‘We own your son’ – another stall report

stall

The Work Programme may be winding down, but Triage seem determined to continue to toy with and torment those still completing their two-year stints. When we met Jane and her son at this week’s stall, she told us that Triage employees had even come and chapped on her door to inform her that until his time on the programme came to an end they ‘owned’ her son. She was actually less concerned by this dangerously warped thinking and intrusive behaviour than by the fact that, while he was stuck in the useless clutches of Triage, he was not allowed to go to other organisations that might be able to provide him with some real help in his search for work.

John informed us that he had been sanctioned for missing an appointment due to being at a job interview. He had even gone to the jobcentre to warn them, but been told they were too busy to see him. He was no longer that bothered as he was about to start a job, but we tried to persuade him of the importance of still appealing the sanction decision. Not only should he get the money that he is due, but he also should avoid the risk that if his job doesn’t work out and he is back unemployed again, his sanction could continue. Ed, on the other hand, was determined to appeal his sanction. He had been late for an appointment as the road had been closed due to a traffic accident. He had brought the clipping about the accident from the local paper as evidence.

Demands to prove ID seem to be a growing problem and a source of major benefit delays. (See our earlier blog for examples of what counts.) James was full of well-focussed indignation at a system that had forced his severely disabled wife to come to the jobcentre to prove who she was so that his claim could be processed.

We haven’t put up a stall report for a bit, but looking back at notes from the last couple of weeks, I find that we seem to have encountered a clutch of problems from people who were carers. George had been receiving Carer’s Allowance for looking after his father, but since his father’s death he had put in for this to be changed to looking after his mother instead. When the person you are caring for dies, Carer’s Allowance should continue for a further eight weeks, but his payments had stopped after three weeks, and the transfer to being a carer for his mother had still not been processed. We suggested he ask for a Scottish Welfare Fund grant to cover the gap while everything got sorted. Andy was receiving Carer’s Allowance but was being put under pressure to apply for Universal Credit instead. There may be particular reasons why in his case this makes sense, but we advised him not to do anything without getting welfare advice and a benefit check, as the jobcentre are only too keen to get everyone signed onto UC. For Mark there was no choice.  He had been getting Carer’s Allowance to look after his father, but his father had had to move into a care home. Mark had no option but to move onto UC, and was now struggling to pay back the advance he had had to take out to see himself through the initial delay, as well as paying the bus fares to visit his father. He had already received two Welfare Fund grants but we suggested he might also be able to get some help with his heating and electricity from Dundee Energy Efficiency Advice Project. The low value put on carers and care work is a real indictment of our society.

And finally, a more pleasant surprise. Robert emerged from the jobcentre unusually happy. He had just been informed that, since they could see from his UC online account that he was doing what was requested to look for work, he only needed to come in monthly.

Thanks for this week’s stall to Norma, Gary and Dave.

 

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The SUWN goes to Holyrood

18-02-01 Holyrood

The timing wasn’t great. We were invited to present our petition to the Scottish Government Petitions Committee the day after the 1st stage budget debate. The petition calls for the Scottish Government to spend more money mitigating UK welfare cuts, and to raise this through more progressive taxation. But nothing is set in stone yet, and the issues go well beyond this parliament, so we were determined to use the opportunity to make the case as strongly as we could.

The process is impressively thorough – which may account for why it took so long to reach this stage. The clerks provided a useful briefing paper for the committee members and everything has been fully recorded and written up. Like all parliamentary business, it was filmed, so you can watch me (Sarah) in my best frock and John McArdle looking rather hot because they insisted he kept his jumper on to cover his Black Triangle T-shirt. (No logos allowed, it seems, even if they are for the organisation you are representing.) The committee is made up of five MSPs. Johann Lamont, the former Scottish Labour leader is convenor, with Angus MacDonald from the SNP as her deputy. The other members are Michelle Ballantyre and Brian Whittle from the Conservatives, and Rona Mackay from the SNP. (I had efficiently made a note of their parties but it got buried under other documents.)

