Notes from Dundee buroo – week ending 29 July

IMG_2184

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.

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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.

On Scottish ‘Justice’

16-06-23 Anarchist

All things right and dutiful

He’s great and we are small

The sheriff’s wise and wonderful

Don’t question him at all

 

Like a laird with castle

(The poor man’s in the dock)

‘God’ made them high and lowly –

Go figure and take stock

 

For we have eyes to see with

And lips that we might tell

The system is a bogey

And the judge belongs in hell

 

(picture from Glasgow Anarchist Collective)

No Justice No Peace

court

On 23rd June, Scottish Unemployed Workers’ Network activist, Tony Cox, was found guilty of ‘threatening behaviour’ when attempting to insist on accompanying a vulnerable woman to her Work Capability Assessment. Today the court decided his sentence.

I suppose, from our previous acquaintance with Sheriff Griffiths, that we should have expected the worst, but I was still naïve enough to believe that a sympathetic social work report and a dozen supportive personal references (from food bank managers, academics, a retired social work manager, an MP, a priest, an award winning screen writer… ) would make a difference. But I don’t think that anything could have pierced that wall of superiority. As it was, the sheriff just scanned a couple of the references, and then pulled out the comment that one ‘found it almost inconceivable that [Tony] has in fact threatened anyone’ in order to suggest that this was disrespectful of the court. He ignored the social worker’s recommendation of a suspended sentence and the defence lawyer’s point that it would not be in the public interest to take Tony away from the work that he does with the SUWN, and imposed a community payback order of 150 hours unpaid work.

So – 150 hours ‘community work’ as punishment for working for the community: because that was what Tony was doing.

Work Capability Assessments are based on a simplistic tick-box system and on casual observations by the assessor, and are often conducted so as to try and present someone as fit when they are not. Thousands have died not long after being found ‘fit for work’. The horrors of this system have resulted in widespread hardship, often making the original conditions worse, and have even pushed people to suicide. Those going for an assessment are naturally terrified that the assessors will recommend that they don’t qualify for the benefit. It is important that they can have someone with them who understands the system and can check that the assessor is aware of all relevant points and records events accurately.

BUT the Maximus assessors – just like jobcentre advisors – don’t like being checked up on and don’t react well to being corrected. Back in December 2014 Tony pointed out to one of the assessors that he was fully entitled to take notes and use them in any subsequent appeal, and she took against him and called the police. However, the person he was accompanying was able to reassure them that no crime had taken place. When, almost a year later, he attempted to accompany someone else to an assessment, that same assessor insisted he left the building. When he refused to abandon the person he was helping and demanded to speak to a manager, the assessor called the police. By the time they came Tony had gone outside; but without stopping to ask his side of the story or speak to the other witnesses present, they arrested him for ‘threatening behaviour’. Last month the sheriff told us that he ‘preferred’ to believe the Maximus employees than the woman Tony was accompanying.

This follows an earlier instance when Tony was arrested for trying to assist someone navigate the jobcentre – but on that occasion the DWP case fell apart in court and had to be abandoned. Every day jobcentres and assessment centres deprive thousands of people of their basic subsistence – often twisting and ignoring their own rules in the process. These life-destroying acts of cruelty are real crimes, and they are ignored by our ‘justice’ system. But any time that anyone questions what is happening, the DWP and their subcontractors cry foul and call for the police – and the police hurry to their ‘protection’. As we have seen with the Labour party plotters, the easiest way to try and discredit someone who disagrees with you is to accuse them of threatening you.

Of course we do intend to be a threat – but not in that way. We hope that by helping people navigate the system and by exposing its excesses we can prove a threat to its existence. We have no intention of threatening the people who work for the DWP and Maximus – but the punitive edifice constructed by so called welfare reform is firmly within our sights.

Yet again we were supported by other welfare activists who realise the significance of this case and how it is being used to try and prevent us from doing our work. The solidarity shown by comrades from Edinburgh Coalition Against Poverty, Glasgow Anarchist Collective and Castlemilk Against Austerity as well as local folk is what gives us the strength and determination to go on.

We also met up with an old friend who had helped out on the stall in Paisley and had himself just been given 90 hours for threatening behaviour. His ‘crime’? Driving a car with masked hunt saboteurs. And the reason they were masked? Because they were being personally targeted by the huntsmen. A topsy turvey world indeed.

Because the instigator of this long and destructive saga was the Maximus Assessment centre, we thought we would complete our protest across the city centre in front of their office. We didn’t disrupt access because we wouldn’t want to interrupt people getting to their assessments, but that didn’t stop a manager coming out and telling us – and especially Tony – that he was calling the police. By the time the police came we had moved to outside the car-park barrier and there was nothing they could reprimand us about. That didn’t stop them spending a long time in the office and watching us through the window. In the end they came out without a word and drove off, as we waved them goodbye.

maximus

The battle in the court is important – not least for Tony – but we can’t let it distract us from the wider battle against this pernicious and punitive ‘welfare’ system. We will go on doing what we do and urge anyone who has been angered by this account to come and join us and demonstrate that we won’t be intimidated.

