SUWN on Google maps

SUWN on Google maps

I’ve just noticed that the Google maps picture of Dundee Jobcentre has the SUWN stall outside.

And here are the accompanying reviews (sorted by ‘most helpful’):

Michelle M, 8 months ago, ★

poor service by poorly qualified staff, they don’t really care about you or the work you do and espacially do not give a monkeys if you have a health condition which limits your capabilities to work, they treat the public like scum and think everyone is a drug addict who only wants a quick fix i am fed up of public service workers being so vile towards people who try their best to find jobs we are all not lazy time wasters who dont want to work some of us have had well over 200 interviews in addition to this the mandatory work fare slave labour is rubbish and don’t forget the sanctions for not filling in your diary the way they want you too sorry but the diaries are lame and are no real help especially when you find out you are always applying for the same jobs again and again, also the out of date vacancies are pathetic on their job points or the non existent ones too

5  Share

 

John Thow, 7 months ago, ★

Horrible people who care nothing about you or the situation you find yourself in all they care about is there numbers and getting there own pay check at the end of the day if you ask me they are the scum of the earth they actually look for ways to mess you about its ridiculous

4  Share

 

Darren Pennie, 10 months ago, ★

Only got one star cuz couldn’t give none there the most unhelpful people around don’t care ab9ut you the only care about their targets!

2  Share

 

Paul Bryson, 6 months ago, ★

Possibly one of the worst experiences ever,treated as if i was a disobedient child,who should not talk back,look at my Gym bag or have my mobile phone in my hand and this was myself signing on after being made redundant.I suggest anyone who is treated in the same manner to report their so-called work coach.

2  Share

 

Tony Nycz, 3 years ago, ★

The worst experience in my life because I couldnt get hrough on the phone but if you have internet tickety boo oh yes bugger them all

1  Share

 

Gail Jack, a year ago, ★★★★★

Very helpful and very efficient.

 

Raymond Paterson, a year ago, ★★★★

Nice staff

 

Craig Mcphee, 6 months ago, ★★★

 

hal mckay, 7 months ago, ★

 

 

No wonder she was angry

Swear-Words

Jen emerged from the jobcentre shouting and accompanied by a security guard. At first she was too angry to engage with us at all, convinced that, as with everyone else she had encountered, our offers of help were hollow. But something persuaded her to turn around and come back. Over a cup of tea in the café opposite, she explained that she had been on JSA but had taken a job for two weeks in a Glasgow club.  When she signed on again she was put onto Universal Credit. She had asked for a Rapid Reclaim, but the DWP treated her like a new claimant and she was undergoing the long wait for her first payment. To make it worse, they initially failed to put through the claim at all and she had had to start again. It was now nine weeks since she had applied, and she was yet to receive any payments other than a £350 advance loan, which had almost all been swallowed up in rent, as she had to keep a roof over her head. Now she had no money and just £9 on the electricity meter. She had gone into the jobcentre because she had hoped that they would be able to find out the cause of the delay and ensure she got her benefit payments; but she had been told there was nothing they could do and been fobbed of with the usual assurance – in which she had little faith – that the money would come through that evening.

We rang the Scottish Welfare Fund from the café, and they took details of her situation so that they could decide whether to give her an emergency grant. It was too late to contact the foodbank, but we told her to ring us if she needed to do this the following day. That evening she was going over to her mother who had just rung to tell her she had borrowed more money off a friend to see her daughter through.

To make matters worse, Jen’s private landlady clearly had a cavalier attitude to health and safety and her boiler had recently exploded. No-one was hurt, but Jen had been relying on expensive electric heating for two weeks and her only source of hot water was the shower. We discussed taking this and her other housing problems to Shelter.

When she left the café her intense anger had evaporated. She has not got back to us so we hope this means that some money has finally got through.

Our last blog looked at a couple of the people we have helped after they were found ‘fit-for-work’ and bumped off ESA. This one looks at some of the other problems we have come across in our last two stalls outside Dundee buroo.

