Mental health issues – in colour and 3D


The exhibition by ‘artists with lived experience of mental health issues’, showing at Summerhall in Edinburgh, has some important messages for the people running our benefits system, and also our health service. Taking in the art on display, and reading the accompanying descriptions by the artists, one becomes aware of the personal significance of each piece, and the strength that must be needed first to make it and then to show it to the public. But I hope that the other artists will forgive me for just focussing on two artists whose work will resonate with everyone who has been on health related benefits. The first is Lauren Stonebanks, whose collage box included the sad note above, and was given this explanatory label


Lauren also has another piece in the exhibition, though she is only tangentially responsible for it. This is a bashed in door


for which she has supplied the following explanation


The author of the second piece describes themselves only as ‘B’. B has created a comment on the huge number of pills people are prescribed and their debilitating side effects. Each new pill seems to require a further prescription to balance it out. I have often wanted to question the pages long prescriptions accompanying some of the benefit applications I have helped with: I hope some doctors see this work!



The exhibition runs until 30 October.

exhibition website



‘Work Coach’, aye right


On the day that ‘I, Daniel Blake’ hit the big screen, the SUWN were ootside Dundee buroo, conducting our regular advice stall, where we distributed flyers for the forthcoming free screening of this powerful indictment of our so-called ‘welfare state’ at Dundee DCA on November 2nd, which raised a fair amount of interest. Whilst recent reports have emphasised how relatively quiet the stalls have been (due to the establishment of a welfare rights team in the buroo), today was different. Four pages of notes were taken from the many people that we spoke to, including Jim, who had recently started signing on, and who was so angry at the shoddy treatment that he had received that he wishes to get involved with the SUWN. He reported that he is being asked to sign on weekly for the first thirteen weeks, and, because he is co-habiting with his partner, that he had been hauled into the buroo three times in the first week of signing on, in order to answer intrusive and, frankly, ridiculous, questions about the nature of his relationship with his partner.

In another notable case, Roddy, a young guy in his twenties, reported that he was also required to sign on weekly, and that he had been enrolled, very much against his wishes, onto a new scheme called ‘Walking the Patch’, which involves him being required to trawl around Dundee city centre so that he can ‘introduce’ himself to prospective employers in the retail trade. He was under the impression that he would be accompanied by a DWP employee whilst ‘walking the patch’. If this is the case, particularly when it is combined with widespread weekly signing on, it may not be too long before Dundee buroo comes to a grinding halt. We have talked to other welfare agencies in Scotland who told us that they had not come across the ‘Walking the Patch’ scheme, and who believe it may be limited to the Dundee area. Yet again, Dundee seems to be getting ‘special treatment’ – whatever have we done to deserve this? We were also informed by the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) that weekly signing is not unknown in other places, though quite unusual. In the case of Dundee, however, it is being reported more and more frequently. If you are being asked to sign on weekly, we would like to hear from you.

Another man, Eddie, complained that his ‘work coach’ (sic) had insisted that he had to complete his weekly job searches despite the fact that he was signed off with serious depression – this did not stop his ‘work coach’ (sic) from phoning him up to pressurise him into complying with his ‘claimant commitment’. We have enough experience with such cases to know that such pressure on people who are already struggling can have serious, even deadly, consequences. He seemed better within himself for getting his problems off his chest and we urged him to register a complaint against the totally unnecessary, and counterproductive pressure that was being forced on him by the DWP.

We have not come across many sanctions of late, although we have been kept busy with many other issues, but we came across Ken, a young man in his twenties who informed us that he had just been told that a recommendation for a sanction had just been phoned through to the ‘decision maker’. He had been an hour late signing on, but when he tried to explain that he was late because he had to look after his six month old child until his partner was available to take over caring duties, this was dismissed. We explained the sanction process to him, and urged him to get in contact with welfare rights asap, and provided him with our contact details so that we could monitor the progress of the case.

Finally, we heard a very alarming account from an unemployed man who reported that he had been bumped from ESA, despite suffering from serious depression, and was now required to attend to sign on. On all three occasions he been into the buroo, he had been goaded and insulted by a security guard who is well known to us due to his aggressive and generally unpleasant, attitude. We have discussed this case with other agencies in Dundee, and asked them to keep a ‘watching brief’ on this case, and will report any further progress.