We are looking to appeal both the verdict and the sentence, but without much hope of justice.

 

 

Trial by torture at Dundee ESA assessment centre

interogation cell

Linda works as a cleaner for Angela, who is 58 years old, and suffers from a badly damaged back, comprising three fractured vertebrae and five bulging disks. In addition, Angela has also been diagnosed with Crohn’s disease, a hiatus hernia and depression (these are only her main conditions – she has many more). Back in April, Angela received an ESA form, and she eventually attended a Work Capability Assessment at the Greenmarket Assessment Centre last week. She had been provided with a phone number in order to ensure that taxi travel would be paid for, and, in the course of the phone call to Greenmarket, Linda, who had agreed to help, also asked how far Angela would be expected to walk to reach the assessment rooms – she was informed it was no further than ‘fifteen steps’. Linda was also informed that a taxi could not be arranged for her and that she would need the code to operate the barrier to the assessment centre car park. Things seemed a little more complicated than they should be and Linda agreed to accompany Angela to the assessment centre.

They took a taxi, which managed to sneak under the barrier as a car in front of them entered the car park. When they disembarked from the taxi, however, they found, to their horror, that the ‘fifteen steps’ they had expected to negotiate turned out to be more in the region of 25-30m from the entrance to the reception area. This was a real problem for Angela, as based on the info they had received, she had came with crutches rather than the wheeled buggy she also has, which provides more support. Linda then asked staff for a wheelchair so that Angela could negotiate the corridor, but was informed, to her horror, that no wheelchairs were kept on the premises. Having struggled into the reception area, and nearly fallen over, Angela and Linda were, mercifully, only kept waiting for ten minutes before she was called into the assessment, but they were again horrified that Angela was expected to walk a frightening distance (for her) to get to the assessment room, which she only managed with extreme effort and no little pain.

The assessment itself, they had been told, could last as little as twenty minutes, but it took more than an hour of questions before the male assessor was ready to conduct a physical examination. Angela was asked to stand up and to hold her arms out in front of her. The effort involved was too much for Angela and she fell over, and was left by the male assessor to pick herself up. The assessor then left the room in order to let Angela ‘compose herself’. By this time, Angela was in a highly distressed state, in tears and in a lot of pain. When the assessor came back to the office, after consulting a doctor, he, unbelievably continued with the physical examination, but allowed Angela to be seated, which, I am sure readers will agree, was very compassionate of him.

The assessment came to an end shortly afterwards, but the torture did not end there; Angela still had to walk back the length of the corridor. She was absolutely shattered, emotionally and physically, by her experience at the hands of Maximus. Linda admitted that the experience had also ‘shaken’ her, and she said this as someone who does not see themselves as a person who is easily upset. The treatment that Angela received is appalling, but all too common. We can assure Maximus that they have not heard the last of this inhuman outrage, and we have advised Linda on the best course of seeking redress. As for Maximus, hell mend them.

 

Sharing knowledge in the face of further attacks

 

Unemployed in Manchester 1862 collecting tickets for bread etc

Unemployed cotton workers in Manchester at the time of the American Civil War

Three overwhelming impressions from last weekend’s Boycott Workfare gathering in Manchester:

  • what a lot of knowledge and experience was combined in that room
  • the size of the task we have taken on as the ‘Welfare Reform’ monster continuously morphs into new shapes
  • however dreadful things are in Scotland it is even worse south of the border (without the Scottish Welfare Fund, mitigation of the bedroom tax, funding for welfare rights, a wide political awareness of the horrors of welfare ‘reform’, and the expectation that MPs will be broadly sympathetic).

Five SUWN activists made the long bus journey down to Manchester for an important boost of UK-wide solidarity and a whole lot of useful information. We want to share some of the things we learned.

The first session was run by Rick from DPAC and was full of helpful discussion on applying for ESA and PIP. Here are some key points:

When you start a claim only give the minimum information on the phone. Keep details of your condition for when you have the form and time to think.

The questions on the application forms are not designed to enable you to make a good case. You need to work back from the descriptors of what gets you points and make maximum use of the description spaces on the form, adding as many extra sheets of paper as necessary. You can also expressly point out at the assessment how you qualify for those points. You can check them off during the assessment and remind the assessor at the end. And you can prepare beforehand how to answer the question of how you spend a typical day. (Remember that PIP will only be given for conditions that affect you for more than half the time, but being able to do something means being able to do it reliably and repeatedly, and preparing food means a proper nutritious meal.) (You can find the descriptors here: http://www.benefitsandwork.co.uk/personal-independence-payment-pip/pip-points-system and here: https://www.benefitsandwork.co.uk/employment-and-support-allowance/start-the-esa-test.)

Assume you will have to appeal the decision so you are not disappointed, and don’t let your almost inevitable failure at the Mandatory Reconsideration stage stop you from going on to the full appeal.