I had about five minutes to set out our arguments before the committee asked us questions. At the end they agreed to get a response from the Scottish Government and also flag the petition up to the Social Security Committee. And we have emailed them a bundle of supporting evidence. Now we wait and see what happens. But so long as welfare help is needed we will pursue this every way we can.

You can watch the whole session here.

And read the official write-up here.

My initial speech is reproduced in full below, and here is the supporting evidence: 18-02-08 EVIDENCE FOR PETITIONS COMMITTEE.

OUR PETITION is a response to an immediate and severe need. Put simply, if our Parliament can’t protect Scotland’s poorest and most vulnerable citizens, then of what use is it?

Here today you have representatives from the Scottish Unemployed Workers’ Network and Black Triangle. We have also discussed this petition with people in Westgap in Glasgow, Edinburgh Coalition Against Poverty, and Inclusion Scotland. We are all of us only too aware, from the people we work with and help, of the devastation that so-called ‘Welfare Reform’ is causing.

 As a nation, we have become accustomed to newspaper stories of benefit decisions that have left families in fear and destitution. These aren’t the result of glitches or bad apples. They are examples – and not always the worst examples – of what happens when a system that was established to provide a measure of social security is transformed into a form of social control. Some indication of the scale of suffering this is causing is given by the rising demand for food-banks – a form of charity that should have died out with the establishment of the Welfare State.

What the UK government has called ‘Welfare Reform’, is often described simply as welfare cuts. The cuts are huge – and that is primarily what we are here to talk about – but we are also seeing a very deliberate qualitative change: a return to the Victorian belief that individuals are to blame for their own misfortune.

We have been pleased to see the Scottish Government publically rejecting this approach. There is much talk about ‘dignity’, but this is of no help if folk are still left to struggle for survival.

Last week, the European Committee of Social Rights produced yet another report pulling up the UK Government for the meanness of their benefit system. In the post-war years, benefit rates rose in line with earnings or prices, whichever was greater. Then, in 1980, they were tied to prices, and while incomes and living standards rose, benefits were left far behind. And now we have had almost two decades of cuts and freezes. People on benefits are excluded from more and more activities that others take for-granted: school trips, everyday socialising with friends, a good varied diet, decent heating, a home computer. And that’s when the system is working smoothly.

As the papers prepared for this committee note, the Social Security Committee has commissioned research that gives figures for the benefits lost to people in Scotland since 2010 as a result of Welfare cuts. By 2020-21 these will add up to over £2 Billion a year. You can also see the losses resulting from different benefit cuts, both to individuals and altogether. Some are very large, and some households are suffering from several of these cuts simultaneously. In addition, vast amounts of distress and on-going complications result from what we can only describe as a criminal level of negligence in the workings of the various DWP bureaucracies. Benefit delays are the cause of many requests for extra help from the Scottish Welfare fund or from food-banks.

People are astonishingly resilient, and generally that’s a good thing. But it is frightening to see how people’s expectations adjust to surviving in a world where options are always constricting. And this has its own consequences, feeding into an epidemic of mental health problems, physical health problems and isolation.

 This petition is deliberately not prescriptive about how best to mitigate this misery. What we are calling for is an acknowledgement of the need to put more money into the system to help those affected, and for this to be done in a holistic way. Every cut translates into personal and social disasters, and each has generated a call for the Scottish Government to mitigate it. These need to be looked at together or it will be too easy for all these different desperate needs to be set in competition with each other.

We would, though, be happy to answer questions about some of the areas where more spending could make a real difference, and we’ve got a lot of evidence on that: more help with discretionary housing payments, extra money for child benefit, more for the Scottish Welfare Fund, more for advice, more help for sick and disabled people, more help for people who’ve been sanctioned.

It is a pity that this session is taking place so far into the debates on the Scottish budget, because the other side of the coin is the need to raise more money. Now that the draft budget has opened the door to more progressive taxation, and people have got used to the idea, let’s make it really progressive and raise enough money to make a significant difference.

We also noted the potential for replacing Council Tax with a Land Value Tax. That would need a session of its own, but we would refer you to the work already done on this by Andy Wightman for the Scottish Greens. Andy’s report was written in 2010 and anticipated that the system could be up and running in five years.

