Some Jobcentre staff have spent the last couple of weeks calling the new Covid-19 claimants offering voluntary job support, work all staff are or were meant to be moved onto. But now we're being told that it's not voluntary for 18-24s, and that besides, "conditionality" — meaning regular phone appointments, mandatory work search activity and sanctions — is returning in July. Confusion and indecision reign.
Meanwhile, existing vulnerable claimants from pre-March have been left to rot, in many cases with no contact or support in three months. They are the lowest priority in management's eyes, with all efforts on trying to find the new claimants non-existent jobs as soon as possible. Some of the more supportive staff are working through calling them, but this off their own initiative with no steer from management.
The tidal wave of new claims for Universal Credit has slowed to a trickle. The number of unemployed claimants has doubled since March. Every work coach has a caseload of over 300, a massive and entirely unsustainable increase on pre-pandemic levels which were already very difficult to manage. My diary was booked out over a month in advance as it was.
The management has finally sent equipment out to staff sent home due to vulnerability to coronavirus. About a third of staff are now working from home. Social distancing means there are no free desks in the jobcentre for them to return to.
Staff haven't forgotten the massive office closure plans of recent years. The only other jobcentre in the local authority shut a couple of years ago, so we've gone from three to one in 15 years. Remaining jobcentres have been at or past capacity for some time now. They recently got phones and lots are chomping at the bit to work, but the union has advised members not to use them yet as management haven't put a plan in place for how the colleague can notify a colleague for support if a claimant mentions suicidal thoughts. On the plus side, management have taken social distancing at the office seriously.
Senior management clearly have absolutely no idea what they are doing, as plans are ditched as soon as they are started. A few weeks ago, at the jobcentre a third of work coaches were trained to do back office benefit processing work, but as soon as the training was completed the plan was ditched.