Is formally reducing the possible length of a Permitted Period from Thirteen Weeks to Four Weeks just another element of Operation Red Meat?

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Very little of the discussion that I recently saw about the plan to reduce the permitted period during which a claimant may restrict their jobsearch after making a new claim for unemployment benefit, a claim incidentally not linking back to the previous claim period for such a benefit, was, to my mind, grounded in reality.

First and foremost, no claimant has ever had a right to a 13 week permitted period.

Secondly, and I confess of being unaware of this before a few weeks ago, there is a minimum definite entitlement to a one week permitted period. However, that period does not start during the first face to face interview at a Jobcentre.

It starts at the date of claim after any waiting days and so may have been exhausted by the time someone is physically seen at a Jobcentre which incidentally is why I think I was unaware of the set minimum. The client would only be told of its existence after it had expired if they were ever told about it at all.

Waiting days?

Now thereby hangs a tale.

About a decade or so ago, someone raised the issue of their rationale on the Department for Work and Pensions’ intranet site.

Some interesting debate followed as no one could remember a time when they had not existed, but no one had ever been told, even on formal training courses as to the point of them.

Some chap surmised that as they clearly dated back within the legislation to the Labour Exchanges Act 1909, they might have been designed to save staff time in an era when someone might have gone to the Labour Exchange to make a claim after losing their job then walked out of the office almost straight away with the details of an employer and a job on offer, never to be heard from again. His claim or more likely appointment for one might then be abandoned after the three waiting days were up.

We are talking of an era for most jobseekers when one did not have the hassle of filling in application forms; compiling and sending off of CVs (I strongly recommend against generic ones); first, if not second interviews; psychometric tests and the like.

As the old Jobclub slogan said, “Getting a job is a job in itself!”

One might have back in 1911 walked out of a job on a Friday and got another of a Monday, although possibly in a wholly different line of work from one’s previous employment.

Thankfully, no one has ever thought to increase the number of waiting days, currently now seven, which have nothing to do with the date set for a first payment on a claim, to reflect today’s labour market.

How would 13 weeks sound in that context?

The length of an individual permitted period should be set by factors that vary from an individual client to an individual client even within the same occupational area and labour market locale. The UK labour market is not, moreover, geographically and occupationally unitary.

Let me explain, two Members of Parliament sign on after losing their seats at a General Election. There was a spike in such claims after the 1997 General Election.

Should these two professionals, no laughing at the back, both get 13 weeks apiece or should we consider factors like their previous work experience and qualifications before entering Parliament, the value of which may be argued to have diminished over time so the longer the time they held their seat, the less their significance in today’s labour market?

Does not sound so easy, does it?

The one MP held a seat out in the sticks, the other near London. Should we take that into account?

What if one of our losers was a Labour Party MP before 1st May 1997? His party is now in the ascendant. Should that impact on his Jobseeker’s Agreement, as it was known back then?

An MP would not be able to argue that they should restrict their jobsearch to their usual occupation during any agreed permitted period:

21407 Claimants lose their usual occupation if

1. they have

1.1 retired from it (either voluntarily or compulsorily) or

1.2 left for a reason that would suggest that the claimant cannot go back to it and

2. it was so specialized that they would be unable to obtain it elsewhere, for example, a senior

  • 2.1 bank official or
  • 2.2 civil servant or
  • 2.3 local government officer.

Decision Maker’s Guide Volume 4 Chapter 21

The JSAg set out the details of the jobsearch to be pursued during a permitted period. Yes, one did not and does not have carte blanche even during the permitted period to do what one likes and may be sanctioned for not complying with it.

Those with tidy minds and/or who are instinctively wary of folk exercising discretion rise to the fore in all organisations. As a consequence, there were times when local instructions, sorry, guidance, went out to simplify the process, for example, if V was looking for W and had X experience (with Y qualifications and/or certificates) then they should get a permitted period of exactly Z weeks, not a week more not a week less.

In other words, the length of a permitted period was being set with little reference to the detail of a client’s circumstances.

And every so often some folk would pop around to check the ‘quality’ of the JSAgs against the official instructions and the local interpretation.

I assume staff are not steered in such ways today.

I only ever took one benefit claim, a complex one involving an under 18, got it right first time, reasoned the only was down after that and then successfully dodged the required training for claim taking for the rest of my time as a Restart Adviser. I only ever cursorily reviewed JSAgs in that role and the by the numbers versions barely got a glance. They were useless in most cases as they bore little relation to the circumstances of the person in front of me and probably had not been much better when drawn up with the client months before our meeting.

I not long later moved from that particular high point in my career to be an Inner City Officer.

And in that role, I came across some curious coves, one of my clients, on probation told me upfront, that he had committed personal cheque fraud whilst holding a senior position in a local authority finance department wherein he had oversight over budgets running into millions of pounds.

He was convinced that his personal indiscretion should not be a barrier to him seeking and securing a job in his former occupation.

