SUWN for YES – and please sign our welfare petition

 

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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:

15% IS NOT ENOUGH
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.

tony

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Sunny Govan – and back to Dundee

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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

 

A petition for a fairer Social Security system for Scotland

PLEASE SIGN OUR PETITION AND HELP TELL THE SCOTTISH GOVERNMENT WHAT WE WOULD LIKE TO SEE IN OUR DEVOLVED SOCIAL SECURITY SYSTEM.

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We have highlighted some key issues, based on our experience. If you agree with us, please sign our petition to the two ministers concerned. This petition is a response to the current consultation on the new Scottish social security system that will take control of the devolved disability benefits, and to on-going discussions about the new employability service that will replace the Work Programme. It reads:

When more welfare powers come to Scotland, please can you make sure that:

  • No-one can get sanctioned for not attending or complying with any devolved ‘employability’ scheme, and this is made clear to everyone affected so that these schemes are effectively voluntary.
  • Scottish health services and other social and community services are kept completely independent of any DWP schemes that pressure people to apply for jobs. (We especially don’t want to see anything like the placing of ‘work coaches’ in GPs’ surgeries recently trialled in Islington).
  • The new Scottish PIP assessment process takes full account of evidence from health and other care professionals, and the GPs etc. have to provide this evidence.
  • Everyone who has lost benefits as a result of the cut-off for Higher Rate Mobility having been dropped from walking 50m to walking 20m can apply to get them reinstated.
  • There is no role for private companies in any devolved service.

The not-so-Flexible Support Fund

Since Jobseeker’s Allowance isn’t even enough to live on, many people have real problems managing to get to job interviews. This is the sort of thing where the Flexible Support Fund is meant to help with – only the SFS is notoriously elusive. John, who we met outside the buroo today, has been unemployed for three years and is currently on the Work Programme with Triage. He has a job interview coming up and asked for help to get some new clothes for it. Triage had refused and sent him to the Jobcentre, and the Jobcentre had told him that the fund was not for people on the Work Programme. Despite this he had been sent to find suitable stuff in Primark, but when he came back and requested a £30 voucher to buy it, he was told he could only have £15. As he didn’t have the other £15, this was no help anyway.

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Work Programme providers are supposed to help with travel expenses, but I can’t find anything about clothing grants; and once on the Work Programme you aren’t supposed to get help from the FSF, so it’s not clear what people are meant to do. A budgeting loan, even if you were given one, could take two weeks to come through.

And it seems that the FSF isn’t helping that many people not on the Work Programme either. A 2015 Dispatches Programme exposed DWP advisors being told not to let people know about the fund, and a House of Commons briefing paper from March 2016 [H of C Briefing Paper on Flexible Support Fund] found other problems. In 2014-15 only £72 Million of a possible £136 Million was allocated, allowing the DWP to drop the total available for 2015-16 to £69 Million. Allocations from the fund are discretionary, in line with national policy and locally decided priorities, but advisors are told to apply the ‘tabloid test’ and ask themselves how they would defend their decision if it was taken up by a hostile press. This briefing also quotes an alarming extract from Lord Freud, the Minister for Welfare Reform, that from 2017 some money will be specifically targeted ‘to help those affected by the changes to the ESA WRAG and the UC limited capability for work element to attend training courses on gaining practical skills, access mental health support, attend community projects or take part in motivational courses.’ I think we’ve seen enough of the DWP’s ‘motivational courses’; and more DWP meddling in mental health support is very worrying indeed.

This week at Dundee buroo

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Whilst it was quite busy ootside Dundee buroo earlier this week, it was much quieter today, which suggests that us being there coincided with the Connect team being on duty inside the building – as regular readers will be aware, Dundee buroo is one of the only jobcentres anywhere, that we are aware of, where welfare rights officers dispense advice to jobcentre ‘clients’, or, as everyone else would call them, unemployed people.

We have noticed increasing numbers of cases of people being bumped from ESA and onto JSA, and this week was no exception. We met Emily, a nineteen-year-old woman with ADHD, and suffering from extreme anxiety, who had recently failed her Work Capability Assessment (WCA), and had also been refused PIP when she failed to turn up to her PIP medical assessment. Emily could not tell us precisely when she had received her award letter telling her that she had failed her WCA, so we weren’t able to advise her to go ahead with a mandatory reconsideration. Her confusion and poor memory was a sign of her anxiety, and proof positive that she has problems with coping, as was her failure to turn up to her PIP assessment.  In the ‘Brave New World’ ushered in by Tory welfare reforms, however, the symptoms of her medical conditions become the basis to disallow her the help she really needs. All we could do was provide her with contact details of welfare rights, and urge her to contact them asap in order that they can investigate her case more thoroughly.

