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The Right to Silence (DWP)

Volume 570: debated on Thursday 21 November 2013

The Petition of Mr Martin Burke of Elizabeth Regina Love,

Declares that the Petitioner made a petition to the House of Commons on 4 December 2012 entitled “The Right to Silence” and the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions replied on 7 January 2013 and that the reply is misleading. (Further declares that this petition is in effect a continuation of the original petition, a public response to that 7 January 2013 reply.)

In the petition on 4 December 2012 the petitioner noted that voters have their benefits stopped for not telling civil servants details about meetings with their Member of Parliament and that as punishment benefits are stopped with no regard to the means to buy food.

Noted that Civil Servants are fully aware of the health consequences and that it threatens people’s lives and are acting to cause harm. Noted that they understand the consequences and it is done with the intent to cause harm, injury that may kill. Notes that the petition listed the names of participant members of the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).

Noted that questioning by Civil Servants in job centres is conducted under conditions of deliberate stress; the use of shouting, with members of the public unknown to the interviewee sat just behind; numerous interviews at irregular intervals over a long period of time; prolongation of the duration of meetings (“as long as it takes”).

Noted that other small stresses are designed to have a cumulative effect: staff entering personal space; uncomfortable chairs; unable to sit under the desk fully; sitting with the back to a busy room looking either at the interviewer directly or the wall; conversation interruptions; the use of two interviewers and different interviewers; forced to sit close next to and face to face opposite strangers in the waiting areas; deliberately keeping people waiting; disclosure of personal information in public; the giving of wrong and misleading information; unreasonableness (“I ask the questions”); telephone calls to “Decision Makers”; deliberate delay in replying to correspondence. Notes in addition background noise (white); the use of weekly and daily signings, creating distractions in peripheral vision.

Noted that these stresses are under the general threat of loss of benefit when there is little money for food, nor money for heating in winter, and that these actions are designed to condition a person into signing one-sided contracts.

Noted that the life-threatening health consequences of stress are known.

Noted that interviewees do not consent to this treatment.

Noted that civil servants who do this are skilled and experienced, trained and managed, enthusiastic, enjoy what they do and work as a team.

Noted that the restriction of access to and the denial of food was a tactic used in the Malayan counterinsurgency.

Noted that for adults to use starvation as a weapon against children is a criminal offence.

Noted that the petitioner is fortunate that he can read and write.

Noted that the House of Commons asks that requests made in a petition to the House be addressed to the “government”, however a distinction has to be drawn between elected Members of the House of Commons and civil servants.

Declares that the reply from the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions and member for Chingford, Rt. Hon. Iain Duncan Smith, is misleading.

Declares that the “legislation” by which civil servants in the DWP are “bound”(sic) referred to in the reply arc mostly regulations drawn up by the civil servants in the DWP department, as well as policies about how the Act is to be interpreted and what is acceptable.

Further declares that the Secretary of State’s reply gives the impression that DWP can do nothing about injuring people and repeats that “no money for food” and stress are used as weapons, life-threatening actions.

Further declares that the Secretary of State’s reply evades the issue and implicitly admits that when JSA is refused some people will not get hardship payments (applied for after the fact and requiring “guilt” to be disproved). Notes from the Secretary of State’s response that often only one instance is needed for a noticeable effect.

Further declares that there is a DWP document that admits that there may be health consequences. Further declares that these are physical punishments no less than the use of asphyxiation or drugs (inflicting bodily harm).

Further declares that the reply gives the impression that Jobcentre civil servants are immune from the consequences of these actions or have no choice, and that this is what the Department wants them to do (and play a game of chance with someone who has an undiagnosed medical condition).

Further declares that an impression of independence is given (impartial DWP decision makers) whereas these decision makers, in loco Secretary of State, are DWP employees sat usually in other DWI offices, removing weeks of benefits.

Further declares that following the petition on 4 December 2012 and the reply on 7 January 2013 there was correspondence with Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, and notes also that the Permanent Secretary of the DWP is Mr Robert Devereux.

