Liam Byrne writes to IDS over sanctions whistleblower

22nd March, 2013 1:55 pm

As the Guardian reported today, there’s a whistleblower in the DWP who has revealed a secret league table of targets for sanctions on welfare recipients. We’ve published the leaked letter that kicked this all off.

In response, Liam Byrne has written to Iain Duncan Smith, calling for IDS to make guarantees today that sanctions will be properly investigated.


Dear Iain,

You will have seen reports in today’s Guardian of a major scandal at the heart of your Department’s sanctions regime.

The explosive reports point towards an institutionalised climate of fear in Job Centres as league tables and threats of disciplinary action are used to perpetrate a culture of sanctioning innocent people to hit targets.

Your Ministers assured the House on Tuesday that no such targets or league tables exist, however, the Guardian reports that, “The league table could only have been drawn up through information provided by senior managers in the Department for Work and Pensions.”

Scandals like this are exactly why we sought and secured independent review of the sanctions regime written in to the Jobseekers’ Bill.

In the light of these latest revelations, can I ask you to guarantee – today – that this independent review will get to the bottom of every sanction issued by a job centre where targets were in operation.

If you fail to give such assurances, the Labour Party will be forced to move an amendment in Lords to ensure that the independent review urgently looks into these matters.

I look forward to hearing from you today.


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  • Monkey_Bach

    I’m surprised that Byrne didn’t write “XXX”, XOXO”, or “S.W.A.L.K” at the bottom of that letter considering how helpful he was to IDS last Tuesday evening! Eeek.

    • AlanGiles

      What a pity Byrne didn’t join the Army straight from school. He might have been in Duncan-Smith’s regiment and become his batman. I can just see him on a cold winters morning at Catterick warming up the lavatory seat for the great man.

      Seriously: this seems an over-informal way of addressing a Minister, surely it should be “Minister” or “Mr.”

      Perhaps they should consider a civil partnership?

      • Monkey_Bach

        IDS could do better! Eeek.

  • He could help the government to retroactively approve this.

  • Dave Postles

    The matter involves the shadow position for Work and Pensions, matters which directly affect the unions. They should demand his resignation and refuse to contribute to the Labour Party until he has either resigned or been dismissed. Work – were the unions consulted?

    • rekrab

      Perfect Dave, just Perfect, as Pop Larkin would say!!!!!

    • rekrab

      Perfect Dave, just Perfect, as Pop Larkin would say!!!!!

    • rekrab

      Perfect Dave, just Perfect, as Pop Larkin would say!!!!!

    • rekrab

      Perfect Dave, just Perfect, as Pop Larkin would say!!!!!

    • rekrab

      Perfect Dave, just Perfect, as Pop Larkin would say!!!!!

    • jaime taurosangastre candelas

      Would it not be a PR disaster for the Labour Party if the unions were seen to force a Shadow Minister to resign, under the threat of existential financial blackmail? Clearly, no one on LL would mind, but among the other 45 million electorate I think a very different opinion would be taken, and certainly it would give the tories a very productive “line of attack”.

      Put it the other way around. If some group of businesses caused a tory Minister to resign because his policy was anti the business interest, would not LL, and the Labour Party make great news of this?

      That is not some form of ideology, merely a statement of fact. If I have an opinion, it is that both business and the unions should be completely banned from making any financial donations to any party. Let parties exist on the membership subscriptions alone. If the parties are forced to exist on less income, it would perhaps be a bonus, with less backroom staff “spinning” nonsenses, and politicians concentrating more on what their members want, and not the vested interests.

      • No. People who hate the unions are not very likely to vote Labour in any case, and the fact is that the unions do contribute to the party in the absence of state funding, just as the Tories rely on big business, so they have some say in what the party does, particularly given their institutional position within party structures. In any case, we’d be talking about removal as part of a reshuffle , which I fully expect to happen before the election

      • No. People who hate the unions are not very likely to vote Labour in any case, and the fact is that the unions do contribute to the party in the absence of state funding, just as the Tories rely on big business, so they have some say in what the party does, particularly given their institutional position within party structures. In any case, we’d be talking about removal as part of a reshuffle , which I fully expect to happen before the election

        • jaime taurosangastre candelas

          The short version:

          Which input would you prefer for Labour prior to the 2015 General Election?

          (1) The positive support of 2 million (ie 20-30% of union members), AND 3 months of the Murdoch press telling 45 million voters that Labour are nothing more than marionettes for the union barons, who dictate to the Labour Leader every detail from policy to who has a role in the Cabinet?

          (2) OR the unions not being a factor, positive or negative, in influencing the general electorate.

          The long version:

          (I know I am too verbose)

          I don’t think you addressed my point – of it being a PR disaster if the unions were seen to be behind a specific removal from a political post – at all. What you say is a reaffirmation of your support for the unions, which I do not doubt.

          I can see that the unions have their place in the great history of the Labour Party. I can understand the social and emotional link all the way back to the LRC. I can read your Party’s constitution. I know that not all unions are affiliated with Labour, but to the “man on the street”, all unions are associated with Labour, so your Party’s votes are to some extent dependent on the behaviour of even unaffiliated unions.

