I worked for DWP for many years, in various roles including management and adviser positions, and can verify that Jobcentre Plus did and do talk about benefit sanction targets/expectations.
Benchmarks did exist, but there was no pressure to meet them until around October 2010. Prior to 2010, sanctions were rarely discussed and staff from my experience did not feel under pressure to make referrals to the Decision Maker.
A benchmark is “a standard by which something can be measured or judged” so does not precisely imply a target. A benchmark level is not a target directly, but indirectly policy to meet a benchmark level is a target that is set to meet the minimum standard.
Report to the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions Iain Duncan Smith (pdf).
CAB staff reported that their caseloads began to increase significantly to year ending 2011; this was during the same period when the 6% benchmark/target was enforced. Ruth Owen said at the time, “targets create perverse behaviour” and hence the reason targets/benchmarks were removed from staff appraisal objectives.
However, targets were still discussed, despite staff being informed there were no Stricter Benefit Regime measures. In my district the target/benchmark at the time was 6% of the live load of unemployed people on the office register. Furthermore, initiatives were introduced that were not always intended to help people, but to achieve the 6% target. I felt this behaviour was unethical and I decided to resign from a job I once enjoyed, because I was extremely unhappy with the new ethos and the welfare agenda. The situation has worsened since my departure.
Following the Guardian’s DWP whistle-blower story sanctions took a dip from July 2011, but they began to rise again during 2012 and have continued to rise significantly ever since. This can only happen if staff are being encouraged and are expected to make more and more referrals to the Decision Maker (870,793 claimants were subject to an adverse decision to lose their benefit during an 8 month period in 2013); the highest level since the Baldwin government’s campaign against the unemployed in the 1920s, which saw disqualifications of over 2 per cent per month for the very similar, not genuinely seeking work from October 1928 to March 1929 and in April-May 1929. This reason for disqualification was ended by a Labour Party backbench revolt resulting in abolition in March 1930.
In all my years as a public servant, I have never witnessed the bureaucratic excessiveness which currently exists within the welfare system today. The impact of the harsher regime, which also includes longer sanctions (which range from 1 month to 3-years), is devastating for claimants who are already under enormous financial pressure and emotional strain; claimants must now contribute to Council Tax, which has resulted in a circa 4% cut in a claimant’s income and in some cases there is the Bedroom Tax to pay too, resulting in a further 19% cut on average. In addition, benefits have not increased in line with the cost of food and utilities. The EU advice to the UK is, benefits are inadequate.
The sick, the unemployed and those on low incomes are now paying for the failures in the banking system.