Richard lost his job on the Riggs two years ago and has only had bits and pieces of work since. He told us that employers in other areas of work aren’t interested in him because they assume that he will leave as soon as better-paid oil work comes along. There had been a prospect of a good oil job recently, but a vital license had expired and he didn’t have the money needed to renew it. He had asked the jobcentre for help, but they had said there was nothing they could do. It was already too late for that job when he discovered himself, through friends, that the Scottish Government has set up a fund to help people in his exact predicament: something – as he pointed out – that the jobcentre should have been aware of. He gave us the link for anyone else who might need it.

The problems of finding work when you are older are well known, but last week we learnt about an additional hurdle from a woman looking for care work. She told us that younger people get their SVQ costs paid for them, but others have to pay these back out of their wages. And despite all the homage paid to the idea of building people’s confidence, another frustrated woman complained that she had just been told by her ‘work coach’ that although she had had three job interviews that week she ‘shouldn’t get her hopes up’. She had been living on just £23 a week after rent and overdue deductions, so we suggested she see a money advisor to get her repayments rescheduled.

Allan was also waiting for his benefit money to come through. He had no money and had not had a proper meal in two days. We tried to get him a food parcel, but it was (again) too late that evening. He, too, had been given the usual promise that the money would be in his account by the end of the day, but previous experience led us to ring him to check the next morning – when we found ourselves having to give him details of the day’s soup kitchens, before getting back on the phone to our friends at Taught by Muhammad to arrange a food parcel. We also advised him to take his case to the Welfare Rights drop-in when he was at the soup kitchen.

Mark had no money and no home. He was staying on his friend’s sofa and had been sanctioned because his jobcentre appointment had clashed with his Gran’s funeral, which wasn’t deemed sufficient excuse to change the date. But he didn’t want help because he was getting away from it all and joining the army. Maybe that was what he had always wanted to do, but it is easy to see how jobcentres make dangerously easy recruiting grounds.

Thanks to: Gordon, Dave, Gary, Susan, Sarah, Alison, Grant and Tony

When you’re ‘fit for work’, but not fit for work: negotiating DWP logic

 

DWP hangman

With the DWP targeting the sick and disabled, we are constantly being approached by people who have been found ‘fit for work’ when they clearly are not. They have challenged the decision – always worth doing as the success rate is very high – but before they can put in a full appeal, they have to ask for it to be looked at again within the DWP (for a Mandatory Reconsideration), and while this is happening the only way they can get benefits is to sign up for Jobseeker’s Allowance. This means accepting the pretence that they are indeed ‘fit for work’ just long enough to get registered for the benefit; but once they are signed on they have the same rights to doctors notes as any other recipient of JSA. Most doctors are naturally concerned when their seriously ill patients are forced to look for work, and will readily ask for them to be excused job searching and other activities that make their condition worse. A doctor’s note for an extended period of sickness can last as long as 13 weeks. By that time, either the Mandatory Reconsideration will have reversed the decision (which is rare) or the person can move onto a full appeal, when they will be back on ‘assessment phase’ ESA.

Unsurprisingly, such a convoluted system, if it can be called that, puts people in the most absurd situations – situations that have serious impacts on their health. DWP workers have been conditioned into accepting the triple charade that the person in front of them is indeed ‘fit for work’, that the actions they are telling them to do will help them find work, and that work will be good for them. In reality, the actions people are told to do and the pressures of a system based on sanctions take them further away from recovery – and so, in fact,  further away, too, from paid employment.

Both this week and last we have accompanied someone into the jobcentre to help them  negotiate their way through this particular version of bureaucratic madness.

Katherine rang us after taking one of our leaflets. She has been refused ESA despite anxiety issues that make it difficult for her to interact with people. She has requested a Mandatory Reconsideration of the decision and has had to sign up to JSA meanwhile – but the pressures of being pushed back into searching for jobs she isn’t mentally ready for is sending her recovery into reverse. Her voice broke as she told me what was happening and I arranged to accompany her to her next jobcentre interview.

