Jobcentres have faced huge criticism over the last few weeks, and now an insider has come forward to tell his story of how management and the government, together with some dodgy frontline staff, are ruining the service from within:
'Jobcentres should be abolished, or at least face competition, says a favourite government thinktank. We are failing most of those we are meant to help, with only a third of clients getting into work. Benefit sanctioning rates have doubled since the last government left office, making it look like our primary purpose is taking money from people rather than supporting them.
I have worked on the frontline of a jobcentre for ten years, and despite everything you have heard, it is even worse here than you think.
Reading the regular coverage of these issues you may believe advisors feel more scrutinised than ever. You'd be right - we are watched over all the time, but it is our managers we worry about, not the media, and we fear sanctioning claimants too little, not too much.
There has to be a sanction regime and fraud investigations otherwise we might as well just pay all of the unemployed automatically and leave them to their own devices. There are people claiming who have no intention of working, and who think it is a God-given right to be paid benefits for doing nothing.
But the current system penalises those that don't deserve it, and helps very few who need it, leading to the legitimate question of whether jobcentres should have any role in the lives of unemployed people.
It isn't primarily the fault of frontline staff: cuts in our number mean we are no longer in a position to do any part of our jobs properly, neither supporting people into work nor fully checking they have complied with the conditions for receiving benefits even before we take them away.
The government claims there are no targets for the number of sanctions handed out, but how does Iain Duncan Smith explain that to the staff in my office who have been disciplined for not doing 'enough'? If there is no target why have I seen advisors crying after walking out of our managers' offices having been told there will be no bonus for them this year because of their low sanctioning rates?
Most staff don't think about the devastating effect sanctioning has on people, even though it would take little effort to find out and we are faced with some obviously desperate people every day. To find the real culprits though we need only look up; to be frank, I cannot think of a line manager, or senior manager who gives two hoots about the unemployed. They are only there to meet targets and box tick.
The caseloads of work coaches, as advisors have recently been renamed by someone who should have better things to do, are huge, and partly because of this some attitudes to jobseekers are pretty ambiguous. Most of us try to do our best for claimants in the time we have but we are restricted by departmental policy and managers who can't manage, although there are some I wouldn't pay in washers.
New jobseekers are told at the first interview: "it is now your job to find yourself a job; we are here to help if you need to be referred for training and to manage your claim." In other words, we have given up trying to provide any in-depth employment support due to a lack of time.
Most of us are just trying to do our jobs while having to react to the new policy diktats which fall on us on an almost daily basis, and now we are told there is a new threat .
The recent Policy Exchange report into the future of jobcentres looks like it might lead to our closure or privatisation, but frontline staff will suffer while ministers, government advisors and managers who are to blame for poor policy and poor service standards will simply sail on into new jobs.
The report criticised jobcentres for not tailoring employment support to individual cases, but each advisor has to develop a set of steps we go through in each interview, repeating the same actions with each claimant due mostly to the need to rush them through. Some would love more training and more face-to-face time with jobseekers but funding cuts mean this is not going to happen.
Most of the advisors I know think they do a worthwhile job individually, but also realise that the jobcentre system does more harm than good. The general lack of morale and overstretching of staff mean few believe they can do anything to change its direction. The Department for Work and Pensions is pushing us to respond to an internal staff survey but we don't believe it will change anything despite an obvious need.
Our lack of enthusiasm isn't surprising. I am one of those 'overpaid' public sector workers the government seems to hate so much, so I suffer a pay cut every year even though my salary is on the lowest scale. I hate my job and all the jobcentre stands for, and my wish for my future career is to be made redundant and be paid off so I can do something, anything but this. Not a huge amount, just enough to avoid having to claim Jobseeker's Allowance and be on the other side of the desk.'