The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) conspired with the British media to purposefully harm welfare claimants’ psychological and physical well-being and deter people from claiming welfare benefits, a disturbing new study has found.
New interviews with civil servants who served at the DWP between 2010 and 2015, who spoke to researchers on the basis of anonymity, shed light on the level of “institutional violence” perpetrated against welfare recipients during the coalition years.
The study written by Dr Jamie Redman and Prof Delroy Fletcher of Sheffield Hallam University highlights how “top-down” influence from the UK government served to create a culture of hate and suspicion in Jobcentres.
One interviewee, who worked at a Jobcentre Plus (JCP) branch, explained how staff were encouraged to treat applicants with “disrespect” in an effort to limit the number of people claiming welfare by “pushing them until they either just cleared off because they couldn’t take the pressure or they got sanctioned”.
Another JCP employee reported that several team members wanted to antagonise applicants in the hope of pressuring them into withdrawing their cases.
Additionally, the researchers were informed of how administrators pushed DWP employees into forcing disabled individuals to look for work, even when those applicants were clearly unable to work.
One Work Programme provider worker decsribed how they had met a “lovely person with mental health problems” and due to top-down pressures was left reluctant to offer relevant help and support. The claimant later attempted suicide.
They added: “I also had another lady who we pushed into work and it made her that ill she had a fit in her new job and was admitted to hospital.”
The article, which was written last week in the journal Critical Social Policy, details how the government and the media conspired to build a “hostile environment” for people on welfare benefits.
According to the authors, the report “seeks to explain how ordinary people carrying out their daily duties in employment service offices were able to implement cruel and inhumane social security reforms”.
Responding to the allegations set out in the report, a Department for Work and Pensions spokesperson said: “This journal article does not reflect the compassionate support offered by our jobcentres day in, day out.
“Providing the best possible customer service and care is at the heart of what we do.
“We don’t want to sanction anyone and no one is sanctioned unless they fail to meet their agreed claimant commitment without good reason.”
It comes after a poll of 2,000 UK adults found that public stigma surrounding the benefit system has lessened during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Just over a year ago 44% of adults said they would be embarrassed to claim social security benefits. But recent polling commissioned by the UK’s largest food bank charity, The Trussell Trust, finds that this has dropped to 35%.
And a recent YouGov survey found that 35% of adults now believe that benefit payments are too low and should be increased.
This compares to just 15% who felt they are too high and 22% who believe benefit levels are “about right”. 28% of respondents were unsure or did not hold a view.