I took the less charitable view, in his mind I suspect, that any future prospective employer might think that the local authority for which he had worked had struck lucky that his personal fraud had been uncovered before any concerns were raised about his handling of public money.

I did say that if he wished to salvage some of his past experience that he would need to focus on employment wherein he would not have sole responsibility for matters of finance and whatever the legal position regarding declaration of past offences he should give consideration as to the appropriateness of his not declaring his own if he decided to focus on jobs in finance.

There used to be back then relatively cheap fidelity bonds that savvy employers might take out to cover them against loss when employing someone with this gentleman’s background.

Some of the comments about the shortening of the possible length of a permitted period did bring up issues about professional competencies, the maintenance thereof and so on. I have no intention of going into that because that way madness lies.

I would observe a point lost in some of the discussion that due to how some people lose their job, their personal circumstances and/or help they receive from their employer after being formally notified of redundancy such as time off for job interviews and jobsearch support paid for by their company that they, quite often professionals, get a goodly long pre-claim permitted period than many others experience.

And how one loses one job should have a bearing on the length of one’s permitted period. We do not want folk guilty of professional misconduct being permitted to focus on work for which they have made themselves unsuitable.

Screaming I am a professional or I have just graduated from university with no work experience relevant to my degree, I demand the longest available permitted period is really not acceptable.

One did get the sense some journalists were thinking of what might happen if they had to sign on as unemployed.

Let me reassure you, folks, if you are middle class and, in particular, have family, friends and professional acquaintances who stand by you, then you will, odds on, not be signing on for as long as the men and women losing their jobs here in Birmingham at GKN this summer, even though many might feel them to be more highly skilled than you and in proper jobs.

I strongly suspect, because of a combination of factors, including Hard Brexit that those men and women may not, most of them, get jobs as good as the ones they will lose this year, ever again.

I hesitate to comment on the employability of some members of the Commentariat outside of their chosen profession.

What did strike me, as it often does on these occasions, is how well intentioned folk as well as those with a political axe to grind, do the (registered) unemployed a major disservice.

Clearly this announcement was part of Operation Red Meat (Save Bozo) and another crackdown on scroungers, a crackdown now over 400 years old in English Social Security legislation and still going strong.

The overwhelming majority on unemployment benefit are doing their damndest to find and secure employment. Do, please, stop providing ammunition to those who would claim otherwise.

In my experience, as an Adviser and I know I am not alone in this, folk do not, by and large, stick rigidly within the permissions of permitted periods and JSAgs. As you will see by the foregoing they are hardly likely to be much of value, but they do form part of the initial claim process and for most people at that point they just want to get their money sorted out, everything else, like “a poxy little form” to the contents of which they must agree, is just an unwanted distraction (as it quite often is for hard pressed staff).

I have, on occasion, counselled people to reduce the quantity and range of their job applications so they might put more time into making fewer, more targeted, better quality approaches, that show them in their best light to prospective employers.

I have observed to some clients that they would be a few quid worse off in a job they had been offered, even with in work benefits. I received responses like better than being on the dole; there is a pay review a few months after I start; there may be over time (and there is a nice loophole about Family Credit that I may exploit, remarked one client. Tell me more, I said. He did and I shared the knowledge around); it is a foot in the door; it is easier to get a job when you are in work than not …

And that is true, employers, odd people quite often, are flattered if you want to give up a job you already have, best you have already had it for a few months though and kept your nose clean, to come and work for them.

The longer you are unemployed, rightly or wrongly, the more you present like damaged goods to a prospective employer.

The unemployed, like the left behind, whoever they are this week, have agency, minds of their own and, yes, some of their decisions about jobs and training may seem bizarre to other folk.

I do wish people would empathise with that a lot more than some do, especially those who claim to be speaking for them.

I mention the left behind, because of some of the recent responses to aspects of the Government’s Levelling Up White Paper.

I was disappointed, but not particularly surprised to see folk (and businesses) in disadvantaged areas being prayed in aid of the White Paper by its supporters and some of its critics, but without any real sense of them as being anything more than just numbers and, in some cases, revenue streams.

Effective engagement with local folk and businesses is important in the context of socio-economic regeneration and by that, I do not need mean drive by visits to employers in Burnley and cosy chats with old folk in cafes in Leigh.

I find it, frankly, patronising and deeply worrying if any political party thinks such activity is a basis on which to build good, inclusive policy.

Anyway, I digress.

The next blog post in this series of four is a copy and paste of the guidance relating to setting a permitted period.

The second will be on the subject of Refusal of (Suitable) Employment sanctions, their relative rarity and the grounds on which they may be challenged.

The fourth and final post will consider the wider labour market issues of the policy.

Why do I refer to claimants as clients?

I think claimant sounds rather demeaning.

And I have always believed customers to be inappropriate as one may not shop around for one’s benefits.

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