We also came across Dave, an older guy with a newly fitted hip, who suffers from meningitis. He had also been bumped from ESA, and was waiting to hear on word of his upper tier tribunal. In the meantime, he was on JSA and being forced to look for work, despite the fact that he had trouble standing for any time, even with the aid of the walking stick he was now forced to use. We could only wish him luck with his forthcoming tribunal. We came across a similar case today, again an older guy who had been bumped off ESA and who was now forced onto JSA. He explained that he could not understand why he was being forced onto JSA when he felt he could not, in all honesty, hold down any kind of regular work, despite the fact that he would love to return to paid employment rather than being treated like a scrounger. We urged him to submit a mandatory reconsideration BEFORE he applies for JSA; as a single claimant he can be forced onto Universal Credit (UC) if he makes a new claim, but if he puts his mandy recon in first he will not be classified as a new claimant, and will thus avoid being put onto UC. Remember, if you are removed from ESA, always submit your mandy recon against that decision BEFORE you make any claim for JSA. We also advised him that once he is on JSA he can get a doctor’s line for an Extended Period of Sickness of 13 weeks

Many people have complained to us that they have been unable to secure medical evidence from their GP’s to accompany their ESA, and PIP, application forms, as Dundee GP’s have refused to provide such evidence without payment of fees that most cannot afford. This is becoming an increasingly serious issue, as the number of failed ESA applications may well suggest. It is a matter that we have raised with the Scottish Government and we will be raising it again at the Scottish Government consultation on the devolution of limited welfare powers.

Finally, we came across Angela, a sixty year old woman with caring responsibilities for her three grandchildren, comprising a five-year-old child who suffers from Cystic Fibrosis, a fourteen-year-old who is awaiting a diagnosis for suspected ADHD and an eighteen-year-old. Angela had been called into the jobcentre and was anxious that they were about to put her under pressure to find work. We were able to calm her down and reassure her that, as someone on Carers Allowance (CA), they could not do this, and offered to accompany her into her appointment. When Angela and the SUWN volunteer re-appeared around three quarters of an hour later they reported that whilst the meeting had went well, and she had been informed that she would not have to come back into another appointment for three years, Angela was put under an enormous amount of ‘soft pressure’, in the nicest possible manner, to sign up for ‘voluntary’ employability programs. She was having none of it, however, and informed them that, given her caring responsibilities, she has barely enough time for a couple of hours’ sleep.

All names have been changed. We would like to thank Sarah S, Gary, Sarah G, Tony, Gordon, Norma, William, Susan, Grant and Ryan for helping with this week’s stalls.

Trial By Triage – how they profit from other peoples misery (12 August)

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This week’s report is dominated by cases generated by the private firm, Triage, which advertises its services on its website in the following glowing terms:

‘Founded by Kate Carnegie MBE in 1998, the company has grown to become one of the most successful Scottish private sector welfare-to-work companies in the UK. Its mission is to develop new and innovative approaches to employment and training that work for both individuals and companies alike.’

The difference between the firm’s rhetoric and the reality of the kind of ‘service’ (sic) they actually provide, can be demonstrated by this observation, from the pages of a Scottish Left review article;

‘A BBC documentary illustrated how staff of Triage (a sub-contractor of Ingeus and Working Links) in Aberdeen referred to clients of the Work Programme as LTBs – code for ‘lying, thieving bastards’. The documentary also reiterated that staff were told not to spend much time and effort assisting jobseekers with disabilities as they were seen as too difficult to get paid employment.’ (Stephen MacMurray, ‘The Not Working Programme’, SLR, Issue 78)

At the Dundee office, ‘clients’ are habitually treated as sanction fodder – you have a much greater chance of finding a job under your own steam, and you are also much more likely to be sanctioned than ever finding a job through the efforts of Triage. At yesterday’s too busy stall we found clear conformation that Triage’s business plan and raison d’être can be summarised as ‘profiting from other peoples misery’. No sooner had we set the stall up than we were approached by Helen, a mother of two young children, who explained that she had been sanctioned for missing an appointment following an appointment letter from Triage, which she firmly insisted that she had not received. She raised the matter with her ‘advisor’ at Dundee Jobcentre, who informed her that this was not a good enough excuse, as Triage had insisted that the letter WAS sent. She then turned to her family social worker who accompanied her into the Jobcentre to argue the toss with her ‘advisor’, and, hey presto, the sanction disappeared. Now, this is all very well, but what about the vast majority of people who don’t have a social worker or any other ‘professional’ to speak on their behalf?

