Review: ‘Dispatches – Tricks of the Dole Cheats’


This evening, I sat down to watch ‘Dispatches’. Having both previously been civil servants, I was interested to see how Jobcentre Plus was being portrayed in the media.

What I watched was a one-sided witch-hunt without any consideration for why things may be as they are at Jobcentre Plus at the moment.

‘Dispatches’ interviewed two jobseekers: one who wrote his shopping list in his jobseeker diary and another who wrote emails to employers stating he did not want to work as he liked being on the dole. This was done to demonstrate that Jobcentre Plus staff did not check evidence. Why should Jobcentre Plus staff treat every jobseeker as a liar who needs to be investigated?

When I worked as an adviser, I treated people as I would like to be treated if I were in that position. Had I been on the other side of the desk, I certainly wouldn’t have been very happy if I’d been treated with suspicion. Most people who are unemployed do not want to be on benefits and will do everything they can to find another job – they don’t need staff checking up on them as if they are children who can’t be trusted.

Also, if you are determined to steal from the state, you will find a way. I know that I saw several people a week who knew how to play the system. They knew that as long as they could say they’d fulfilled the criteria on their Jobseeker Agreement, they would get their money.

The Jobseeker Agreement is a contract between the jobseeker and the state; it states the measures the jobseeker is willing to take in order to find employment. It may include actions like look on the internet three times a week, send out ten CVs and apply for two jobs. If the jobseeker fails to adhere to these conditions, their benefit can be stopped.

What Channel 4 seemed to forget is that the government is essentially paying the jobseekers to look for work. Jobcentre Plus is there to facilitate this and provide support where necessary but the jobseeker needs to tell the Jobcentre what help he/she needs. Some may need help with numeracy or literacy, others may want someone impartial to look at their CV. Jobcentre staff are not there to rewrite CVs – they are specifically told this. The Jobcentre I worked in had an external provider that offered that service and I presume that is the same elsewhere. We also had someone who provided assistance if a jobseeker was looking to become self-employed.

There were lots of people on the documentary who complained that they had little or no support from the Jobcentre and that the service wasn’t very good. Jobcentre staff are not psychic. In their interviews, they ask jobseekers if they feel they need any support or help. If the jobseeker doesn’t take responsibility for his/her development and speak up, how are the staff supposed to know? It would be wrong to assume that everyone on Jobseeker’s Allowance doesn’t know how to write a CV or a covering letter – and it would be a waste of money sending every jobseeker on a course that taught them things they already know. One size really doesn’t fit all.

In another scene, the Channel 4 reporter daubed paint on one of the jobseekers and took him in a van with a painter and decorator’s logo on to sign on. The jobseeker reported that he’d been asked why he was wearing paint-spattered overalls and that he’d told them he’d been painting. They’d allegedly asked “at home?” and he replied “yes”. Channel 4 took exception to this, saying Jobcentre staff should have asked if the jobseeker had been paid – why would they if he’d been painting his house? Again, ‘Dispatches’ seem to think that Jobcentre staff should be disbelieving of everyone that signs on.

As far as I’m concerned, the jobseekers themselves have a duty to be honest and, provided the Jobcentre staff ask them the pertinent questions, there is little else they can do.

When I worked for DWP, there was (and I believe there still is) a compliance form to fill in when you suspected someone of benefit fraud. This form then gets sent to the Compliance Team who investigate the person. This may take months to happen so just because the jobseeker wasn’t told there and then that his benefit would be stopped, it doesn’t mean it won’t happen.

However, thanks to government cutbacks, I’m aware that many compliance staff now work on the frontline, signing people, and therefore the rate of investigations being conducted are likely to be far less than in the past. It’s a vicious cycle that will cost the country millions of pounds: reduce the number of fraud investigators and you will get more people getting away with benefit fraud.

Since the arrival of the Coalition Government in 2010, civil servant jobs have been slashed due to the deficit. Staff have had their workload, and their targets doubled (some of them even trebled). They are still working the same amount of hours per week but they have so much more that they are expected to do. Jobcentre staff are humans, not robots. It appears that Channel 4 forgot that.

I think ‘Dispatches’ could have produced a far fairer programme had they gone into a Jobcentre office for a month and seen what staff are faced with on a day-to-day basis. There is negativity, verbal abuse and sometimes even violence. They deal with people who have substance abuse problems and people who have been moved from Employment and Support Allowance (formerly Incapacity Benefit) onto Jobseeker’s Allowance and need extra support due to a medical condition. There are people who feel they are entitled to a hand-out, and others who have an excuse why they can’t attend interviews and training or can’t work.

And when the office closes, they have mountains of paperwork to complete, new initiatives coming out every day and targets to hit. The Jobcentre staff are not the people who ‘Dispatches’ should have criticised, it’s the people who’ve cut these budgets who ought to be held accountable.

