercy being their actions gave his family a chance to say goodbye, as he died the following morning.

I haven’t seen I, Daniel Blake, but I worked in the department and had daily snapshots of the horrors JCP staff faced. Yes, there will always be those elements who think that claimants are scroungers, but the vast majority of DWP staff are normal, decent people trying to earn their living.

“Even those who do not meet the public can be left haunted by what they read on a claim pack. The tales of abuse, neglect and suffering are not easily forgotten – nor something that a payment of benefit will fix.”

In many cases, staff pointed out the flaws and warned of the inherent danger in the changes to the benefits system before they were rolled out. They do feed back their thoughts, frustrations and outrage at the treatment of the public to their managers, but once it reaches a certain level it is not to be mentioned. Toe the line or leave, simple as that.

DWP staff are sympathetic, empathetic people: ordinary folk tasked with implementing the inhumane. From my experience, the majority are far from the coffee-swilling, uncaring crew they are so often portrayed as being.

I’d also like to debunk a myth I’ve heard and seen all too often: that civil servants, (particularly those involved in benefit delivery) are out to ‘trip people up’ or ‘rob you of money’. This is untrue. I joined the civil service and remained in it for many years because I care. As did the vast majority of those I worked with and encountered.

Those involved in assessing claims for benefits do not do so with a mind to withhold what any individual is entitled to. Indeed, on many occasions, the sheer level of need that is screamingly obvious from the hideous form the claimant/customer/person has had to fill in, with all its personal, probing questions, far outstrips what can realistically be addressed by a payment of DLA/ESA/PIP etc.

Even those who do not meet the public can be left haunted by what they read on a claim pack. The tales of abuse, neglect and suffering are not easily forgotten – nor something that a payment of benefit will fix. There is often a feeling among staff that their actions are wholly inadequate in the context of the life of the individual. But they are bound by the laws and regulations that govern the benefit.

The public will always need someone to blame. But perhaps we need to start seeing civil servants for what they are; people with a job to do, but with hearts and compassion, too.

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Written by Standard Issue