We appreciate that there is an understandable reluctance by the Scottish Government to spend money on things that should be being looked after by Westminster. It is galling when there is so much more to do. But when it comes to welfare it is very very necessary: even a matter of life and death. What more important role does parliament have than to protect a country’s most vulnerable citizens, and help create and preserve sustainable communities?

For those who believe Scotland’s future lies in devolution, then that devolved parliament must be put to full use. For those who believe that devolution is not enough, then it is important to use all the powers we have in order to demonstrate the need for more. And for those who can’t see beyond the bottom line –well, when it comes to benefits, the phrase a stitch in time couldn’t be more true. Help now can prevent family and social breakdown, which brings much greater financial costs, as well as personal tragedies. And it can put money into deprived areas where it can have the greatest positive impact on the economy.

The approach currently being followed by the Scottish government may seem to be cautious and pragmatic, but unless it does more to help those at the sharp end of Welfare reform, we will be left with poor people and poor economics.

 

 

ATOS doesn’t do irony – but…

Atos dreaming

PIP award rates vary significantly between different areas, and Dundee again loses out in this postcode lottery (as shown in this Scottish Government report, see tables 6 and 7). This should be prompting further investigation and action by the UK Government, but we’re not holding our breaths. Meanwhile, reality can’t be allowed to get in the way of corporate image.

The basic reception space in Dundee’s tin shed Assessment Centre has acquired a sugar coating of signs that should make you feel nauseous even if you weren’t already. Ahead, as you enter, is a photograph of a beach with a big heart drawn in the sand. So far so kitsch, but your eyes are then drawn to the inspiring message painted on the wall to the left of the passage that leads to the assessment rooms. It reads ‘Hundreds of Languages around the world but a Smile speaks them all’. Of course few people entering this place have much to smile about, but if, out of instinctive politeness, you do force a smile, you can be pretty sure that it will be interpreted as an indication that you are not as ill or disabled as you claim to be. To the right of the passage a poster reads ‘RESPECT DIGNITY COMPASSION’. The only nod to reality is provided by the yellow danger sign, coincidentally fixed to the wall beyond.

When ATOS Healthcare changed their name to Independent Assessment Services, it was widely assumed that this was a response to the toxicity of the ATOS brand after running the brutal tick-box Work Capability Assessments. But now they seem so caught up in their own corporate spin that this has been forgotten. Another poster on the wall by the entrance seeks to reassure those waiting with the message ‘all that’s changed is our name’.

Getting out of Universal Credit

May

When Universal Credit was brought in it was described as a lobster-pot system: once you were in there was no way back onto the older benefits. BUT for people in areas that have not yet had the Universal Credit Full Service roll out, there is a possible escape route, especially following the changes brought in at the beginning of this year. In those areas, anyone making a new benefit application now makes it through the old system. If you are unemployed you apply for JSA, if you are unable to work you apply for ESA, if you don’t have to work due to caring responsibilities you apply for Income Support, and you apply for Housing Benefit separately from the local council. This should mean that if you are on UC in one of those areas and close down your current claim and make a new one, you would go back onto the old system. There doesn’t appear to be anything in the legislation to suggest that this wouldn’t work, though we don’t know of any examples of people who have tried it.

You would have to survive the initial unpaid week, and then there is always a risk of delays in any benefit application. Also, we would never suggest closing down an ESA claim and risking another assessment. But this might prove a useful route for some people – e.g. if you are on UC and have become unfit for work and would rather apply for ESA than UC for people who are sick or disabled; or if you want to escape the jobcentre altogether and just apply for Housing Benefit. Of course there are a few people for whom UC actually works better; and, if you are still needing benefits you will have to go on UC eventually, which will mean – assuming they haven’t improved the system – another long wait for the first payment. You would need to think what the advantages and disadvantages might be in your particular circumstances – and discuss your options with a welfare advisor if you can – but this could be a useful hole in the lobster pot for some. Please let us know if you’ve tried it!

You can find whether you are in a relevant area here. It will be described as Universal Credit Live Service (as distinct from Full Service). And you can find when the Full Service rollout is due to come to your area here.

