THE BLOG

Universal Jobmatch Farce Shows Coalition Doesn't Understand the Real Cost of Cuts

19/03/2014 12:58 GMT | Updated 18/05/2014 10:59 BST

The government is planning to end its Universal Jobmatch contract early with the scheme descending into farce.

Signing up to the site is a condition of receiving Jobseeker's Allowance for most unemployed people, who have been forced to use it under threat of losing their benefits.

Universal Jobmatch carries job adverts under an official government brand, but has been accused of hosting thousands of fake jobs and fraudulent companies.

An investigation by Frank Field, the veteran Labour MP, has shown that more than half of all the jobs advertised on it do not meet its conditions or abide by the law.

Problems include adverts not being for an "actual job or work opportunity", companies using premium rate phone numbers to make money, not paying the minimum wage and charging applicants to apply or to start work.

Field contacted the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) after some of his constituents told him they had been ripped off by fake companies they had found through Universal Jobmatch.

The DWP told him that more than 352,000 jobs on the system were suspicious, and said it was writing to those companies giving them five days to clean up their acts under threat of their accounts being terminated.

The lack of checks means the fakes included MI5 assassins and mafia couriers, while those that were real but should not have received this government stamp of approval included adverts for prostitutes.

In another shocking development, Field revealed that a fake company had advertised on Universal Jobmatch and actually interviewed people inside a jobcentre, stealing money from them for non-existent work.

The rule demanding jobseekers sign up is still in place, meaning the DWP is putting vulnerable people in situations that could be harmful to both their prospects and purses.

The latest development comes in The Guardian, which has seen documents showing that the government will not renew its contract with Monster, the recruitment specialist that runs the site, after these multiple failings.

What is at the root of all of these problems, another scheme falling apart at the hands of Cameron, Osborne and Duncan Smith?

The same issues that bedevil so many of the coalition's dealings, the twin evils of cuts which are draconian, badly-targeted and poorly-implemented, and incompetent management.

Last week, the public accounts committee of MPs said the government was heading for "meltdown" on many of its projects because it simply did not have the skills or personnel to manage private sector contractors, having made so many redundancies in the name of saving money.

The inability to understand how cuts affect the delivery of its projects is a feature of our current rulers, a group that apparently cannot understand the difference between spending and investment.

Getting jobseekers back to work is vital to individuals, but hugely important to the country too.

Cuts to services, as well as political engineering to encourage us to see the workless as morally lacking, mean thousands of unemployed people exit their claims through benefit sanctions rather than jobs, when investment in quality jobcentre support would help many more get into work.

This investment would improve the tax take and help the economy back to a more robust state as well as improving the lot of the individuals who find jobs.

This kind of genuine far-sightedness cannot be found in the government. Instead, the DWP has seen a quarter of its staff cut since the coalition's austerity drive began, and the loss of nearly 30,000 people means service standards at the top and bottom have suffered.

Jobcentres are being asked to do more with less; more checking of jobseeking evidence, more sanctioning, with each frontline adviser having a bigger caseload of clients.

The part of their role with real value - supporting people into jobs - has been pushed to one side in favour of being forced into a policing and punishing role by a government with no real understanding or feel for unemployed people.

Cuts at the top of DWP mean fewer people are in place to scrutinise contracts, leading to the kind of financial costs that make the application of universal austerity such a poor piece of judgement by Cameron and Osborne.

The result of this is a growing bill for incompetence; tens of millions for Universal Credit mismanagement and another million for cleaning up fake postings on the Universal Jobmatch site, as well as untold future costs for recruiting a new provider.

Austerity only has one point and it is the saving of money. The costs involved in thoughtless slash-and-burn cutting show how foolish this agenda truly is.