We met Linda, the mother of a twelve-year-old child. We have worked with Linda in the past, and when we spoke to her yesterday she was in high dudgeon; she reported that she had received a letter informing her that a 12 week sanction was due to come to an end in early September, and that she would then receive full entitlement. She reported that she had been sanctioned for failing to take part in a ‘work focused interview’, but explained that she was ACTUALLY in the Triage office at the time of the interview conducting an internet jobsearch, and that her advisor was aware of this.

In addition, the day following the receipt of this letter she received a further letter from Triage saying that she was now facing a further sanction from mid-July to mid-October. No reason was given for this further sanction. Two and half months of subsisting on hardship payments of around £48 per week had taken their toll, and she was now facing the prospect of a further two months of Triage sponsored starvation. We made a referral to Taught by Muhammad for a food parcel for the two of them, provided her with details of Scottish Welfare Fund grants, and urged her to sign up with Welfare Rights. We also asked her if she is in contact with the social work department, but she baulked at this suggestion, saying that she had had dealings with social work before and had little confidence in them – fearing that she may have her daughter taken from her. We have spoken to Linda today, and she tells us that she has received the food parcel and that welfare rights have supplied her with vouchers for gas and electricity.

I further advised her to contact welfare rights and arrange an appointment, so that they could take up her case, and suggested that she also take her case to her MP, Chris Law, who has been very active in taking up such cases since being elected. She admitted, however, that she has no credit in her phone and will have to wait until Monday before she is in a position to use her phone again.

We also came across Bill, an older gentleman who is stuck on the Work Programme, and who had just been granted an extended period of sickness (EPS). He approached us to ask if he would still be ‘bothered’ by phone calls and appointments from Triage whilst he was on EPS, and, if so, whether he could just ignore them. We cautioned him against this approach, but were able to confirm that he should not be expected to take part in work related activities when he has been declared too ill – despite the claims by the DWP that work IS a clinical outcome for the sick and disabled.

In addition to speaking to many other unemployed folk, and dispensing other bits and pieces of advice, we were also briefly visited by Mike Arnott of Dundee Trades Council who was on his way to deal with a union issue in another part of town. It would be fair to say that Mike was not a happy chappy, following news that his Union, the GMB, had just declared for Owen Smith in the Labour leadership race. Major questions will be asked of the union leadership after only 43,000, out of over 600,000 GMB members, had actually participated in the election, and not a single GMB member in Scotland had received ballot papers.

Thanks to Gordon, Norma, Chris, Tony and Sarah for helping with this week’s stall.

Talking to the Scottish Government

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Yesterday I went to one of the public consultation meetings for the new Scottish Social Security system – and, within the constraints of our miserly devolution, I have to admit to being cautiously optimistic.

Bob Scott of Inclusion Scotland, who were hosting the event, reminded us that governments don’t implement progressive change without pressure from below, but I think that Jeanne Freeman, the Minister in charge, is genuinely pleased to have that pressure, and, of course, politically this is an opportunity to demonstrate how much better a Scottish system could be. Having said that, only 15% of the Scottish welfare budget is being devolved, with the Scottish Government being put in charge of the disability benefits – DLA, PIP, and Attendance Allowance – and Carers Allowance, and also winter fuel and cold weather payments, funeral payments, maternity grants, and discretionary housing payments. In addition, we will get the ability to make minor improvements in the way Universal Credit is delivered, the management of systems to replace Work Choice and the Work Programme, and the freedom to add to existing benefits and create new ones (though with no extra money).

Jeanne Freeman said all the right things about ‘fairness, dignity and respect’, and ‘social security’ as a ‘collective investment’; about the need to avoid terms such as ‘strivers and skivers’ and ‘hardworking families’; and about the need for people with lived experience to help government design services that best meet need, and to hold government to account so that Scotland can be an exemplar. And she stayed long enough to get round the tables and talk with folk.