Some ‘job coaches’ are purposely cruel and controlling, but this was not the issue here. Katherine’s ‘job coach’ was encouraging. The problem seems to be that she actually believes that the system is designed in the interests of her ‘clients’. She kept emphasising how well Katherine was proceeding in her planned path back to work, while Katherine was visibly breaking down at the prospect of putting in for jobs she knew she was not ready to cope with. It can be harder to resist someone who thinks they are acting in your best interests than someone who is clearly antagonistic to you, but we were able to get the ‘coach’ to curb her enthusiasm by informing her that (on SUWN advice) Katherine was seeing her doctor the next week and would be asking for an Extended Period of Sickness note on the basis that putting her under pressure to look for work was having a negative effect on her recovery.

Jack contacted us a week later. He had got professional help with his Mandatory Reconsideration but he needed our help in negotiating the jobcentre as he was finding it all understandably confusing. After a long history of drug abuse, Jack had finally gone through rehab and ended his reliance on methadone a couple of years ago, but he is far from fully recovered and the pressures of the DWP system are driving him back into dependency. Visiting a potential employer can put him into a panic attack, and he told me that it was only heroin that enabled him to cope with his jobcentre interview. The discussion with his ‘job coach’ demonstrated the absurd double-think that the DWP expects of its employees. On the one hand, the ‘coach’ was very understanding of Jack’s situation and ready to accept that he would be bringing in an Extended Period of Sickness note as soon as he had seen his doctor. But at the same time he insisted that Jack went through the motions, as set out in his Claimant Commitment, of checking job sites and newspapers for jobs where he might not even be able to manage handing in a CV.

We hope that this blog will help others find their way through this two-faced bureaucracy, as well as alerting folk generally as to what is going on and why this system has to be stopped.

Why it has to be SNP

SNP Venn diagramme

NO TO THE TORIES! – YES TO INDY!

For an end to austerity – to benefit cuts and sanctions and the war against the unemployed and disabled – give a tactical vote to the SNP. You may not agree with all their policies, but under our first-past-the-post electoral system, this is the most effective way to support the fight against the Tories and the fight for Independence.

Last election the SUWN gave critical support to the SNP, and we do so again today. Last time, we expected and hoped for a Labour government in Westminster supported by the SNP. That would still be our ‘hope’, but this time no-one expects it to happen. Instead, we look set to be faced with a strengthened Tory government that is determined to destroy what’s left of the welfare state, to hasten the drive towards a deregulated low-wage economy, and to claw back existing devolved powers into the control of the London elites. Our chance to escape from this future must be grasped with both hands. We need to maximise the number of Indy-supporters in Westminster; and we need to make it difficult for the political pundits who will pounce on any drop in the number of SNP MPs or in the percentage of votes for Indy-supporting parties, and present this as evidence of falling support for an Independence referendum. (Except in the safest seats this means a vote for the SNP, but we will get the option of showing support for smaller Indy parties, such as the Greens, in the council elections, where we can rank our choices in order.)

Last time we could confidently state that the SNP was a more progressive anti-Tory force than Tory-lite Labour. This time we have to recognise that Labour now has a leader in the tradition of the post-war Labour Government. But many of the people standing on a Labour ticket would sooner stab Corbyn in the back than support socialism. Most voters in England who want to show their support for socialist values and Corbyn’s leadership have no option but to vote Labour, whatever their local candidate, but here in Scotland the situation is different. Scottish Labour has shown little enthusiasm for Corbyn’s ideas apart from his refusal to support Scottish Independence: unionism has become their defining obsession.  And, of course, if it wasn’t for Scottish Labour’s dogmatic support for the union we wouldn’t be suffering under a Tory government now. Labour even made sure that control over most welfare benefits remained with Westminster – against the spirit of their own duplicitous devolution ‘Vow’.