The scene of the crime

All names used in this report have been changed. Thanks to Chris, Gary and Gordon for helping out at the stall at short notice.


Torture by Triage


Following our post on Tuesday’s occupation of Triage in Dundee, we received a couple of comments from people who refused to believe that there were any grounds for direct action, and that we shouldn’t call out staff for just ‘doing their job’. Find below, an account by Jake from Montrose who details his treatment at the hands of this so-called ’employability firm’. We believe this firm should face an investigation into the countless allegations we have received of poor treatment of the unemployed and disabled, and we sincerely hope that the Scottish government will strip them of their ability to make profit from other people’s misery when their contract comes up for renewal in the spring of next year;

‘I had to use Triage 4 years ago, first couple of times fine, sounded like they knew what they were doing and had “contacts” for getting someone a job; then the pressure started, the stupid looking through Angus business book and sending away 30 CVs. I got back 5 replies, all said not to BOTHER them again, they would not accept spur of the minute CVs. Lo and behold the joker working there handed me the same book and said do another 30!!!!! I refused and it was a battle every time I was there. They would call you through and I used to ask why am I here, they all looked at each other clueless and said do a job search, another battle as I carried out job searches every morning and was not travelling to Arbroath to do the same again. The I became ill and was signed off, they phoned and threatened me even though I was in ESA Support group, but silence once they found out. So glad this took me to the end of my 2 years fucking waste of time with them; they asked on my last day as I signed off “Did I want them to keep in touch! NO was the short sharp answer. Useless bullying corrupt organisation making millions for basic harassment and bullying of people needing help !!!!!!!!!!!!’

And for anyone who still harbours any doubts about this company, here’s the reviews that have been posted on Google – all 5, completely unedited:


Sarah Murphy
a month ago
This place does not help you get a job they have gave me set appointments and they juat about keep getting me sanctioned there is drug users in the place all the time when triage should know them selves that young ones like me actually want a job but me and the rest of them are to scared to go in incase they have a drug user on there case absolutley disgusting!

Michelle M
2 months ago
Dreadful place rude staff who don’t care about the unemployed the reception staff discuss you when they see you in the streets. Staff make you out to be a liar, they also stand outside smoking talking about clients using language like wasters no hopers etc. They treat you like you are stupid and a kid using idle threats to get your money stopped they tell lies to get a funding grant after people gain employment by saying they got you the job when they didn’t all staff are very unprofessional and discriminate against people with disabilities

Catherine T
2 months ago
Horrendous place. They don’t care at all for the people who are looking for work they don’t help you when you ask for help they expect you to do everything even when you can’t they constantly talk about you rudely to there colleagues in the street especially the young reception staff and they make you out as a lier to get your money stopped when they are the one at fault this company should be shut down

lorraine grace
2 months ago
This joke of a place should be CLOSED down.I have had experience of them in the past myself but this instance is to do with my sent to a company for an interview and the company knew nothing about it.Total incompetent staff.

james saunders
7 months ago
I have never felt so belittled and harangued in all my life, since I met these people. In fact I am debating whether to take legal action against this company and those psycho-babble launderers who are wasting valuable tax payers money to run their grotesque little show.

Occupation of Triage, Dundee


Yesterday SUWN activists carried out a successful occupation of the Triage office in Dundee. This firm lauds itself as committed to helping people into work, but not only do they fail miserably in their ostensible purpose, they also generate an exceptionally high number of sanction referrals. Many people approach us regularly to complain that they have been sanctioned for failure to attend Triage appointments that they were given no notification of. This is unacceptable treatment of the unemployed and disabled. We will not accept it – and neither should you. Our activists did intend to present the manager of the Dundee Triage office with an ‘IDS Award’ for services towards sanctioning, but she appears to be keeping a low profile. After we had been there about three quarters of an hour, the police arrived and we left the building. There were no arrests. The office was closed to ‘clients’ as a result of the occupation, so, at the very least, a number of Dundonians have been spared the experience of being patronised within an inch of their lives or being referred to a sanction for ‘non-compliance’. We hope that when the Scottish Government takes over training schemes in April, not only will they be run completely differently (with attendance voluntary), but that firms such as Triage will be history.


