JobCentre staff warned of risk from angry claimants

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Indy Politics
BY PATRICIA WYNN DAVIES

Political Correspondent

JobCentre staff are at risk of assault and abuse from unemployed claimants angry about the Jobseekers' Allowance, according to leaked confidential advice to employment ministers.

A report in January by senior Employment Service health and safety assessors urged the introduction of "clear escape routes" and personal alarms in some instances, warning that "the impact of the changes is expected to lead to more occasions when jobseekers will receive unpalatable and unwelcome information. It is the view of the assessors that the introduction of JSA will increase the level of risk of actual and attempted assault and verbal abuse ... and that appropriate remedial measures will be required to reduce this risk."

The change will cut unemployment benefit from 12 to six months, subject claimants to new and rigorous Jobseeker Agreements and disqualify some people altogether.

The conclusions, leaked to Alan Milburn, Labour MP for Darlington, also took account of the new Incapacity Benefit, which comes into force from tomorrow and will bring on to the unemployment register people facing reduced benefits, "some of whom will be suffering from mental illness", and likely frustrations of social fund applications being turned down.

The 15-page document spotlights a range of factors that have contributed to raising the overall "low" risk of assault to "medium" without an increase in the level of protection offered.

These include "unwelcome news" in the form of waiting days, disagreements over contents of Jobseeker Agreements, "reaction" to benefit sanctions, and lack of privacy for discussion of personal matters.

Ministers will be anxious to avoid a rerun of the persistent abuse suffered by Child Support Agency staff. But Mr Milburn said that employment ministers had deliberately ignored warnings about safety when the Jobseekers' Bill went through its Commons committee and remaining stages from 24 January - the report was dated 12 January. He claims the Jobseekers' Allowance "threatens to turn JobCentres into fortresses".

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