We want to see the decisions that affect Scotland made in Scotland, and not in distant Westminster. At the same time we value working-class unity, which is not stopped by national borders. However, our unity with the English working class does not require us to go down with the UK ship. It is better for everyone if we make use of our lifeboat to survive and offer support from a more secure place.

Of course we recognise that we need much more than the SNP’s cautious social democracy to make Scotland a truly fair society, and we will not stop pushing for more radical change. But if we can weaken the Tories and increase the pressure for Independence, then we are a step further along the way.

On the 8th June we must choose between the brutal vision of a Tory prime minister determined to finish off what little Thatcher left of community, and the possibility of building our own very different future. What follows will not be simple, but that electoral choice can have only one answer.

Resisting Triage Tyranny – by any means necessary

vomitting

I managed tae mak my first advice stall in a couple oa weeks at Dundee buroo the ither day, to meet up wi comrades and shoot the craw wi freends and familiar faces. It was mercifully quiet, wi only een or twa serious cases tae deal wi, but whilst I was there wi Jock and Sarah, I met Davy, a grey haired guy in his mid fifties, wha hobbled oot oa the buroo on a walking stick, accompanied by his carer, whose allowance was under threat. I asked him if he wis hivvin ony problems, and he said, ‘Noa the day, but ah hiv hid bather in the past’. When I asked him to expand, he telt me that he had been through a serious motorbike accident 2-3 years ago, which had left him with serious stomach injuries, whilst he had also, subsequently, developed a serious problem with Diabetes, which has had a damaging impact on his eyesight.

Davy had been awarded ESA, and was placed in the Support Group, which means that he shouldna get bothered by the DWP dingbats. However, around a year and half ago he had been called into the caring, sharing Triage office in Dundee. This company purports to be devoted to getting fowk into work, but, the reality has always been that you are much mare likely to be sanctioned by these trumpets than of ever finding a job – indeed, a guid percentage oa sanction cases in Dundee are generated by this lot claiming fowk hivna turned up for interviews when the fowk themsels are claiming that they received no such notification. The SUWN are well known to the paid drones within, as we’ve closed their office doon oan twa occasions in the recent past ower their treatment oa unemployed and disabled fowk in Dundee.

When Davy was called into Triage, he wisna haen the best time oa it. His serious stomach injuries were playing up – he’s affected by green bile reflux and had been projectile vomiting that morning. He was, however, aware oa the problems that might come his way if he didna attend the Triage appointment, and so hauled himsel into the Triage office/interrogation centre, where he met a whippersnapper in a dodgy suit, wha could nivir hiv been mistaken for a ray oa sunshine. Davy explained to the whippersnapper that he was having health problems and that he didna see the point oa being dragged oot oa his sick bed to attend. The whippersnapper nivir even looked up, and jist kept oan scribbling awa in his wee notebook. When he did look up, Davy had turned a bit greenish, and telt the guy he was feeling nauseous. Again, the whippersnapper barely blinked. Then, Davy felt his stomach in turmoil, and, with real urgency this time, asked the whippersnapper to get a bucket as he wis gaena spew. Davy said the guy looked at him, ‘as though I was at it’. He probably wished Davy was ‘at it’, as, with virtually nae warning the green levy broke, and he projectile vomited aw ower the desk, aw ower the paperwork, and aw ower the young whippersnapper’s lap, thus ruining whit was already a dodgy suit, and replacing the look oa disdain oan the guy’s puss, wi een oa absolute shock and horror.

I can think oa no better way for the sick and disabled, which includes masel, to fight back agin the murderous drones oa the DWP and their allied parasites than to use oor illnesses agin the trumpets. Perhaps oor next protest at Triage could involve mass projectile vomiting – now that really would be a bit different. Eftir aw, we’d only be geen back a little oa whit they murderous bastards hiv been handing oot for far too lang noo.

