Snooping on job seekers is risky and unfair

By Savi Hensman
December 21, 2012

British state plans to force unemployed people to look for work online and monitor them while they do so have been widely condemned. Privacy will be invaded, crime boosted and poor and disabled people victimised.

Many people have lost their jobs, or been unable to find work, as a result of an economic crisis not of their making, and worsened by government policies. Despite paying National Insurance and other taxes or contributing to society in other ways, their already meagre benefits will not now keep pace with inflation. To add to their misery, they will be targets of internet snooping from early 2013.

People in England, Scotland and Wales on jobseekers’ allowance will have to put their profiles online, on a website developed for the government by a firm called Monster UK. Employers will be able to post up details of vacancies, which will be sent to those jobseekers who might match the requirements.

To prove they are seeking work, unemployed claimants will be expected to let Job Centre staff track their activity on the website. Staff may demand an explanation if a jobseeker fails to apply for any job they think would have been suitable. Claimants whom staff say are not trying hard enough to find work may face compulsory unpaid work placements or benefit cuts.

Despite serious risks, welfare secretary Iain Duncan Smith is set to press ahead with this scheme, which he says will "revolutionise" looking for work. Channel 4 found that phoney employers could log on and get claimants’ personal details, opening the door to scams such as identity theft. Though the Department of Work and Pensions claimed to have fixed such security breaches, journalists found that the site still left claimants vulnerable to crime.

The scheme is also blatantly unfair. Those who do not have their own computers, or cannot easily use the internet, will be at a disadvantage.

Those without internet access at home can supposedly use a Job Centre or library. But many libraries have closed as a result of government cuts, so getting access to a computer may mean trekking a long distance and then queuing. Those who supposedly have not spent enough time job-seeking online may be punished by advisers who are unsympathetic or under pressure to ‘get tough’.

Those jobseekers who find it hard to use the internet will also be easy targets. Older, poorer and disabled people will be disproportionately affected.

According to Oxford Internet Surveys findings from May 2012, “the majority of people over 65 years old have never used the Internet”, while younger people are usually users or ex-users. “45 per cent of people with household incomes of less than £12,500 per year have not used the Internet before” compared to practically no-one on £40,000 or over.

An Internet Access Quarterly Update issued by the Office for National Statistics in November 2012 stated that “there were 3.89 million disabled adults, as defined by the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA), who had never used the Internet. This represents 33 per cent of those who were disabled and just over half of the 7.63 million adults who had never used the Internet.” Many face access problems.

This intrusive scheme will be harmful to jobseekers, their families and society.

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(c) Savitri Hensman is a regular commentator on politics, religion, social affairs and theological issues. She is an Ekklesia associate.

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