Vic x

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5 responses to “Review: ‘Dispatches – Tricks of the Dole Cheats’

  1. Interesting analysis. I haven’t worked in the civil service but I have worked in the public sector so I do empathise with the JobCentre staff. In a bureaucratic, target-driven culture where there is staff shortage, it’s difficult to scrutinise every document that lands on your desk. Sometimes, you even have to cut corners. This can lead to oversights or errors. My view of the Dispatches programme is that it is propaganda, designed to turn the public against JCP, leading to calls for ‘reform’. At this point, the government will undertake the kind of reform it loves – privatisation – with little resistance from the public.

    JCP staff have done themselves no favours with the way they treat claimants. Instead of challenging inhumane management decisions, they implement them, often to the detriment of the claimant. Perhaps that’s why many who watched that programme have little sympathy for JCP staff.

  2. fair review and i agree they were portrayed badly. Job centre i go to is brilliant. they help every time i go there with jobs and tips, help to redo my cv etc. I have on one occasion seen some lads outside just writing any old things in their books and even discussing different jobs to write. I reported this and Job Centre asked whcih ones. Next thing i know when im leaving i hear 1 kicking off becasue member staff has said that they had recieved information and would be investigating it. Also what was not mentioned is that there are some people who decide to go away for week and dont mention this to job cente. so in effect they are getting paid to have a holiday. which is wrong

    • Firstly Barry writing any old things in their joblog i have come to understand. You see i have an aunt who attended a special needs school, no qualificatiions, learning difficulties, a rare skin condition which can’t be labelled which sees her hands and feet shed skin and constantly bleed. She is expected to apply for jobs and is treated like a normal jobseeker when shes clearly not. If shes wants to fill in any old crap i’ll help her do it as its the system failing her.

  3. The programme was poor journalism really. Admittedly the Jobcentre isn’t fit for purpose but it does see to it that i stick to my agreements and fill in my joblog which i might add is full of contacts details, addresses, phone numbers etc. I write spec letters and phone companies all out of my own pocket. I did a 2 month free work placement while on a job programme which i set up and the Jobcentre knew about only to find someone reporting me to Jobcentreplus for Benefit fraud. Nothing came of it as it was legit but i was miffed. I could not get a recent job as neither the jobcentre nor training provider or Company would invest in me. I asked for boots, some tools etc and i even bought my own overalls which i was promised i’d get the money back for needless to say it never arrived in my account. My Job Programme training provider and the Company said we won’t invest cos you might not be here in a month but seemed happy to use me for a month? Another thing that needs to go are the training agencies cos their just getting in the way of direct contact.

  4. Basic problem is that the Job Centre is just there for surveillance.
    Not enough jobs to go round. Lots of part time rubbish jobs. Very few Employers willing to take any risk – ie. if you haven’t done same job before then forget it.
    If JobCentre could act as a positive filter and send people for Jobs to say a Supermarket then that would be a real benefit. Unfortunately, you are told on your first day that IT IS NOT OUR ROLE TO FIND YOU A JOB.
    Current Staff – They are the Lucky ones – paid £24k plus as Administrators of Persecution. Probably all they have done since leaving School – sit tight and a nice pension ( or so they think at present ).
    Ask them if they would swap for a Min wage job and they call for security.
    As for jobs advertised. 50% at least are self employment – canvassers, leaflets. These aren’t real jobs with prospects. Cameron and Grayling skip over all this. Will their kids be travelling 90 minutes each way on expensive public transport – oh yes alot is expected of the Employee.
    Finally, the Staff hate it if you have answers to their Inquisition. More and more people are available on the Job market with better qualifications than they possess.
    I don’t Sign on anymore. 26 weeks is all you get now. Then means tested. Any assets and you get nothing. If you have worked most of your life, like myself, then if you own your own home the money just ends.
    I have been taunted by Staff that I need a job to pay my Mortgage – they are so short sighted. One said Sell my house – like it was such an easy solution. They revel in the Power they feel they wield over people. Not Me.
    MY ADVICE TO ANYONE EXPERIENCING THIS HORRIBLE EXPERIENCE FOR THE FIRST TIME IS : LEARN YOUR RIGHTS AND BE STRONG. 90% OF TIME YOU WILL KNOW MORE ABOUT THE SYSTEM THAN THEY DO.

    Finally, that so called Head of JobCentre. She was everything that is wrong about it. Hadn’t a clue. Without the Camera the Reporter would have been escorted off the Building. They won’t stand criticsm – its not allowed.
    He should have asked about emails. They don’t use them nor does NHS. They love paper. Appeals can take weeks to be dealt with as Paper shufflers send documents from Leeds to Hull to Doncaster to Sheffield. Its Classic Self Preservation – these are Non Jobs which they know must vanish one day.

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