Tony Cox

 

‘You should just have another child and then you won’t need to worry about finding a job.’

mother and child

For a system that is determined that mothers of young children should go out to work, there is impressively little help for anyone who wants to find a job – as Shauna Gauntlett has discovered:

I’m a mum looking to get back into work. I have previously been self-employed but my work has dried up. Because my husband works full time, I have been told by many professionals that I am not entitled to any help. I have also been turned down for jobs because I need childcare friendly hours. When I asked for help from Dundee Council’s Working for Families I was sent to an information session for prospective employers at the job centre, and because I had to bring my son with me I was made to feel like an inconvenience. I was interviewed by a lady from a prospective employer who asked why I couldn’t work full time. I said because I simply can’t afford childcare. I don’t have an amazingly supportive family who I can ask to mind my son all the time, and they have other caring commitments. I stated I wanted to work in the care sector, which I was what I was lead to believe his information session was all about. The woman the said to me, ‘So you want a part time job so you can go on maternity leave again?’ I was mortified. ‘You should just have another child and then you won’t need to worry about finding a job.’ I have since learned this person no longer works for the agency and left a trail of devastation in her wake.

When I went to another, council-run, information session for prospective care employers, I was again made to feel like an inconvenience because I had my son. I was made to wait in the reception until they could figure out what to do with me. The place was packed, and when someone finally came out to see me I was asked on at least three occasions why I wanted to work in the care sector. I replied that I have worked in this sector for many years and feel I could be an asset to any employer. The gentleman’s response was, ‘So do many others in this hall’, making me feel like I was wasting my time. When I was asked to come back to an interview that afternoon I had to decline, as I had no childcare, to which the guy’s response was, ‘Oh well, come back in six months.’ This is a sector that claims to be in crisis, but if that is how they treat prospective employees I certainly don’t want to work for them. I was so angry I contacted my local councilor who agreed to help me with my CV.

Right now I have no confidence and feel badly let down by the very people who are supposed to help me. The one interview I do have coming up isn’t even for sustained work, it would be a one-off job. I know of many parents who are in my position, who would love to go to work but due to the extortionate cost of childcare simply can’t. It’s like you are a burden to society for having children, and if you dare ask the state for help you are met with hostility. In a country that has an ageing population that can’t be a good thing.

[The Scottish Government provides more help with childcare than in the past , but it is still not nearly enough.]

Putting Grassroots Activism at the Centre of the Indy Campaign – a call to action

As published in Common Space

17-03-30

For those struggling to survive on diminishing benefits or otherwise dependent on our ravaged welfare state, Independence can’t come soon enough. There is good reason why welfare has been a recurrent theme at Indy rallies; and the Scottish Unemployed Workers’ Network will be as active in this campaign as we were in the last. But we can’t help being concerned – along, I suspect, with other grassroots activists – that the prospect of an escape from Tory Britain in the not too distant future will distract people from taking on the daily attacks on our welfare state that are destroying lives and families in the here and now. While it might be unfair to claim that a section of Scotland is waiting for the First Minister to ride in with the cavalry and drive our current problems away, the sense of urgency and need for action is certainly blunted. This has serious implications, both for the people feeling the full force of ‘welfare reform’, and for the strength and success of the Independence campaign. Moreover, if we do win this referendum, the focus of our activity now will affect the direction of our newly independent nation.

If we want the new Scotland to be a harbinger of social justice, then issues of social justice must be at the heart of our Independence campaign; not just in our rhetoric, but in our actions too. We really do need to act as though we live in the early days of a better nation in order to ensure that genuine fairness and decency become such a fundamental part of public consciousness that no future Scottish elite can cast this aside without fear of the consequences.

Practical grassroots activism makes tactical sense too. Successful political movements build support by demonstrating their relevance; by showing that they care and can get things done. They get involved in the hard work of helping to unravel the problems that encumber people’s lives. They listen and learn and involve people, and together they develop a greater understanding of the underlying causes of the current condition, and of the political solutions that will stop the problems from happening in the first place.