The occupation was reported in Common Space, the Dundee Courier and the National

A BOOK – by the SUWN

The SUWN is proud to announce the birth of our BOOK

RIGHTING WELFARE WRONGS: Dispatches and Analysis from the Front Line of the Fight Against Austerity


You can buy a copy from our publishers, Commonprint, HERE for £10

This book has been forged through grassroots activism by and with people at the sharp end of ‘welfare reform’. It illuminates everyday battles to maintain human dignity and even existence in the face of the new punitive welfare state. It is about solidarity and mutual support, but it is also about understanding and taking on the bigger politics behind this brave new world of coercion and control.

It has been written for everyone who wants to comprehend what is happening and what we can do about it – and maybe even have a laugh along the way.

‘I am convinced that the network must have saved many vulnerable people from going over the edge, as has tragically happened in many parts of the country. I am not surprised now that this same group has written this marvellous book.’ – Paul Laverty, Screenwriter for ‘I, Daniel Blake’

Warning – this book will make you angry!

A letter to the Minister for Employability and Training

Dear Mr Hepburn

We in the Scottish Unemployed Workers’ Network have been very relieved to see your public announcements about not allowing Scottish ‘employability’ schemes to be used for sanctions, and we congratulate the Scottish Government on following through on your anti-sanction rhetoric and taking this position.

At the same time, we would like to draw your attention to the growing risk of Scottish public institutions becoming tied into the DWP’s punitive regime by the back door. As I am sure you are aware, there is pressure from the UK Government to integrate DWP ‘job coaches’ into a range of public and community organisations and spaces, including libraries, schools, social care settings and housing schemes. But these ‘job coaches’ are the very people who have the power to sanction the unemployed, to dictate how they spend their time (their one remaining asset) and to deny them their dignity. We believe it is absolutely essential that services designed to advise and help are kept – and are seen to be kept – completely separate from those set up to control and punish. People need to be able to use their own community services without feeling that they may be being spied on. Otherwise those most in need of community support will be further isolated.


However, this integration is already happening. Here in Dundee, for example, our council ‘employability’ service hosts a jobcentre ‘outreach worker’ twice a week . And back in April, North Ayrshire Council was shown to have taken on the whole disciplinary ethos and was running a training scheme that included a system of fines – £1 for forgetting your name badge, £5 for falling asleep or getting a call on your mobile.  (The story appeared in the Ardrossan Herald on 1 April and we had to ring the paper to check it wasn’t an April fool.) I am sure there will be many more examples.

With the Westminster Government putting renewed pressure on the sick and disabled, they are especially at risk. We are very concerned about plans for closer integration between the DWP and Department of Health, as this will be based on the UK governments dangerously simplistic premise that work is good for health – an approach that is the product of a long collaboration between successive Tory and New Labour governments and US-based health insurance company, Unum (Mo Stewart (2016) Cash not Care: the planned demolition of the UK welfare state). In a society that fetishises work and defines people by their job, it is inevitable that lack of work will affect self-esteem and social engagement; and when benefits are also cripplingly low, those without work can be starved of the necessities for basic subsistence, never mind social engagement. However, these impacts are not the result of lack of work per se, but of the place given to paid work in our social system. And, on top of this, even research commissioned by the DWP acknowledges that ‘Beneficial health effects depend on the nature and quality of work’. Of course they do – and yet people are continually being pushed into searching for work – any work – as soon as possible and at any cost. In contrast, recent research from Australia showed how retired people were able to develop healthier lifestyles by using the time not spent working.

We recognise, of course, that there are many people with mental and physical health problems who would welcome helpful adjustments to allow them to find and do a paid job, but this natural desire for equality and acceptance has been distorted by government policy makers and turned into a stick with which to beat all sick and disabled benefit claimants. It is being made increasingly difficult to get ESA, and at our stalls outside the jobcentre we are increasingly coming across desperate people who have been found ‘fit for work’ while this is clearly far from the case. Even when they may be technically able to manage some limited types of work, it doesn’t make sense to force them to do this rather than give them the opportunity to improve their health and perhaps even return to something more like their former employment.