Further declares again that those listed in Early Day Motion 454 Fatalities in Afghanistan (No. 11) (EDM 454) (whose names are not listed here), (in the order listed in the EDM 454), soldiers from the 2nd Battalion The Duke of Lancaster’s Regiment, 6th Battalion The Rifles, 1st Battalion Grenadier Guards, 1st Battalion Coldstream Guards, 36 Engineer Regiment, The Royal Scots Borderers, 1st Battalion The Royal Regiment of Scotland, 3rd Battalion The Yorkshire Regiment, 3rd Battalion The Rifles, 4th Battalion The Rifles, 11 Explosive Ordnance Disposal Regiment, Royal Logistics Corps, 1st Battalion The Royal Anglian Regiment, 33 Engineer Regiment (Explosive Ordnance Disposal), and countless others who gave their lives in previous conflicts including the Second World War and the First World War; gave their lives so that people would not be treated this way.

Declares that what is being done to people in the job centres is also being done to these who gave their lives.

Further declares that even the most errant soldier put in the Scots Guards’ guardroom would not be treated this way.

Declares again that this officer is asking that it be stopped.

Declares that the petitioner asks if the Secretary of State discussed the petition with the department civil servants and if he signed the response.

Notes that the Secretary of State appears to hold the lives of voters in job centres cheaply, and doesn’t mind a few people dying.

Notes again that the people who are being mistreated, with skill by people who know what they are doing, are voters.

The petitioner therefore asks again the House of Commons to make a law so that when a constituent has any business with their elected Member of Parliament they are given explicitly the right to silence without punishment when questioned by civil servants.

The petitioner asks again that this mistreatment voters are being subjected to by civil servants described in this and the preceding petition, be stopped.

Further asks again that members of the House of Commons ensure that the people, who include their constituents, are always fed properly, with dignity.

The petitioner therefore repeats the requests of the petition on 4 December 2012 that the House of Commons consider the matter of the Right to Silence and that were the questions put the House consent to what is asked in this petition first posted to the House on 28 June 2013, and formalised on 29 August 2013.

And the Petitioner remains, etc.—[Presented by Sir Gerald Kaufman, Official Report, 16 October 2013; Vol. 568, c. 7P.]


Observations from the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions:

The allegation that Jobcentre Plus is acting deliberately to damage the lives of claimants is completely untrue. Jobcentre Plus staff are there to help claimants, to identify areas where they need additional support and training and to help improve their lives by supporting them into work.

Claimants have responsibilities they must meet in order to receive Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA). All JSA claimants are required, as a condition of entitlement, to be available for, and actively seeking, employment. The action they will undertake each week to improve their employability and look for work is discussed and agreed with their adviser and then set out within their Jobseeker’s Agreement (JSAg) or Claimant Commitment (CC). We work to ensure that all such mandatory requirements are reasonable given the claimant’s capability and circumstances and they should be personalised to their specific situation, taking into account any restrictions such as health conditions or caring responsibilities etc.

We do not want to sanction claimants nor is it our intention to make their lives unnecessarily difficult. They should be clearly informed of the consequences of failing to comply and the vast majority of claimants do not receive a sanction. However, where they do fail to meet reasonable requirements designed to move them towards work, it is right that there are consequences. This helps ensure the rules are adhered to.

We only impose sanctions where, without good reason, claimants have not taken reasonable action to give themselves the best possible prospects of getting a job. Where they do fail to comply they have the opportunity to explain why. Each case is reviewed on its own merits and all evidence is considered by a trained decision maker. Where the claimant had “good reason” no sanction will be applied and their benefit will not be stopped. Even where a sanction is applied claimants can ask for the decision to be reconsidered, and can appeal to an independent tribunal. Hardship payments are also available to guard against destitution and sanctioned claimants can apply for such payments which are equivalent to at least 60% of normal JSA payments.

We also deploy a comprehensive monitoring regime to check that sanctions are applied appropriately across our network. Where any site is making significantly more or fewer referrals than we would typically expect, an independent team reviews their activity to ensure sanctions are being applied appropriately.

Over recent years a number of changes have been made in Jobcentres to improve claimant comfort and service. Claimant seating provided in all Jobcentres in Manchester is the same as that provided within Jobcentre Plus as a whole, but will vary in terms of layout and proximity to advisers. We endeavour to make the best use of the available space but appreciate that sometimes people will inevitably need more privacy, particularly if discussing things of a personal or sensitive nature. This is why we offer private interview facilities upon request.

As Jobcentres develop and we introduce more technology, claimant safety, privacy and comfort are all factors we take into consideration. This is evident in Rusholme which has recently been transformed into a Digital Jobcentre. Here we have opened up unused space to provide greater internet access for jobseekers to access DWP services digitally. However, attending periodic adviser interviews is still a necessary requirement and an integral part of benefit conditionality.