The Demos thinktank has called for the abolition of the DWP in a report, Pathways From Poverty, released today. The report condemns an institution where even the possibility of offering claimants a cup of tea is seen as unachievable.
Tom Pollard previously worked for the mental health charity Mind, but was seconded to the DWP as a Senior Mental Health Policy Adviser.
After 18 months in post, however, Pollard has come to the conclusion that the DWP is ‘institutionally and culturally incapable of making the reforms needed’ to help ill and disabled people and other ‘harder-to help’ groups back into work.
Pollard notes that the only around 4% of claimants on ESA move into work each year.
He argues that only by achieving meaningful engagement with harder-to-help groups would the DWP make any progress in helping them overcome the barriers they face in moving into work:
“The personal and external barriers standing between people in these groups and sustained employment are simply of a different nature to those experienced by people in frictional unemployment. As anyone working with people in these situations will attest, these barriers can only be overcome if the individual is ‘bought in’ to doing so; meaningfully engaged with the support on offer; and in a trusting relationship with those providing it.”
However, Pollard believes that the DWP is incapable of meaningful engagement with claimants because they see sanctions and coercion as the only way to encourage people into work. Thus they regard claimants in the support group as impossible to help because they have no threat to use against them.
In addition, the DWP is incapable of coming up with new and radical ways of supporting people into work.
When asked to do so, the best they came up with is getting job coaches to sit next to claimants instead of opposite them.
The truly radical suggestion that claimants be offered a cup of tea was shot down on health and safety grounds.
Finally Pollard believes that the reputation of the DWP is now so bad amongst claimants and the level of distrust so high that nothing can be done to repair it.
Pollard’s suggestions for change include:
providing support for claimants moving into work that has no sanctions or other threats attached;
moving the role of supporting ill and disabled claimants to other bodies such as NHS England, the Department for Education and voluntary sector agencies.
Ultimately, if these moves are a success, Pollard advocates abolishing the DWP altogether with local government taking over Jobcentres whilst HMRC take over paying benefits and pensions.
You can read more about the – sadly improbable – possibility of abolishing the DWP on the Demos website.