UPDATE: System of sanctions and misery ‘scares jobseekers from looking for work’

Jobcentre Plus figures show a third less claimants than a year ago
Jobcentre Plus figures show a third less claimants than a year ago

New DWP stats show a third of Chesterfield jobseekers came off the dole in the past year, but critics say that doesn’t mean they’re going back to work.

Businesses are applauding the latest Department of Work and Pensions figures released yesterday which show the numbers of jobseekers falling across Derbyshire and thousands going back to work.

Changes brought in by welfare boss Iain Duncan Smith mean fewer people are claiming jobseekers, as well as disability benefits and ESA.

Changes brought in by welfare boss Iain Duncan Smith mean fewer people are claiming jobseekers, as well as disability benefits and ESA.

But after taking a closer look at DWP statistics, the Derbyshire Times can reveal that less than a third of people who should be receiving jobseekers are claiming for the benefit.

* 1/3 no longer claiming since last year

* 840 disabled no longer claiming in Derbyshire

* 70,000 in the county paid less than living wage

* 2,800 unemployed but only 922 claiming JSA

Jobcentre Plus staff are implying the shifts mean more people are going into work, but while there are 2,800 ‘economically active’ (those who can work and are looking for work) people without a job in Chesterfield – only 922 are being supported by the government as they seek a new job, compared to nationally where two thirds are claiming.

The stageringly low number prompted response from Derbyshire’s UNITE Campaigner, Colin Hampton.

He said: “The system is thus that people will do anything to avoid it - living on their partner’s income, living on savings or finding ‘black market’ jobs.”

As unemployment falls the business community applauds the direction the region is heading in.

Chief Executive of the East Midlands Chamber Scott Knowles said: “The employment figures released today are positive and, while taking into account the usual spike in seasonal employment we normally see at this time of year, once again showing that the region continues to lead when it comes to creating jobs.

“To keep the momentum going, we need to continue to invest in the skills and experience of our workforce and focus on attracting and retaining the best talent.”

Employer and Partnership manager at Jobcentre Plus, Angela Stansfield, was also pleased with the latest figures, which show over 500 Chesterfield jobseekers ceased claiming since this time last year.

She said: “We’ve seen unemployment fall this past month alongside Christmas recruitment, which always helps people get jobs for the festive period.

But a major issue locally, she added, is that research shows only 30 per cent of job openings are posted online: “So part of what we do is encourage people to search for those other hidden vacancies out there.”

Unemployment has indeed fallen by more than a thousand people, but the level of employment has fallen by even more – last year’s total workforce in Chesterfield was 50,100 – now it’s to 46,900.

One way to explain the discrepancy is the rising number of people who are becoming ‘economically inactive’ - i.e students, early retirees, caregivers and long-term sick. There are 15,800 more people taking this path – 3,000 more than last year – and some 12,000 of them said ‘they do not want a job’.

Also a leader of benefites advice service Derbyshire Unemployed Workers Centre, Mr Hampton argued the stats represent a distortion of the jobs market as more people are pushed into insecure jobs.

He said: “Our main concern is in the rise in agency work and zero hours contracts. For many people, particularly those with limited skills, the labour market has gone back to a situation which only people’s great-grandparents would recognise, where people would line up at the dock gate and say ‘today it’s you, you and you’, and now it’s just done on the telephone.

“When the government uses the term ‘flexible labour market’ they mean workers have to be so flexible they are incredibly insecure and don’t know if they’ve got a job from one week to the next.

“Mass unemployment is the tool by which you can drive people into these jobs. The government says they want to get unemployment down, but they are only using this to drive people into low paid, insecure work. If people had better jobs to go to than zero hours, they would do. It’s because jobs are scarce that they’re in this position.”

And their criticism follows revelations in other parts of the country of misery stricken jobseekers ‘bullied’ by advisors, and Colin says Chesterfield shows the highest number of reports to the Unemployed Workers Centre of sanctions in the county.

He added: “Terrifyingly the numbers of sanction differs from jobcentre to jobcentre, so it’s not done on any rational basis, it’s on how they interpret instructions from on high.

“The DWP’s regime makes sure all people in work fear the benefits system so that they will take any job, or stay in any job despite the terms and conditions.

“To use poverty and starvation as a tool to drive people into unreasonable employment is immoral.”

DWP stats which show Chesterfield consistantly issues the highest number of sanctions for all job centres in Derbyshire (excluding Derby), and often up to double than Ilkeston, which supports relatievely the same number of claimaints.

In June Ilkeston had 1,207 claimants and made only 25 ‘decisions to sanction of disallow’ benefits, while Chesterfield had 1,193 and issued 39 sanctions. Download the dataset

Angela Stansfield responded to the claims: “At jobcentre plus we respond to the Labour market rather than anything else, in as much as we can’t create vacancies – we put out the vacancies that are out there, and employers try to fill the jobs with the right people. With zero-hours, Employers like the flexibility. There are some employment sectors, such as care and construction, which cant offer such regular work because of the nature of the sector. Care is a rising sector where there is a lot of jobs growth.”

On Chesterfield’s record for sanctions she said: “In Chesterfield it isn’t any more or less likely people will be sanctioned. People should get a consistent service whichever jobcentre they go to, so I’d be surprised if there were some big differences.”

CHANGES IN THE JOBCENTRE WORK TOWARDS ENCOURAGEMENT

While the new system of combining benefits, Universal Credit, is rolled out, Chesterfield jobcentre said they have been making changes of their own to help people back into work amid funding cuts.

Angela Stansfield added: “We are seeing more people in a group dynamic now, so rather than seeing everybody face to face on their own, we’ve had some good successes by bringing people together. They may be similar age or on similar benefits.

“While that saves us time, to see 10 to 15 people in an hour rather than one per hour, it also helps them to feed off each other, putting CVs together and looking out for vacancies for each other as well.”

CHESTERFIELD EMPLOYMENT PROFILE

46,900 people in employment

£487 average weekly full-time pay (UK average is £520)

Men earn on average £100 more than women a week (£517 compared to £415)

28% have managerial and professional roles

23% are in admin and skilled trades

10% work in care, leisure, sales and services

27% fill the plant, machinery and elementary occupations group.

15,800 people are economically inactive, i.e students, looking after family, long-term sick and retired before 64.

5,880 claimed disability benefits in May, down from 6,720 a year before.

WHAT DO OUR READERS ON FACEBOOK THINK EXPLAINS THE FALL IN CLAIMANTS?

Emily Barrie: “Probably because they’ve been sanctioned

Bev Deveaux-Smith: “Its nearly Christmas and shops are taking on temp staff

Mick Bonson: “Zero hours contracts.”

Lee Tomlin: “Fom 2010 until last month around 80,000 people have died due to bring classed as fit to work when they’re clearly not.”

Stacey Walker: “They’ve been forced into zero-hour contracts and I’ll bet a fair few are facing eviction because they don’t make enough to pay their rent.”

Carl Madin: “Going to the Job Centre is so depressing that some people who can manage without just don’t bother.”