In England we have seen health professionals getting sucked into the system, at the expense of their independence, their relationship with their patients, and their professional ethics. There are examples of Cognitive Behaviour therapists in jobcentres, and there was a pilot introduction of DWP ‘job coaches’ in GP surgeries. Even if therapies, or supposedly therapeutic work advice, are nominally voluntary, the atmosphere in which they are delivered, with the ever-present fear of sanctions, will make it difficult for people to exercise their right to say ‘no’. We hope that the Scottish Government will be able to give us a firm assurance that they will maintain a clear line between the DWP and the Scottish Health Service, and that we will not see similar practices here. (Scottish examples of welfare rights advisors in GP’s practices, as here in Dundee, are very different, and thoroughly welcome.)

We are also very concerned, both from our own experience and that of other grassroots advocates, that the DWP and their subcontractors (such as Maximus) tend to call the police whenever their statements are questioned by claimants or their friends, and that Police Scotland has been too ready to listen only to the officials and not allow the claimant and their friends to give their side of the story. If the Scottish Government wants to change the nature of social security in Scotland, then our Scottish police will need to be part of that change.

Returning to the sanctions policy with which this letter began. We hope you have a plan B for if Westminster says ‘no’. We trust you will not let them overrule your decision and that you will make a stand to preserve the right to protect some of Scotland’s most vulnerable citizens. If it comes to that, we can assure you of our support.

Finally, we wrote to your office some weeks back asking to meet you as a group as part of your consultation over the new Scottish legislation. Your office was very friendly on the phone, but we are still waiting for a date. We would like the opportunity to discuss these issues in more detail based on our experience. Meanwhile, we hope that you and your staff will come to our talk at Commonweal’s IdeaSpace (on Welfare and Decent Work, Thursday 13th at 7pm together with Oxfam) and visit our stall, where we will have copies of our new book, Righting Welfare Wrongs.

P.S. I have put ‘employability’ in inverted commas because this word tends to suggest that the reason people don’t have jobs is due to personal failing – lack of employability, rather than a lack of employment. Alongside the Scottish Government’s welcome changes in word usage, can we suggest that you replace this demeaning term? How about simply ‘training’ schemes? (I realise you might have to change your job title too.)

Advice for Daniel Blake


Ken Loach’s award winning film should open everyone’s eyes to what is happening in Britain’s jobcentres. It also demonstrates how things can get even worse when there is no advice on how best to deal with the situation. The film begins with Daniel being declared fit for work after his Work Capability Assessment and refused Employment and Support Allowance (ESA, the benefit  for people unable to earn money through work). In order to get any money he has to sign up for Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA), despite clear advice from his doctor that he should be given time off to recover from his heart condition.

We meet people in a similar predicament all the time, and we can expect to see many more Daniel Blakes: there has been a significant cracking down on the Work Capability Assessment and the Westminster Government is demonstrating a rigid determination to push the sick and disabled into work – any work.

So, if we had been able to meet Daniel coming out of the jobcentre what advice could we have given him? Often people need persuading that it is worth appealing the assessment decision and that this won’t be affected by their signing onto JSA, but Daniel was already preparing to go through the appeal process and had signed on. However, no-one had told him that once he was signed onto JSA he could ask his doctor for a note to say he was unable to work due to ill health for ‘an extended period of sickness’ of up to thirteen weeks. This would have stopped the Jobcentre pressurising him to apply for jobs. We would also have given him details of local welfare rights advisors who could give him professional help with his appeal application.

Although it would probably not have been applicable in Daniel’s case, we often also ask people if they have thought of applying for PIP too. Many people are not aware of the difference between ESA, which is the benefit for people unable to earn money through work, and PIP, which is the benefit that is meant to cover the extra costs of being sick or disabled and is not means-tested. Although PIP is meant to be an extra benefit to cover extra costs, people are increasingly having to rely on it for basic survival if they have been refused ESA and missed the deadline for appealing, or if they have lost their ESA appeal.