Universal Credit problem number a million and one – or thereabouts

18-01-23

A few grassroots activists can only directly help a tiny proportion of those who need assistance, but we hope by writing about what we do we can reach a few more people with similar problems, and also make a wider public a bit more aware of the realities of life relying on the DWP. The following two cases came to us by phone and internet. (The number in the heading is just a wild guess, but with 660,000 people now on UC it could be an under-estimate.)

Leanne rang us because she was planning to set up her own small business and she wanted to know whether to follow the jobcentre’s advice and move from Income support onto Universal Credit. Of course individual priorities will vary and ultimately the decision is hers, but we could tell her to start with that the DWP likes to encourage people to sign up to Universal Credit, but that very rarely is it to their advantage.

Superficially, UC would seem to be helpful. You don’t lose almost all your benefit when you start earning some money, as Leanne would do if she stayed on Income Support; and you can get help with childcare. BUT, what the jobcentre didn’t tell her is that UC for the self-employed can cause some very serious problems, and although these have been pointed out for a long time, nothing has been done to rectify them. Firstly, UC, which is calculated monthly, is notoriously bad for people with irregular earnings. If you earn a lot in one month you will get little or no UC income; but even if you earn next to nothing the next month there is only a limited amount of benefit that you can receive, and there is no scope to average the earnings out. After the first year, the DWP will assume that you are always earning at least what you would get in a minimum wage job and working your full number of hours – normally thirty-five hours a week, unless, like Leanne, you have caring responsibilities. If you actually earn much less, your UC will still be calculated as if you were earning that full sum – and you can also be made to look for additional work and do other tasks, under threat of being sanctioned. Even before then the DWP can decide that you are not earning enough and must look for something else. And every month you are expected to submit your accounts.[1]

We sent Leanne a link to this powerful Channel 4 News report, and we also pointed out that at present she is relatively lucky. Her youngest child is three, and while she is on Income support, she will not have to look for work until he is five. However, under UC, single parents are expected to look for sixteen hours work a week straight after their youngest child’s third birthday; so, if she goes onto UC and her business doesn’t work out, she will be under pressure to work or search for jobs sixteen hours a week, or lose her benefit.

Not much incentive to set up on her own or go onto Universal Credit, then. What was that about ‘making work pay’?

Tina missed her Work Capability Assessment last September. Or rather, they missed her. Because of the extent of her problems she had asked for the assessment to be carried out at home. She couldn’t manage the first date that they sent, and they promised to send her another by post, but the assessor arrived without notice, and she was out – so the DWP closed her claim. (Failure to notify people about their assessment is not uncommon, and we have talked with people to whom it has happened more than once.) She put in a Mandatory Reconsideration and then an appeal – we had to help her with the appeal because the person she had been seeing at CAB had just left.

When, after two months with no income as she waited for the result of the Mandatory Reconsideration, she learnt that she could apply for Universal Credit, she applied for that too. And she asked for it to be backdated. The letter she got back from the Universal Credit people was quite bizarre. UC doesn’t really do backdating except for a month if you fit a set list of criteria. The ‘Decision Maker’ explained that Tina’s reasons for applying late for UC were ‘not unreasonable’, but couldn’t count as they didn’t fit the list. One of the listed reasons is having a disability, and Tina had previously been in the ESA Support Group with mental health problems. However the letter went on to explain that if Tina had done her Mandatory Reconsideration herself, then she was not too disabled – and if she had got help then her helper should have told her to apply for UC. On that logic, it is difficult to see how this criteria could ever come into play.

Tina can continue to try and get an extra month’s UC by appealing against this backdating decision, but she also wanted to know what would happen to her missing money if her main appeal is successful and she is eventually recognised again as not fit for work. Although CAB had told her that her money would then be backdated to cover the gap, this was not the impression she was getting from the jobcentre. We were glad to be able to confirm that, unsurprisingly, it was the jobcentre that was confused (or confusing). She is currently on basic UC. If she wins her appeal and is eventually found unfit for work she will stay on UC but not be forced to apply for jobs. And if she is also found unfit to do ‘work related activities’ then she will get an additional ‘limited capability for work-related activity’ element in her UC. If she gets found unfit for work then she should also get awarded backdated ESA for the gap before she applied for UC. (Thank you CPAG for clarifying this!)

