After one of the Select Committee hearings on the Dept of Work and Pensions I had a very brief twitter non-debate with the Public and Commercial Services union (PCS).
PCS members are civil servants some of whom work in Job Centre Plus offices where unemployed people are routinely humiliated and increasingly made destitute. Union members know that sanctions make many people very ill, physically as well as mentally, and homeless. It’s been 2 years since the DWP gave JCP’s guidance on dealing with suicidal people and in those two years there’s been a huge increase in unemployed people killing themselves or just plain disappearing off the face of the earth.
64,000 civil servants have become unemployed in recent years and many of them will now be on the other side of the Job Centre desk. The strain of working in what has become Kafkaesque and cruel employment means that Job Centre staff are classified as ‘high risk’ for taking sickness leave.
So when the PCS started talking about how well they represent their members I asked them if the Union requires members who work in Job Centres to treat claimants respectfully. There was one half hearted answer and some ‘favoriting’ of abuse that was sent my way.
Holocaust Memorial Day is commemorated this Tuesday. We remember millions of people who have been destroyed, whether through death or other means. It’s very simple to feel sorrowful and believe that we are more likely to be a victim rather than a perpetrator.
History demonstrates how easy it is to be a perpetrator. It’s simple to claim victimhood, quite another matter to become aware of behaviours within ourselves that make us an agent of persecution. As the Holocaust Memorial Day organisers say:
We’re fortunate here in the UK; we are not at risk of genocide. However, discrimination has not ended, nor has the use of the language of hatred or exclusion. There is still much to do to create a safer future.
It’s not just Job Centre staff who treat people-who-aren’t-them as if they should be punished, it’s all of us, potentially. If you believe that you’re not capable of this you’re probably more likely to do it.
What I find particularly depressing about the PCS’s Twitter response is that at their most recent Conference PCS members voted to
The Union's own membership – people who work in Job Centres - want the Union to help them work with rather than against claimants.
Who knows why the PCS isn’t doing what their membership want? They're under pressure too. But just as Union officials are paid more than most members, so JCP staff are endlessly better off than the people they feel so desperately stressed about sanctioning.
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