If Daniel had had a sick note he should not have been in a position to get sanctioned in the first place, but if we had only met him after his sanction, we would have done our best to make sure he applied for hardship payments and we would have encouraged him to appeal the sanction. (Like for the ESA appeal this would be a two stage process – internal Mandatory Reconsideration and, when that failed, external tribunal.) We would also have advised him to make sure he was still receiving housing benefit and – if the area he lived in paid this – council tax reduction. He would be entitled to these because of low income, but sometimes they are stopped when people stop getting benefits as it is assumed they are no longer needed.

Paul Laverty, the script writer, resisted our request that he set the film in Scotland, but had he done so Daniel could also have applied for help over the gaps from the Scottish Welfare fund, administered through his local council.

With a bit of advice, Daniel’s situation could have been very different; but most people, like Daniel, do not get that advice.

We hope that a great many people will go and see this powerful film and get angry about what is happening; and we hope that as well as campaigning for a major change in the rules and approach, some will become actively involved in assisting people to find their way through the new punitive ‘welfare’ system.

Activists united


Yesterday Edinburgh’s High Riggs Jobcentre provided another excuse for activists to gather together from across Scotland and share solidarity and practical experience. As on previous occasions – and despite previous apologies from the manager – we were protesting the jobcentre’s deliberate flaunting of the DWP’s own rules that clearly state ‘Customers have the right to ask a representative to help them conduct their business’. A month ago the jobcentre not only refused to allow a rep from Edinburgh Coalition Against Poverty (ECAP) to accompany a young man to his interview, but also refused access to his father and called the police. You can read the details here. So we were back again – activists from Dundee and Glasgow as well as from Edinburgh – to show our support for ECAP and make it clear that this was not acceptable and would not pass unnoticed. Among the protestors was another father who had been prevented from accompanying his child. There were relatively few people going into the jobcentre so we suspect that they had deliberately avoided making appointments for the time of the protest. The picture shows Tony Cox from the SUWN stressing the importance of more people getting involved in frontline work so as to make it more difficult for the DWP to respond in this high-handed fashion.

Today we were back outside the buroo in Dundee, and as on the last few occasions, although most people were glad to take our leaflets, few needed our help. We hope that this is a genuine reflection of better treatment overall and not just a response to our presence and because issues are being referred directly to the welfare rights officers inside. There’s some debt advice sessions in there too now, organised by Christians Against Poverty. More worryingly, the Home Fundraiser recruiters, who used to pounce on people inside, have now been allowed to recruit in the buroo itself. ‘Home fundraising’ means being out in the cold and wet, getting doors shut in your face – so nobody should feel under any pressure to accept such work. The mere fact that they are inside the jobcentre could make people feel under pressure to sign up.

On a more positive note, we have found out that the proposals to weaken the tribunal process reported in Benefits and Work should not apply in Scotland.

SUWN for YES – and please sign our welfare petition



SUWN activists raised the cause of welfare at both of the Glasgow YES rallies this weekend, both from the stage and via hundreds of leaflets. And we were able to collect loads of signatures on our petition in response to the Scottish Government’s welfare consultation. If you’ve not yet signed, then you can do it online here.

Meanwhile, here’s a copy of our leaflet:

The Scottish Government is consulting on how to change the 15% of welfare that we are getting control of – and we are hopeful that they are listening to complaints about the DWP’s current punitive processes and will try and do things differently. BUT with control over only 15%, and with no powers to change the wider economy, it is limited what they can do. So long as we are ruled by a Tory government in Westminster, wedded to neoliberalism and determined in its attempt to transform the welfare state into a surveillance and control state, our Scottish Government will not be able to protect the interests of the poorest and most vulnerable within our society. That is why welfare has always had a central place in the Independence campaign.
We are fighting not only for an independent Scotland but also for a fairer Scotland. This is not just about running things from Holyrood rather than Westminster, and it is not about whether we are part of the bigger neoliberal club of the EU. It is about the opportunity to run our society better.
In fighting for a fairer society we need to be active at all levels. We fight individual instances of injustice, as we try to do through solidarity and practical support outside the jobcentre; we fight for every improvement we can win, as we try to do through lobbying the Scottish Government to make the best use of the limited powers we have; and we fight for the opportunity to make more fundamental change through independence.
15% is not enough, but – used right – it can make a difference to many people, it can demonstrate that another approach is possible, and it can show what could be achieved if we got control of the other 85%.
So please sign our petition to the Scottish Government to begin the process of better welfare for Scotland.