For now, though, she is coping with the legacy of the gap in her benefits, plus reduced payments because of deductions for the advance that she had to take to cover the initial UC waiting period. We have suggested she ask for help from the Scottish Welfare Fund.

Meanwhile, back at last week’s stint outside the jobcentre (see above) we met yet another person who appears to have been wrongly made to apply for Universal Credit (complete with nine week wait) when she had just lost a job and should have been on contribution-based Jobseeker’s Allowance. (And we have just been contacted by someone who has had her PIP stopped because the DWP has claimed erroneously – for the third time in a row – that she had not sent in her renewal form.)

(Thanks for the last two stalls to Norma, Gary, Tony, Gordon, Duncan and Dave)

[1] From April 2018 new (and complicated) rules will mean that extra money earned one month will be carried over to reduce the UC received the following months. You will be able to carry over actual losses too, but not low pay; and previous earnings won’t be taken into account when considering whether to make you look for more work – so this will solve none of the problems identified above, while adding an extra complication – 29/1/18.

 

 

 

 

 

‘This place needs blown up’ – a stall report

Wellgate steps

The verdict of one jobcentre ‘customer’ left us in no doubt of his opinion of the ‘service’ he had just received. (In these days of ‘terrorists’ under the bed I feel I should point out that this statement was rhetorical – we know of someone who was banned from the jobcentre for a similar comment.)

A look back at recent blogs demonstrates the huge amount of distress caused by jobcentre errors – what in any other organisation would be deemed culpable levels of negligence. That the DWP presides over a system so poorly structured and badly trained, demonstrates the official contempt for the people they are supposed to serve. Fran is another victim of the DWP’s bureaucratic incompetence, and when she first burst out of the jobcentre she was far too upset to talk to us. It was only after a long sit down with her daughter on the cold brick steps round the corner that she was clam enough to explain what had happened. She had been getting help from Welfare Rights, so we didn’t feel the need to go into the details of her case, but the DWP had been sending her from pillar to post, always demanding more paperwork. Meanwhile, she had no support for her teenage sons, who are at college, so that they were threatening to give up their courses and futures and join the scrabble for unskilled jobs; and the DWP were accusing her, without evidence, of a two week gap in her records. The last straw was the jobcentre’s refusal to sign a crucial document she had been given by Welfare rights. While there was no risk of anyone blowing up the jobcentre, I was more seriously concerned about her comments that life was no longer worth living.

When she had calmed down sufficiently, we rang her Welfare Rights officer who was able to see her again that afternoon and ring through to the jobcentre, insisting on the need for a signature. This time Fran emerged fro the jobcentre with a smile and a signed document. She told us that the man who had signed it observed, ‘I could have signed that an hour ago’.

Even when people are already getting professional help – and in our experience in Dundee increasing numbers are – it can still be important that when they are at their lowest after being processed by the jobcentre machine they can find people who recognise them as a fellow human being.

Tam should have been in hospital, but had checked himself out of his bed to sort his benefits. He is on JSA and we told him he should be able to get a thirteen week Extended Period of Sickness. He is returning to a further five to six weeks hospital care, where he hopes the social work team will help sort out the doctor’s line. Sean had also been in hospital, and in consequence had found his case closed for failure to attend, and was having to sign on again.

Arun has been homeless since April. A friend has offered him a flat in a few days’ time, but meanwhile the Council has decided that he has outstayed his welcome in their emergency accommodation. We went with him to the Salvation Army hostel and helped him fill in the paperwork to ensure he has a roof over his head.

We were also able to inform people about the possibility of getting a Short Term Benefit Advance, and other useful bits of information, and we could see the visible signs of relief on the faces of two women when we told them that we could accompany them to future jobcentre appointments if wanted. One told us that she felt ill before every visit.

Lastly, three bits of good news.