          What I think is that holding to the past does not address the current realities, or future probabilities. I work within a heavily unionised environment, and my observation is that most union members are members only because it is traditional to be a member of a union if you are a nurse, or porter, administrative staff, or clinician, not because they really believe in the union as a force for societal change. Many merely want some of the benefits, such as the cheaper insurances. Individually, they have a wide range of views on all sorts of things, often in great conflict to the views of their union. Perhaps that explains why so many strike ballots are only voted upon by 20-30% of the members. The remainder either do not agree with the union position, or simply do not see the problem the union bosses are whining about.

          Outside of union members, I think you should at least consider the view that unions are held to be relics of the past, and by their media appearances, Bob Crow, Len McCluskey, Mark Serwotka and so on reinforce a view that unions exist merely to promote selfish interests. They just do not come across well to reasonable people. I recall one of the senior nurses in my hospital who was a union member getting very angry when she had to take time off to look after her child when the teachers had a strike during term time. She did not automatically support the Teachers’ union because she was also a unionist, she looked at the issue, made up her mind that the Teachers’ union was being stupid, and that is was costing her a day of holiday, and she got angry. Last year, she did not join the day of strikes in the NHS of her own union, and worked on the strike day.

          Look at the numbers. Union membership is declining, and the unions are heavily concentrated in public services. Within the unions, only a minority appear to be politically active or supportive of union strong-arm tactics such as strikes. Basically, the great majority of the working people of Britain no longer care about unions, or see them as a negative factor, or even if members of unions, do not support the militancy of the union leadership. The trend is relentlessly downwards. The prognosis for unions is not good.

          Among the majority of the population, and certainly within the private sector that actually keeps us all paid through their productivity, the unions are at best a total irrelevance, and in my estimation a negative factor for support of the Labour Party. And so the PR disaster I suspect if they are seen to dictate policy and matters of detail such as which MP occupies which Shadow Minister job.

          • AlanGiles

            The thing is, Jaime, it wasn’t just the naughty left-wing Labour MPs who opposed the cowardly decision of Byrne and Miliband – it was a wide spectrum of opinion across the PLP.

            Byrne is a master of dissembling, but I think the truth is he knows how much he has angered all shades of opinion in his party, hence his ludicrous excuses and explanations.

            He is very lucky he has such a weak leader as Miliband. Anybody else, with an ounce of grit would sack the fool – especially since we all know he would rather by Birmingham’s Mayor than a shadow cabinet minister.

          • I don’t agree with your assessment of Miliband. You have two types of party leader. The lead-from-the-front approach based on personal charisma. Think Blair and Thatcher. I voted for Ed to get away from that approach

          • rekrab

            Mike, Alan is spot on.Why hasn’t Miliband acted and removed Byrne? the sad truth is Mike, Miliband has made several quotes, that only fall into the same line as Byrne’s on welfare.If Miliband wants to move away from new labour and be a more collective leader, then he has to act and sack Byrne and make a commitment to the principles of supporting disadvantaged people.

          • rekrab

            Your to wrapped up in your self delusion, it’s the policy. Do you really believe the trade union movement should sit on it’s hands when people are being forced to work without any terms and condition, not even the basic minimum wage?
            Jaime, what do you know about low incomes? what do you know about struggling to keep up with the cost of living?

            Workfare, has a negative effect on permanent jobs.Diluting the structures of job descriptions and pay isn’t something I’d expect a professional person to support? do you want our hospitals to be full of under paid and under trained people?

            You tend to always use singular happenings to promote your views? this is about a mass protest against a basic principle which should be bread and butter for any labour minister.

            Jaime this isn’t about a prognosis, it’s not something you’ll cure by administrating a pill.Human values of collective responsibility and fairness will over come those individuals who think they can fix all things on their own.

            I suggest you step back and take a seat.Your clearly to biased on your views to add anything constructive to this process.

          • The Murdoch press are going to do that anyway. I would be concerned if they wanted to support us. It would say a lot about our political stance.
            The reality is that Labour needs union money just as the Tories need big business money, and with donations come influence. However, in Labour’s case the unions are an integral part of the party. Labour was formed by the unions to gain ‘representation for labour interests’, and I am sure there are some people who won’t want to vote Labour for that reason.
            I think we have had quite enough of spin and vacuous PR with no substance behind it.

        • Dave Postles

          Perceptions are changing, I think, Mike. Collective action will once again be regarded as the one of the ‘weapons of the weak’ (Scott). There is a mass movement of the employees in fast-food outlets in the US for better terms and conditions. People are recognizing that trade, commerce, industry has to work to the benefit of all, not just those who wish to return to the ‘Gilded Age’.

  • The Idle threat of moving an amendment in the Lords is laughable. Methinks Mr Byrne protesteth too much…. trying to make up for his disastrous and divisive decision to tacitly support IDS on the Jobseekers Bill earlier in the week. Byrne needs to go and Miliband needs to understand why.

  • The government’s denial is a logical nonsense. Tuesday’s bill was justified, according to the explanatory note, by the need to find 130m from benefit cuts elsewhere if they were unable to impose sanctions in that amount. If your budget requires a particular sum to be raised in sanctions then that is, by definition, a target. To suggest otherwise is to do violence to the English language.

  • Pingback: No value in empty gestures: a retrospective analysis of Labour’s response to the the retrospective Sanctions Bill | kittysjones()

  • Pingback: Rachel Reeves promises to remove benefit sanction targets under a Labour Government | Politics and Insights - kittysjones()


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