Is it just me or do others agree that Iain Duncan Smith’s Department of Work and Pensions descending into a very unfunny farce?
We've long known that Smith himself is a figure of fun. That was never in dispute. The Quiet Man...his University of Perugia degree (or not as may be the case), his management diploma at a posh college (or the two day course he did there), his expenses for underpants and wet wipes, his wife's salary for being...erm... his wife, his sick leave... The list goes on.
We have known too about the wasted money, the inefficiencies, the lies about sanction targets, the gross inefficiency of Atos, the computer programmes that don't work and the deadliness that have not even started to be met. We even know that Cameron tried to reshuffle him away from the DWP, and failed.
That should tell us something!
But in the last few days we have heard that the DWP have invented characters and situations, and then used “stock pictures” to make posters that support the idea of a caring sharing DWP.
People, they implied, were actually being helped by his department.
Of course there aren't any real success stories so they have had to make them up. Of course it wasn't IDS. His officials are to carry the can. Whatever happened to the buck stopping here?
Then we heard that, having just made 3824 people redundant, they seem to have suddenly found a need for 2,800 new staff (which the unions claim are to do approximately the same jobs and the redundant staff, but on temporary contracts of 18 months).
That's just plain rotten. IDS wastes millions on computer soft wear that isn't worth diddly, and they make up the money by paying off staff, then taking on temps.
Additionally, they listen in to staff on the telephone and nit pick when they treat clients like human beings.
But worst of all, yesterday we were told that call centre staff have been sent a leaflet on how to deal with suicide threats from “customers”.
The article in the Sunday Herald, where I originally learned of this, suggested that most of these staff earn around £15,000. That is to say they are junior admin staff.
Dealing with people who are so distressed that they may be contemplating suicide is a job for a professional with a great deal of training in how to read the situation and respond to it. Getting it wrong can make a bad situation 100 times worse, and in this case, lead to deaths.
En passant a little story. I recall a colleague in a place I worked in many years ago, was sent on a “counselling” course. It lasted a mere 2 days, and upon her return to work aforesaid colleague thought she was the very dab at counselling.
Indeed within days she had put her new-found “skills” to work.
However, it seems that a two day course doesn't provide quite all the skills required to do this kind of work effectively in real life situations...and, long story short, the client got very disturbed. This upset provoked a relatively dormant (and unknown to the colleague) heart condition the client had… and an ambulance had to be called.
My colleague had had 2 days’ instruction in dealing with difficult situations complete with role playing exercises. The DWP staff are getting a leaflet to read, and wave in the air if they require supervisor support! I wonder what training the supervisors have had.
According to the Guardian: "Absolutely nobody has ever seen this guidance before, leading staff to believe it has been put together ahead of the incapacity benefit and disability living allowance cuts."
Making a mess of the staffing levels relatively incompetent management; making up names and success stories is pathetic… but suicide counselling with no training is altogether another kettle of fish.
Firstly from the point of view of the staff it is utterly ridiculous to demand untrained junior staff deal with potential suicide threats as part of their call centre work. That’s WAY above the £15,000 pay band responsibility. How traumatised is a member of staff going to be if the client ends the call with: "Right, that's it. You can bin my claim. I'm dead by 5 o'clock!"
From the client’s point of view it is nothing short of criminal to leave untrained staff to deal with them. If you are taking away the last vestige of their humanity and leaving them to starve, the least you could do is to provide someone with a bit more than a typed out instruction list to deal with them. Surely they deserve at least that.
Then again, when you consider that paramedics and nurses in Atos have been allowed to override diagnosis made by specialist and professors of medicine, who would really be surprised at how low IDS will stoop to save a bob or two, and who could doubt that he doesn't give a damn about the people who use his "service"?