First, Westgap is going to be organising stalls outside Govan jobcentre from next week. If you are in the Glasgow area and would like to help, please get in touch with them: info@westgap.co.uk

Second, a recent Upper Tribunal ruling should make it much easier to defeat the sort of bureaucratic incompetence that Fran is suffering from. The tribunal decided that if the DWP fails to provide proof that they have done what they claim (such as send out a letter), then they won’t have a case to answer.  Of course most people would hope not to have to pursue their cause as far as an Upper Tribunal, but if you can demonstrate knowledge of this case, the DWP should be wary of insisting on making unsubstantiated claims.

And finally, the UK government has backed off from appealing against the high court ruling that changes to PIP rules made last March were ‘blatantly discriminatory’ against people with mental health conditions. Psychological distress must again be taken into account when looking at mobility, and the government will be making back-payments to everyone (up to 164,000 people across the UK) who was deprived of benefits because of the rule change.

 

But we DO have that right already…

18-01-19 Holyrood Magazine

We have just sent the following letter to the Scottish Secretary of State for Social Security:

Dear Jeanne

I was surprised and concerned to see you quoted as saying that people are not allowed companions with them at assessments under the current system. Although assessors can sometimes be difficult about this, the DWP’s own guidelines clearly state that companions are allowed. See page 30: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/655611/pip-assessment-guide-part-1-assessment-process.pdf

It is important that people are aware of the few rights they do still have so that they can insist on them being respected.

We would also hope that you are planning to make greater use of doctors’ reports so that face to face assessments can often be avoided altogether.

Regards

Sarah Glynn

for the Scottish Unemployed Workers’ Network

HERE IS THE RELEVANT SECTION FROM THE ABOVE GUIDANCE DOCUMENT

‘Companions at consultations

‘Claimants have a right to be accompanied to a face-to-face
consultation if they so wish. Claimants should be encouraged to
bring another person with them to consultations where they would
find this helpful – for example, to reassure them or to help them
during the consultation. The person chosen is at the discretion of the
claimant and might be, but is not limited to, a parent, family member,
friend, carer or advocate.

‘Consultations should predominantly be between the HP and the
claimant. However, the companions may play an active role in
helping claimants answer questions where the claimant or HP
wishes them to do so. HPs should allow a companion to contribute
and should record any evidence they provide. This may be
particularly important where the claimant has a mental, cognitive or
intellectual impairment. In such cases the claimant may not be able
to give an accurate account of their health condition or impairment,
through a lack of insight or unrealistic expectations of their own
ability. In such cases it will be essential to get an accurate account
from the companion.

‘However, the involvement of companions should be handled
appropriately by the HP. It is essential that the HP’s advice
considers the details given by the claimant and the companion and
whether one or both are understating or overstating the needs. If the
presence of a companion becomes disruptive to the consultation, the
HP may ask them to leave. However, this should be avoided
wherever possible.

‘HPs should use their judgement about the presence of companions
during any examination. A companion should be in the room for an
examination only if both the claimant and the HP agree. Companions
should take no part in examinations.

‘The presence and involvement of any companion at a consultation
should be recorded in the assessment report.’

Standing together against cuts

18-01-09 Tully

Last Monday Dundee City Council were expected to be the first Scottish council to decide how the latest round of cuts would impact on their spending. Instead councillors from all parties decided to make another call on the Scottish Government for more money. SUWN activists took part in the demonstration called by Dundee Against Cuts outside the council chamber, alongside public sector trade unionists. No-one is under any illusions that the source of all the cuts and ‘austerity’ is the Tory government in Westminster, but, besides protesting this, the Scottish Government does have some limited powers to mitigate the worst impacts. In reiterating the argument that the Scottish budget needs to go further in using progressive taxation to raise the money needed to keep public services and help the least well off, we stressed the importance of all campaigners working together so that funding for one issue is not used as an excuse for not funding something else. Money has to be found for council services and public sector workers and for welfare; for welfare and for council budgets.