The political manoeuvrings between Holyrood and Westminster have placed us in a kind of phoney war where many people are not ready for full-on referendum campaigning. But the need for action around welfare issues is growing ever more acute, and when this is combined with analysis, such action can provide the best argument for Independence. Besides giving practical assistance, we need to publicise and protest every draconian rule that comes from Westminster and make it as hard as possible for these to be implemented. And we also need to keep up pressure on our own Scottish Government to make best use of the limited powers they already have – in order to minimise suffering, to show that there can be a fairer way of doing things, and to show why we need the full powers that can only come with Independence.

As people gear up for the Independence campaign proper, many are asking what answers should we give on the doorstep. We can never know in detail how an Independent Scotland WILL be. What we can know, and attempt to demonstrate, is what it COULD be. For this we can’t depend only on abstract argument. We need practical involvement to win trust and raise expectations.

For those of us active in resisting the attack on the unemployed and disabled, this involvement combines different forms of action.  First there is the bread and butter of practical assistance to make people aware of the rights they do still have and to ensure these are respected. We run weekly stalls outside the jobcentre to reach people who won’t make it to office based agencies, or are not aware that they can refuse to accept some of the treatment that is being meted out to them. Then we also publicise the cruelties of the increasingly punitive ‘welfare’ system through all forms of media and public protest, including direct action. And we engage in every opportunity to influence Scottish Government policy through consultations and letters.

At the same time, we need to look beyond protecting past gains from the scythe of austerity, and put forward an alternative programme based on a completely different way of doing things. Independence would leave Scotland free to replace a system that relies on means testing and the policing of people’s lives and actions, with a Universal Basic Income for everyone. A Basic, or Citizen’s, income would open possibilities for involvement in activities that aren’t currently rewarded financially, but are essential for a healthy society. Ideas like that need to be properly worked out and argued over. We need to invest time and thought into building a credible vision for an Independent Scotland that is manifestly worth fighting for.

New tax year, new benefit cuts

(As published in the National)

The daffodils are blooming, so it must be time for more benefit cuts. When you live under ideologically-driven austerity, April is, indeed, the cruellest month.

It is said that you can judge a nation by how it treats its weakest members, and this year, yet again, the sick and disabled find themselves in the UK Government’s cross hairs. Anyone applying for Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) from today who is put in the Work Related Activity Group will get only the same grossly inadequate £73.10 a week that they would get on Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA). The Government claims that this will encourage them to find jobs – but this is a benefit for people found unfit for work. Even if they were able to find someone prepared to employ them, a job could be seriously damaging.

This comes in the wake of a clamp-down on eligibility for receiving ESA at all. The notorious tick-box assessment system is becoming tighter, and at our stalls outside the jobcentre we are always having to help people (like Daniel Blake in the eponymous film) who’ve been ‘bumped off ESA’ despite being clearly unfit for work. We tell them to request a Mandatory Reconsideration of the decision and apply for JSA while this is looked at. Once they are signed up to JSA they can get a doctor’s note to take off the immediate pressure to look for work – but contrary to the rules laid down in the legislation, jobcentres have been telling them they can’t do this.

Such treatment might seem like pure vindictive cruelty, but it makes perfect sense if understood as part of a deliberate ideologically driven attack on the welfare state. In our increasingly divided society, the greater part of the population are required to fulfil the role of workers and consumers – that is consumers of privately produced goods and services. Work is portrayed as the answer to all problems, and those not working, for whatever reason, are to be despised as failures. While the cuts in benefits have produced immediate savings in government expenditure (they may result in more costs further down the line), this is not their primary purpose. This is a deliberate paring away of the protections that separate us from unrestrained market forces. When unemployment is made both dangerous and demeaning, then workers are forced to accept poor pay and conditions without protest rather than risk their job and a fall into the abyss. And the current system for assessing ESA came out of consultations with a US health insurance firm who were experts in creating a process where people did not qualify for pay-outs, and who envisaged a future where we would be increasingly dependent on private insurance rather than publically funded social security.