When it comes to concrete proposals for the future of the disability benefits, the discussions already seem promising. They are looking at making much more use of clinical evidence rather than face-to-face assessments, at making long-term awards for chronic conditions, and at investing further in helping people get good advice and advocacy; and there is a serious question mark over using private companies. But, of course, whatever is done has to be coordinated with other benefits still being administered by the DWP, and the logistics of transfer and change even of these limited benefits will be very complicated.

Our three workshops looked at advocacy, assessment and the transition phase. Very full notes were taken by Inclusion Scotland as part of the report back. We will be putting together our own more detailed response to the whole consultation, but here are some initial thoughts coming out of those discussions:

1/ The Scottish Government already provides money for advocacy (eg for Dundee Independent Advice Service). We need to stress the importance of the support provided by friends and family and self-help groups such as ours. The Scottish Government can help this by ensuring that the right to be accompanied is well known and acknowledged, and by ensuring there are readily accessible back-up services such as that provided by the CPAG phone-line for advisors. (I was able to make both these points to the Minister.) We also need to persuade the government to speak to Police Scotland so that they stop acting as the DWP’s minders.

2/ When it comes to assessment, the folk around our table were keen on the idea of a greater role for GPs but also that there should be flexibility in the type of evidence people might provide. We also felt that the criteria for qualification should not be so limited and should take account of ability to be included in social activity. We discussed the possibility of linking the benefit with a more holistic and proactive approach to health planning. At present, if people get a bit better they may lose their benefit and get worse again; a more holistic approach could help address this. There was instant agreement that there should be no role for the private sector.

3/ In looking at the transfer period – which could be quite some years – we agreed that the Scottish Government could straight away provide more help with advocacy and could set a limit on the time taken to process mandatory reconsiderations and appeals. The Scottish Government has tried to calculate the amount of money that is being lost by people currently on DLA losing all or part of their award on being reassessed for PIP. This is difficult as recent statistics are not available, but the sum is very large and they are not inclined to think that mitigating this is the best way to spend their limited budget. This might be a situation that could be helped by more Scottish Welfare Fund money given on a case-by-case discretionary basis.

There will be lots more consultation events of this kind as well as the opportunity to comment in writing . They do seem to want to listen, and we are going to make sure they can never say they were not aware of all the problems with the current system or of better approaches. The Living Rent Campaign have shown how effective a strategic response can be, and I think we could emulate their example of a detailed written response as an organisation together with a mass campaign where lots of people can sign up to supporting a few key points. (Watch this space.)

The replacement for the work programme was not discussed, but I have spoken to some very helpful civil servants about this since. I learnt that it falls under the remit of a different department and minister: Jamie Hepburn, Minister for Employability and Training. The consultation on this was last year – and we sent a short submission . Westminster has since decided that the money available for the replacement scheme will be much less than is being spent at present, and that people will only be sent on it after they have been signing on for two years. The current system will stop in March 2017. From 2017 to 2018 the only ‘employability’ schemes in Scotland will be for people on ESA, and they will all be voluntary. The Scottish Government is currently putting together plans for a new programme for the long-term unemployed that will start in 2018. They are concerned that if they make it voluntary almost no-one will use it, as that was the experience in Northern Ireland. It seems to me that the answer to this is not the stick, but the carrot. Why not give people a small financial reward for the time spent on courses etc.? As well, of course, as making sure the courses are actually useful. In our experience, the great majority of people do want to find work, but they will only be interested in activities that are genuinely helpful and not just box-ticking exercises. The Minister is currently arranging meetings with ‘service users’ to discuss what should be in the new service, and we have asked to meet him. We hope that he will be able to see us, and urge others to contact him too . We can also let him know a lot of things that are wrong with the current system, and pull away the happy mask put up by various members of the poverty industry.

Weekly Report, 5 August

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The impact of the recent loss of 160 jobs at the Galloway engineering group was clear today, as we met 3-4 very angry workers who were at Dundee buroo for the first time since losing their jobs. One guy was apoplectic with rage, as he had been told that he qualified for no help as he had savings. He complained that he had paid NI stamps all his working life, but was now expected to eat into his savings in order to survive, whilst also adding that ‘if I was a junky or a refugee, I’d be fine.’ Whilst sympathising with his plight we were able to inform him that he wasn’t being picked on, as everybody, including ‘junkies’ and ‘refugees’ were also ‘getting it large fae the DWP’. We also believe that the ‘advice’ that he received from the buroo was wrong, as, with having up-to-date NI contributions, he should be receiving contribution based JSA for six months.