The problem is that both the SNP and Labour have not fully recovered from the neoliberal disease. They are afraid to call for more substantial progressive changes and risk being called out as irresponsible by a largely neoliberal media. And although the Greens are in a strong bargaining position, as the SNP may need their votes, more money for welfare doesn’t seem to have been stated as a Green red-line. This is especially disappointing as the Greens have themselves raised most of the issues that we made in our own pre-budget petition – and we have written to their Social Security spokesperson to ask what they are doing to ensure that the Scottish Government doesn’t fail the poor and disabled.

The picture is from the Evening Telegraph

Negotiating the bureaucratic jungle – 2018, week 1

rain

When we are asked about benefit appeals we usually tell people to contact the welfare rights professionals, but when, as last week, the appeal is the next day there isn’t time for that. Instead we passed on a video explaining what to expect and the list of what disabilities score points. This proved enough for the person who had contacted us to prepare her case and win the appeal – so I thought we should share the links here: Video advice about appeals, what scores points for PIP, what scores points for ESA Support Group, what scores points for ESA Work Related Activity Group.

Our first (very wet) stall of 2018 proved relatively quiet. The most seasonable case we came across was the man who had had an extra wages payment before Christmas and so lost out on Universal Credit for that month. It had been predicted that irregular pre-Christmas payments would cause havoc with people’s benefits, but the DWP had just shrugged this off, along with all the other problems UC causes. Our friend had been told there was nothing the jobcentre could do, and was off to get help from the Scottish Welfare Fund.

A lot of people tell us that their advisor is fine – but of course it is the system that is the real problem, as the previous example demonstrates. We were also told by a young woman of the difficulties she had had managing on UC when unemployed and in temporary accommodation. Regardless of the ownership or actual costs of temporary accommodation, UC only contributes the Local Housing Allowance, which for a single person under 35 is based on the cost of a single room in a cheap private-rented shared house. This has actually been acknowledged as a problem, but plans to bring back Housing Benefit for people in temporary accommodation are not scheduled to start until April.

And, as we have found time and time again, advisors often make mistakes or fail to give people crucial bits of information. We were able to tell another man that on income based JSA he should be entitled to help with his mortgage. And we were told about the jobcentre’s refusal to provide essential training help and help with travel costs – which should both have been eligible for help through the Flexible Support Fund. It seems they find it easier to provide bureaucratic reasons why this can’t be done than honour the ‘flexible’ bit.

Our first Work Capability Assessment of the year found Maximus challenging Ryan Air for good management and customer relations. They were short staffed because one of their nurses was still on holiday and no-one seemed to have planned for this. The receptionist, who clearly regarded herself as the principal martyr to this incompetence, was phoning people to inform them that their assessment had been postponed, and then complaining when they vented their natural frustration. She even sent someone away who had come into the centre, but he just accepted the situation without complaint – as so many benefit claimants are conditioned to do.

Thanks to Tony, Norma, Duncan, Gary, Dave and Gordon,

 

 

Hopes for 2018

18-01-06 BellaBella Caledonia asked me to describe my hopes for 2018. This is what I wrote:

‘For a welfare campaigner, 2018 would seem to provide few grounds for optimism. The Tories’ narrowed majority has only given added urgency to their determination to transform the welfare state from a system of social security to a mechanism for social control. But defence of the poorest and most vulnerable, and of the very notion of social security, can act as a rallying cry for building a progressive force.

‘Support for foodbanks and charities demonstrates that people care. A plethora of articles and blogs demonstrate that the government has failed in its attempt to stigmatise people on benefits. Austerity is increasingly being acknowledged as a political choice rather than a necessity. And interest in Universal Basic Income trials shows people are prepared to look forward to an alternative where we are no longer defined by our paid labour. Put all these things together, and we have the potential for a mass movement that combines practical action with political awareness and demands for radical change – and that addresses problems well beyond welfare.

‘For this to become a hope, and not just a dream, requires a conscious and constant building of connections; connections between practical actions and theoretical politics, and also connections between all the different campaigns – on issues ranging from equal rights to climate change – that ultimately demand the reversal of neoliberal capitalism. Before neoliberalism became accepted as the natural order of things it was regarded as a marginal idea – proving that understandings can change and raising hopes that neoliberalism itself can be sent back to the margins.

Sarah Glynn

Organiser with the Scottish Unemployed Workers’ Network’