Another long-time favourite target is lone parents, and the UK is following the US example by increasing the pressures for them to find work. From this month, they will be expected to do preparatory activities when their youngest child turns two, and look for a part time job when they are three. There is more than a touch of eugenics in official attitudes to poor families, and this is exemplified in the ending of child tax credit (and its equivalent element in Universal Credit) for any third or subsequent children born after 6 April – subject, of course, to the infamous rape clause. They will lose their additional housing benefit too.

All this is in addition to previous devastating cuts, caps, and reduced rates; and the tightening of rules and sanctions, including their extension (through Universal Credit) to some people in work.

But this spring also brings some positive changes in the form of further devolution of benefits as a result of the Smith Commission. These are limited (just 15% of Scotland’s total benefit spend) and are taking a long time to come into bloom. The planned changes to PIP (the benefit to cover the extra costs associated with being disabled) sound good, but many people quite literally can’t wait years for them to be implemented. They need at least some changes now. Even the knowledge that future training schemes for the unemployed will be voluntary and not lead to sanctions will be seem hollow to those who are already on the current two-year schemes and will be expected to see them through.

So, for people on benefits, and people who help them, and anyone who cares about working conditions or the welfare state there is a lot more to campaign about in the year ahead. We need to protest this system at every turn so that it becomes unworkable; we need to ensure that our Scottish government does as much as possible with the powers we already have; and we need to campaign for Independence and the power to create real social security.

NO to Benefit Sanctions, YES to Independence

P1000123

30 March was called as a National Day of Action Against Sanctions by Unite the Union. As we fight sanctions outside the buroo every week, we thought this was an opportunity to do something different – so, we set up stall in Dundee City Centre to say loud and clear, with the help of the megaphone, ‘No to benefit sanctions, YES to Independence’ and the freedom to get rid of sanctions altogether.

We generated a good amount of interest (including with a big bunch of school kids), and if we didn’t get out as many leaflets as we had planned it was because people wanted to stop and discuss – to discuss Independence, and to discuss their personal experience with sanctions. We were able to give out advice on fighting sanctions too, including to two separate homeless guys.

I have pasted the wording of our leaflet below.

(Thanks to Chris, Duncan, Dave, Norma, Gordon and Jonathan)

P1000121

Today, across the UK, people are protesting against benefit sanctions. The UK Government is turning our welfare state into a system of control and punishment. If people on benefits don’t do everything they are told, then they can have their benefits stopped and be left destitute. Often this happens without them having done anything out of place. And just the fear of sanctions creates constant stress. The stories we hear from the people we help at our stalls outside Dundee Buroo would melt the hardest heart – and raise the gentlest person to indignant anger. Today’s protest says that this system is completely unacceptable.

Sanctions, like most of the benefit system, are reserved to Westminster; and the Tory government shows no signs of letting up on their attack on the welfare state. But we in Scotland have the opportunity to win the freedom to create a better system. With Independence we would no longer have to fight a rear-guard action against a continuous onslaught from the DWP. We could be looking at the end of sanctions and of computer-based disability assessments. We could be looking forward to the future introduction of a Universal Basic Income.

We want to make sure that welfare is at the centre of the Independence debate – to raise people’s expectations, so that when we win we can demand a real difference. We are campaigning for nothing less than a fairer Scotland, which would also provide a source of hope beyond our borders.

9 days, over 14 phone calls, and a lot of Vivaldi later…

skeleton on phone

When I finally got a phone call to tell me that the DWP was lifting John’s sanction we had almost given up on the idea that this was ever going to happen. John is in the ESA Work Related Activity Group – he should really be in the Support Group, but that is another story. He suffers from a whole range of problems including nerve damage in his leg, and some days can’t get out of the house at all.

John has to attend the Work Programme run by Triage in Dundee, but several times he has not been well enough to take part. When that happens he is careful to get a sick-line from his doctor, and he has then been given another appointment for when the sick-line has expired. Sometimes this has resulted in a letter from the DWP asking for ‘good cause’ for the missed appointment, but once that cause has been given, all has been well. When, at the end of October, serious back pain prevented him from going to his Triage session, he dosed himself up on extra high amounts of pain-killer in order to go out and get a doctor’s note (stating he was unfit for Triage or for his volunteer group) and to deliver it to the jobcentre before the session he was going to miss. The jobcentre said all was fine and they would pass the message on to Triage.