We have recently heard that a welfare rights team is now stationed in Dundee buroo on a daily basis, working either mornings or afternoons. We, therefore, turned up to this week’s stalls with an expectation that things would be quiet – how wrong we were. At Monday’s stall our first case was Catherine, a young woman with quite severe cerebral palsy and anxiety and depression, who was in a right state due to delays with her claim for ESA – close to tears and totally confused with regards to the situation with her claim. We managed, with some difficulty, to calm her down. As she had no credit on her phone, one of our volunteers made a call to the ESA helpline in order to chase up her case. After an interminable wait of around 20-25 minutes she was eventually able to talk to an advisor, who was, though, unable to put her mind at rest. We advised her to get in contact with welfare rights, so that they could take up her case, and we took her contact details in order that we could monitor her progress – after a short chat on the phone today, Catherine was in a much better state, and was able to confirm that her claim was now back on track.

On Monday, we also met Joe, an ex-prisoner who was visiting the buroo for the first time after he was removed from ESA. He explained that he was meant to be accompanied into a work capability assessment by a welfare worker, who, unfortunately, did not turn up. He was not prepared to go into a WCA on his own, and, as a result, found his ESA claim was shut down and he was forced to apply for JSA – he should be able to have a further WCA arranged by phoning the ESA helpline and showing ‘good cause’ as to why he missed his WCA. We urged him to phone in his mandatory reconsideration asap – in order to clear the way for the second appeal stage, as, in our experience, mandatory reconsiderations are simply an unnecessary hurdle that rarely succeed, as they are judged by an internal ‘decision maker’. We further advised him to contact welfare rights as soon as he hears that his mandy recon has failed, which it will, so that they could help with the second stage of the appeal process – the independent tribunal.

In addition to 3-4 other inquiries of a less urgent nature, we also made a referral to the Taught by Muhammad food parcel delivery service, for John, a Universal Credit claimant, who was facing major delays with receiving full housing benefit allowance. This is a problem we have come across a few time before, with some people having to use the reduced UC payments they do receive in order to pay their rent, thus leaving them short of money for food, whilst the cumbersome UC bureaucratic machine attempts to solve the problem. John was not due to receive a payment for four days, but was completely out of money and food, as he had to use the last of his money to keep his electric switched on.

At today’s stall, Friday, SUWN advocates were required to accompany three people into the buroo, including Jess, a woman in her late fifties who had attended her daughter’s wedding in Portugal, and when she returned had found that her JSA claim had been shut down in her absence. Our advocate advised Jess to put in a mandatory reconsideration, and then to ask for a rapid reclaim of her JSA. The advisor, however, wouldn’t have it, and forced Jess to open a new claim for JSA, which would mean she would lose money as well as experiencing a delay whilst her new claim was being processed. We helped Jess complete her mandatory reconsideration and JSA application form, and advised her to contact Dundee City Council housing office in order to ensure that her housing benefit was not affected by her JSA claim having been closed. We also took her contact details in order that we can monitor her case and provide further help, if required.

We also met Ewan who had recently had his ESA claim shut down – a major problem that we are coming across on a regular basis – due to the failure of ESA to inform him of the correct date for his Work Capability Assessment. Ewan had already submitted a mandatory reconsideration to challenge this decision, and was now being forced to claim JSA. We advised him to ask for a 13 week extended period of sickness (EPS), whilst his mandatory reconsideration was being dealt with, and, if his mandy recon failed, urged him to take his case to the next stage of the appeal process, the independent tribunal. Readers, who are single people on JSA or ESA, should note that if your claim is shut down, that you should ensure that you submit a mandatory reconsideration before re-applying, as, if you re-apply for JSA or ESA first, you are liable to find yourself being forced onto Universal Credit.

This by no means exhausts this week’s case load, which also involved SUWN advocates accompanying people into ESA and PIP assessments. We had hoped for a bit of boredom outside the buroo this summer, but, it appears, that this is not to be. Thanks to Gordon, Susan, Chris, Jonathan, Gary, Grant, Sarah and Tony for helping out at this week’s stalls.

