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Cruelty in the Jobcentre numbers game has made good people go bad - and we all know who is behind it

The rich Tory at the wheel of his vintage car
Iain Duncan Smith and his expenses paid car 

UNLIKE wealth, cruelty really is something that responds well to the “trickle down”
theory. Most organisations’ value systems are formed at the top and then seep down through the ranks.
Look at the situation with American troops in Vietnam. For a long time, it was thought that horrific massacres of civilians were rare events, one-offs by rogue soldiers and platoons.
We now know that wholesale murder of civilians was actually enshrined as US policy. Of course this doesn’t mean that presidents Johnson or Nixon signed a document saying: “Please indiscriminately kill as many civilians as you can.” What happened was more subtle and sinister.
The army began rewarding troops based on kill figures. If you killed so many of the enemy, you were rewarded with quality “R&R” – a few days of rest and recreation, probably on a beach somewhere with beer and steaks.
Now, obviously, if you were a young officer who fancied keeping your platoon out of harm’s way for a bit, it was in your interests to get your kill figures as high as possible. Consequently, the “clearing” of villages began to get a good deal more indiscriminate. Plant a cache of weapons somewhere, torch the whole place, slaughter everybody and notch up those kills.
Pretty soon this system created an ethical black hole where older soldiers began to forget about any concept of morality and younger troops never even knew it existed. It created the culture of “kill them all – let God sort it out”.
I found myself thinking about all of this when I was watching the Dispatches undercover investigation into the benefits system on Channel 4 last week.
“The whole idea is punishment,” one benefits adviser was secretly filmed saying. “They’ve got to suffer.”
Managers at Jobcentres were found to be putting pressure on their staff to deal harshly with claimants. If staff did not sanction enough claims, they were subjected to performance reviews and even lost pay.
Whistleblowing former DWP employees like Angela Neville have spoken of the pressure they were under to refute and block benefits’ claims.
“Staff were subjected to a constant and aggressive pressure to meet and exceed targets,” Neville told a newspaper last month. “Colleagues would leave team meetings crying. Things were changing all the time. The pressure was incredible. Advisers were actively encouraged to impose sanctions to contribute to the points system that ranks Jobcentre offices. It was often for stupid reasons. And it was happening all the time.”
Disallowing someone’s benefits claim is the DWP’s kill figure. And it seems that, increasingly, they don’t care how they get those numbers up. Many other ex-DWP staff have spoken of the dirty tricks, loopholes and “by any means necessary” culture that dominates the system.
At every turn, the burgeoning culture of cruelty in the DWP is aided and abetted by the wider culture outside it – a world where “benefit scroungers” are seen as some sort of plague or curse, where people are urged to shop their neighbours if they suspect they are on the fiddle. A world where small-minded clowns like Iain Duncan Smith thinks you should feel nothing less than rage if you see your neighbour’s curtains are closed as you go to work.
“I got brownie points for cruelty,” Neville said, before going on to say you could pretty much pinpoint exactly when the system changed and things started becoming far more vicious. That’s right – the moment the Coalition came into power.
The cruelty and viciousness of Cameron and Osborne, trickling hatefully down to Iain Duncan Smith, then down to his subordinates, then down to the managers of the Jobcentres and, finally, down to the frontline staff – staff who probably think themselves lucky to have a job.
Staff who, if things go just a little bit differently, if they don’t do their jobs properly (i.e. cruelly), might well find themselves sitting across the desk from someone like themselves, answering questions rather than asking them, praying they’ll look into the eyes of the person who has replaced them and find something they know has been missing for a long time. Humanity.

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