All did seem fine, until he received a letter from the DWP dated 6 December saying he was being sanctioned for missing the appointment. He went to the jobcentre to complain, and they said it was nothing to do with them and he must take the letter to Triage. He went to Triage and they said it was nothing to do with them and he should go to the jobcentre. He also rang the DWP, but never received the promised call-back. Triage did, however, acknowledge his ill health by arranging that his next three fortnightly appointments be by telephone, and they gave him a printout with precise appointment times when they would call him. The first two dates he heard nothing from them at all. The third date they rang about an hour early, and they told him that as far as they were concerned his sanction should have stopped. But it hadn’t – and that’s when he rang us. It was now 16 January, and since 6 December he had been surviving on just £25.35 a week. It would have been £29.05 but they were still taking deductions for Council Tax repayments!

When I rang the DWP I was told that they had no record of his doctor’s line, but they did have a note on his file from 13 December – the day after he had rung the DWP – saying that he had to contact Triage before the sanction could be lifted. This totally ignored the fact that, not only had he been in contact with Triage about the sanction, he had never stopped engaging with them.

The first person I spoke to told me that she was referring the case to the ESA maintenance section whose job it was to sort out the ending of the sanction, and that they would get back to me with a decision. When I had heard nothing further by the next afternoon, I rang the DWP again, and was again told they would call me back. They rang the following day and told me that in order for them to lift the sanction they needed a WP09 form from Triage to confirm John had ‘re-engaged’.  John then rang Triage, who told him they had sent this form to the DWP on 14 December. The next morning I passed this information on to the DWP, who promised to ring back within 24 hours. 24 hours came and went, and in the afternoon I rang the DWP again. They said I should be contacting the local jobcentre instead, and gave me another 0345 number. Whenever the automated response asked why I was calling and I said anything about a ‘sanction’ I got a recorded message saying I had to ring the original DWP number and the call automatically stopped. Eventually I got round this by saying the problem was a ‘letter’ and then choosing ‘all other enquiries’. This somehow got me through to Exeter Jobcentre, who were able to put me through to the local jobcentre in Dundee. They looked through John’s file and told me that the last record they had was for 12 December, when they had tried to contact him by phone but got no response. I asked them to check their record of his phone number, and found they had got two digits transposed. However, this didn’t solve the outstanding sanction problem, and they told me to ring the DWP again. This time the DWP said the only thing we could do was ask Triage to send them another copy of the WP09, asking for it to be backdated.  I also took the opportunity to ask the DWP to check what they had down for John’s phone number, and found they only had an old number for a phone he had lost – so it was hardly surprising they had failed to get back to him. This had all taken around an hour. It was now Friday evening, so John had to wait till Monday before ringing Triage again.

On Monday 23, John rang Triage, who said they would resend the WP09, and I delivered a letter to the jobcentre requesting a Mandatory Reconsideration of the initial decision to give a sanction at all. When I rang the DWP the next afternoon they still had no record of the WP09, so John rang Triage again the following day. And finally, that evening, I got the call to say the SANCTION HAD BEEN ENDED, and that he would get backdated payments so that he was only being sanctioned for a week. He has since told us that the Mandatory Reconsideration was accepted too, so even that week’s benefit has been reimbursed.

In case this treatment was not enough, I was shocked to discover that John had been living without mains electricity for six years. The problem began when his supplier accused him of tampering with the meter: he had been using very little electricity because he was often away from home. He was never taken to court, so he never had an opportunity to put his case and clear his name. But he was told that to retain his connection he would have to pay £2000. He said he would do without, and that is what he was doing, relying on an elaborate system of batteries. He had sought help in the past, but nothing had been resolved. We put him in touch with the council’s Dundee Energy Efficiency Advice Project – and he now has mains electricity again.