Sunny Govan – and back to Dundee


A change is as good as a rest, they say, so last Tuesday some of us from Dundee joined comrades from Glasgow for a stall outside Govan Buroo. The problems we met with, though, were depressingly familiar.

Ann had been bumped off from ESA after being given no points at her Work Capability Assessment. This wasn’t surprising as she had never received the form, so they had no written evidence of her problems. She had also been told that she had no right to appeal. We assured her that this was not the case and directed her to Money Matters in Orkney Street.

John had also been awarded no points despite severe mental health problems and dyslexia. He had got help with a mandatory reconsideration, but had spent the last 7 weeks with no money as he was worried about applying for JSA. We assured him that it was quite legitimate for him to get JSA and would not affect his future ESA appeal – and that once he was on JSA he could get a doctor’s note. He had also had his housing benefit stopped as he hadn’t told the council his situation and they had just assumed that since he was no longer getting ESA he no longer needed help with housing. He told us that the ESA assessors had refused to believe he was dyslexic because he had a degree. Universities have elaborate systems in place to help people with dyslexia, but it seems that for John this had just added to his problems.

June had been sanctioned because she had assumed that the jobcentre would be shut for the July holiday. She had applied for Hardship Payments but not been told she could appeal or that she could apply to the Scottish Welfare Fund to help her while she waited 2 weeks for the Hardship Payment to come through. She will now contact Money Matters or her Housing Association to help her with this.

As so often, we met a man recently out of prison and having problems with the benefit system. Steven’s DLA payments had been stopped when he was in Barlinnie, but although he had been out since February they had not started up again. Luckily he has a social worker who is sorting this out, and so is expecting to get a big back payment.

It is always depressing to observe how, in many ways, we are becoming an increasingly subservient culture, and so our hearts sunk when, as we set up the stall, someone asked ‘are you allowed to be there?’ However, our faith in Glasgow obstinacy was restored when we were told the story of a woman’s 100-year-old mother who had refused to accept the Queen’s birthday telegram. Her son had drowned serving in the Black Watch, and she blamed the Queen for his death.

Thursday saw us back outside Dundee Buroo, where we came across more examples of DWP mismanagement and deliberate misinformation. Most worrying was Kiera, a young single mum with two children, one aged 2 going on 3 and the other 4 going on 5. Kiera told us that she had been made to sign onto JSA. We urged her to get in touch with Welfare Rights and get them to demand that she is shifted to Income Support as soon as possible. While her youngest is still under 3 all she should be expected to do is attend the odd interview; and while she still has a child under 5 she cannot be made to look for work, though they can get her to do various ‘work related activities’.

Lynne had been given a two and half week sanction, and when her Mandatory Reconsideration had been refused her jobcentre advisor had talked her out of putting in an appeal. Appeals have a very high success rate, but not nearly enough people go through to this stage. Lynne had also been told three times that she had to tick the box to let them see her Universal Jobmatch Account, even though data protection law means that this can’t be made compulsory.

Donna was attempting to protest against a Triage sanction. She told us that Triage had rung her to cancel an appointment that they had never made, and then sanctioned her for not showing up. She had phoned in a Mandatory Reconsideration and was initially told everything was OK; but since then the jobcentre has claimed there is nothing on the system, and she has wasted a lot of money on premium rate phone calls to the DWP. She was waiting for a call back later in the afternoon. We asked her to contact us or Welfare Rights if the situation wasn’t sorted, and reminded her to keep records of all phone calls etc. Her friend told us that when he had been sanctioned some time back the DWP call handlers had laughed down the line. He had recorded the conversation and played it to his jobcentre advisor, but they thought this behaviour unexceptional.

With thanks to Ann, Darren, Jen, Douglas, Ronnie S, Sarah, Tony, Gordon, Ryan and Gary