 

Notes from Dundee buroo – week ending 29 July

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Some people are just not very good at looking for work. They may have problems with writing or organisation or computers – or just with life more generally. And when work is short, their chances of finding a job are next to nothing. If you read the mission statements put out by the DWP, you would think that jobcentres would focus on helping these people be better placed to find employment. That still leaves the problem of lack of jobs, but it’s supposed to be all about ‘employability’ isn’t it? Except, of course, it isn’t. It’s about going through the motions of looking for work. And if you are not very good at looking for work and you have problems with literacy and your life is in a mess, then you probably won’t be able to do that either – so you are likely to get a sanction to add to your problems.

On Tuesday we met with two people who were being sanctioned and went in with them to find out what was going on. John is a lone parent and has a seven-year-old daughter with ADHD. He has poor literacy and organisational skills and problems using the computer, but is expected to be on Universal Jobmatch (the DWP’s computerised jobsearch) four times a week. This is not easy and also means going to the library, which is difficult in the school holidays. Jobcentre staff can make different arrangements for school holidays where you can’t arrange affordable or appropriate child care – but they hadn’t. John has been sent to ‘training’ sessions at Triage in the past, which were completely useless, but because he lives in a small place, going to something like a job club would cost a prohibitive amount in bus fares. He already has to pay out a lot each time he goes to the jobcentre. We are helping John challenge the sanction and explain about the problems of childcare, but we are worried about the future.

Anne lives on her own and suffers from alcohol addiction and depression. She tried to apply for ESA two years ago, but dressed up nice for the doctor and got no points. Now her jobcentre advisor has been insistent that she is not able to work and shouldn’t be on JSA. He told Anne to get a doctor’s fit note. The doctor wrote that Anne was able to do restricted work, which is an option on the form, but the Jobcentre was not accepting this. Anne had not realised that as well as getting the note, she was still expected to complete her jobsearch requirements. On top of which her mother had had a stroke and she had lost her jobsearch book. Sanctioned! She was left with no money and empty cupboards, so we helped her apply for a Hardship Payment and Crisis Grant and got her a food delivery from Taught by Muhammad. We will help her put in a Mandatory Reconsideration and find out if there is any possibility of her reapplying for ESA, and have suggested she go to Dundee North Law for further help.

Of course there are supposed to be disability officers in the jobcentre to help with these sorts of problems, but according to the account we heard today, their approach can be rather less than respectful. The woman I was talking to (who is fifty) told me that when she gave the disability officer her date of birth, his response was ‘you’re no spring chicken’.

Finally, we have also just posted off a copy of the Work Programme Provider Guidance notes to Paul, who is on ESA, so that he can show Triage that they cannot make him look for work.

Thanks to Gordon, Chris, Tony, Gary, Dave, William and Jonathan, and to Robert from Boycott Workfare, who joined us on Tuesday and is planning to organise similar stalls in Haringey.

As one door opens another closes

locked door

Anyone fighting the welfare ‘reform’ monster will be familiar with just how slippery it is. You think you have kept it at bay, and then it rears its ugly head to attack something else.

So, first, the good news. Since the ending of Mandatory Work Activity and Community Work Placements there appears to be no strictly mandatory work schemes currently operating in Dundee. Learndirect, who administered both these programmes, has quietly vanished from its office on City Quay, and Triage assures us that none of the schemes it sends people to is mandatory.

The less good news is that there is no attempt to inform people that they can say no to being sent on a work scheme without incurring a sanction; and within the DWP’s punitive regime we have been taught not to question instructions. The system still promotes a culture where people are expected to work for free to earn the right to get a job interview, and to ‘volunteer’ as part of their thirty-five hour a week jobsearch.

And the really bad news is that the DWP is spreading its tentacles into even more areas, and polluting what should be safe spaces. We have already commented on the way pressurised volunteering has drawn charities and community groups into their orbit. In March, Third Force News reported that ‘So called job coaches from the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) are to be placed in schools, social care settings, libraries, and housing schemes’. Dundee City Council seems determinedly complacent about the implications of this type of approach. Their website explains that they are ‘working closely with a range of partners including Jobcentre Plus’; their first suggestion for anyone affected by welfare ‘reform’ and considering looking for work is to contact a Jobcentre advisor; and their independent ‘employability’ service, Discover Opportunities, hosts a jobcentre ‘outreach worker’ twice a week. If they cannot see how important it is to keep services designed to advise and help separate from those set up to control and punish, then we would suggest that they try and imagine what they would think if they learnt about a similar system of state surveillance in some distant autocratic regime.