21 May Jobseekers made to carry out bogus psychometric tests
Unemployed people are told they risk losing benefits if they fail to carry out meaningless questionnaire
Jobseekers are being made to complete bogus psychometric tests by the Department for Work and Pensions – and told that in some cases they risk losing their benefits if they do not complete the meaningless online questionnaire.
The test called My Strengths, devised by Downing Street’s behavioural insights or “nudge” unit, has been exposed by bloggers as a sham with results having no relation to the answers given.
Some of the 48 statements on the DWP test include: “I never go out of my way to visit museums,” and: “I have not created anything of beauty in the last year.” People are asked to grade their answers from “very much like me” to “very much unlike me”.
When those being tested complete the official online questionnaire, they are assigned a set of five positive “strengths” including “love of learning” and “curiosity” and “originality”.
However, those taking the supposed psychological survey have found that by clicking on the same answer repeatedly, users will get the same set of personality results as those entering a completely opposite set of answers.
An unemployed single mother, who wanted to be referred to as Maggie, said she received an official DWP letter warning her that her jobseekers’ allowance of £71 a week “could be stopped for a period of time” if she did not fill out the questionnaire.
The DWP letter said the test was “scientifically shown to find people’s strengths” and instructed her that along with searching for work she must complete the online test within three days. “Failure to comply with this direction may result in loss of benefit,” it added.
The mother of two young children, who is in her late 20s, said she was upset when she discovered the test was a sham. “It’s a waste of time … I felt really disappointed. I thought, you’ve made me do this and there’s a chance I might lose my benefits if I didn’t do it but really, I didn’t need to do it,” Maggie said.
The government’s nudge unit is attempting to implement the findings of the field of behavioural economics or “nudge” theory, which says that human behaviour can be shifted dramatically by small changes in the way people are presented with information.
The unit, which costs just over half a million to run, is championed and overseen by David Cameron himself, and its head, Dr David Halpern, is paid around £100,000 a year to run it. The blogger Steve Walker, who runs the Skwawkbox site, discovered that the website hosting the test was registered to a civil servant based in the Cabinet Office’s nudge unit.
Walker criticised the department’s use of the test. “In a context where we see regular headlines about people committing suicide out of fear of losing their benefits, it’s appalling that the DWP is threatening people with low literacy and computer skills with the loss of their income if they don’t complete a meaningless test designed to manipulate them into some kind of positive thinking,” he said.
The DWP did not comment on the validity of the test but denied that anyone would be stripped of their benefits for not completing it. A spokesperson said that the exercise was “intended to help jobseekers identify their strengths, and we have had extremely positive feedback from both jobseekers and their advisers – it is right that we use every tool we have to help jobseekers who want to work find a job”.