Joint Public Issues Team Blog

Joint Public Issues Team Blog

Universal Credit’s website pointed people to work in strip-clubs

Posted: 23 Aug 2019 01:15 AM PDT

Yes, you did read the headline correctly. The first search suggestion in the online “Universal Credit toolkit” for “elementary services occupations” – a page for jobseekers without qualifications – is “striptease artist”. For the avoidance of doubt, the job description given was “dances at adult entertainment establishments”. People with little money and few qualifications have been pushed towards stripping by the government. It shouldn’t need saying, but that is very wrong indeed.

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We found out about this when a church worker at a debt centre contacted me to ask if his client could be sanctioned (have her benefits stopped) for not following up on the suggestion to become a stripper[1]. The adviser also posted it on some web forums. As soon as we approached the Daily Mirror to get involved, the website went down and the DWP acknowledged it was inappropriate.

It seems likely that this is a mistake made by staff taking lists of job classifications from the Office of National Statistics website and shoving them into the website without editing them. That may start to tell you something about the quality of the “toolkit” the DWP are providing.

One of the ways Universal Credit was intended to push people into work was by providing online support, such as the Universal Credit toolkit. However, from the very beginning low quality and inappropriate online help has plagued Universal Credit claimants.

Perhaps the most sinister online “support” was a fake online psychometric test that claimants were instructed to complete, or face having their benefits removed. The test answers were subsequently ignored, and whatever the result claimants were assigned a “personal strength” simply encouraging them to go get a job!

The biggest and most conspicuous failure was the Universal Job Match website. This was disliked because it was designed to allow the Jobcentre to record what you did as you searched for jobs and enable sanctions to be applied if you were deemed not to be doing enough. While it was an effective surveillance tool, it was a catastrophically bad jobs website. It also advertised jobs in the adult entertainment industry as well as many inappropriate or non-existent jobs. These included a preposterously large number of number of “Diplomat” positions based in Gateshead. It was quietly scrapped last year.

The DWP’s response to these headlines is that pointing claimants to striptease jobs was a mistake. That is plausible – but it is one in a long line of similar mistakes. The harsh sanctions regime within Universal Credit means that someone could plausibly approach a church worker asking the question – “will I have my benefits stopped if I refuse to apply to be a stripper?” – and worse still the church worker thought they needed to check.

There has been a hugely negative response to a story about the DWP pushing people towards inappropriate jobs in the adult industry. People are appalled, and they should be. But Universal Credit pushes people into inappropriate jobs every day and we should be equally appalled. Every time I visit a drop in or a parents group, I hear a story of someone who is bouncing from one awful to another, totally trapped because that is the only way to keep the Jobcentre happy and a roof over their family’s heads. There is huge amounts of data saying that pushing people into the first job possible even if it is not suitable closes off opportunities and can trap people in poverty.

Last year I met George (not his real name) at a church in Newcastle. He was a lively and bright young man and the life and soul of the meeting. He was in an out of low hours, low wages warehouse work. Either way he was trapped in poverty.

The only time he was subdued was when you asked him about when he was sanctioned. It had left its mark and he didn’t want to go back. I asked him what he wanted to do and he told me about his sports and desire to work with young people. He was even excited about a job opportunity that had come up. I asked if he would apply and he told me that he wasn’t because he had been given 36 “steps” by the DWP in order to avoid a sanction. Applying for a job he wanted would take lots of time and only count as one step. If he did that, he was likely to have his benefits removed and he wasn’t going back there. Instead, he was going to obey the jobcentre and apply for the next 36 low paid jobs that came up.

The Social Metrics Commission[2] reported last week that the that the vast majority of children experiencing poverty were in working families (3.3 million children experiencing poverty were in working families out of a total of the 4.6 million). It is absolutely clear poor quality work locks families in poverty and that pushing people towards the first job possible is a recipe for poor quality work.

There is a lot to do but cheap and easy positive steps are possible. Universal Credit could offer support until a decent job was available. It could tone down the threats and allow jobseekers more control and autonomy. The churches argued that the benefit system could and should offer people the opportunity to flourish and be treated with dignity and respect. Not pointing them to strip clubs is a start but there is much more to do.

[1] The answer to that question is no she shouldn’t be sanctioned – but she may need to go through a process to demonstrate that she has “good reason” not apply for such jobs. We have seen multiple cases where sanctions were applied to people who refused to do front of house or bar work in strip clubs but none because a claimant refused to perform.

[2] A cross party initiative to find a new poverty measure led by a Conservative Baroness who was Iain Duncan Smith’s former special advisor p79

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