Views differ over getting them to record the assessment. This will provide an accurate record, but will include things that you could have said better.

Greenwich Unemployed Workers Centre have produced a ‘safeguarding form’ which you can use to make the different authorities take extra note of any vulnerabilities, but people may be wary of giving permission to share their data, and mothers need to be extra careful not to do anything that might be interpreted as showing them unfit to care for their children.

In the session we coordinated we discussed the wide range of activities that can be combined so that practical grassroots help and wider campaigning boost each other – also the possibilities of getting more working people involved in campaigning as Universal Credit puts them under the same pressures as the unemployed. We learnt that In Ashton Under Lyne, where Universal Credit is already being applied to everyone, low paid jobcentre staff are sent to Oldham for jobcentre interviews so they don’t have to be sanctioned by their immediate colleagues; and we heard that Keep Volunteering Voluntary has signed up 660 charities who will not use workfare. Similarities were drawn between treatment of the unemployed and of prisoners forced to provide free labour – including the same private companies involved. And we discussed the difficulties of carrying out direct action while not preventing people accessing vital benefits.

The final section (with Refuted.org and Debbie from Ashton Under Lyne) looked at some recent and upcoming DWP attacks. Here’s some of what we’re going to be up against:

From April 2017 there will be extra pressures on 18-21 year olds from the day they sign on, with compulsory training or work placements after six months.

Supported housing for young people can be made dependent on compliance with jobsearch requirements – this is currently being trialed in Salford.

DWP staff are being sent into schools to advise pupils on their future careers – but their only training is a 6 week NVQ in jobcentre admin and management and people have been given really bad and factually incorrect advice.

Workfare is embedded in Universal Credit legislation, and people in work but deemed not to be earning enough could be forced to do unpaid work as well to qualify for their Universal Credit.

Further integration of unemployment and health services and their budgets is already being piloted in various parts of England and Wales. (This is based around the idea that work is a health outcome.)

It is expected that people will have to make fewer visits to the jobcentre as more is done on line. This may make it harder for us to reach people.

Universal Credit can require people to wait up to 12 weeks for their first payment – and eviction processes in England can start after just 8 weeks.

Some under 25s on Universal Credit have been made to sign a Claimant Commitment to look for work for 48 hours a week, not 35, to compensate for their lower minimum wage.

A lot of Universal Credit rules have been brought in through statutory instrument, so avoiding any parliamentary scrutiny.

In England all this is being implemented using a computer programme called Verify that gathers together all personal data.

But we also discussed some possible areas that can be campaigned on:

The business case for Universal Credit is not yet signed off. Anything we can do to make it more difficult to administer (such as appealing every sanction) could help kill it off – and small businesses might be persuaded to campaign against it on the grounds that it will give them extra costs.

Now that the DWP can go on putting pressure on you even when you are employed it can be important that employers respect your confidentiality so that the DWP can’t use them to spy on you or to change your work hours against your interests. You can make it clear to your employer in writing that you do not give permission for them to pass on information about you, though you will still need the DWP to have some information about your work hours etc as Universal Credit is calculated on what you have earned each month.

Discussion on how to get more young people involved inevitably brought up the 1985 School Student’s strike, which stopped the mandatory enforcement of YTS – Thatcher’s Workfare. So it was particularly apt that a couple of days later we received this link to BBC footage of the protests, featuring our own Tony Cox. http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p040qbk8 As you can see, the ‘threatening’ raised finger, which has caused so much consternation in DWP offices, is a long ingrained habit.

There was general recognition of the need to keep in touch with each other and keep sharing information and tactics. None of us underestimates the scale of what we have taken on – or its potential significance in the bigger political changes we are caught up in.

National Day of Protest against PIP, 13th July 2016 – Dundee Event

16-07-13 PIP demo

Rain and windy conditions failed to dampen the enthusiasm of the volunteers and friends of the SUWN who turned up in Dundee city centre yesterday to protest against the replacement of Disability Living Allowance (DLA) with Personal Independence Payments (PIP). This change was designed to claw back billions of £’s by ensuring that half a million fewer people received disability benefit by 2015/16. Barriers have been raised, and assessments are being made harder, with fewer people being awarded the points needed to qualify.

Here in Dundee, we have encountered many people who have either been denied PIP payments or, following re-assessment from DLA to PIP, have had their mobility vehicles and scooters taken from them because they did not qualify for the highest rate of mobility. We have also raised concerns that those applying for higher mobility through assessments at the Atos Dundee Science and Technology Park assessment centre have often been tricked into negotiating a 40m corridor in order to access the assessment office. Many people who have been forced to walk the ‘blue mile’ have complained that the effort caused them pain, and was only completed after strenuous effort, but that this was enough for their assessors to deem that they did not have significant mobility problems. This, despite the fact that Atos guidance clearly states that those undergoing assessment must be able to complete the task without pain and repeatedly. The stress and anxiety that the subsequent removal of mobility vehicles causes for unsuccessful claimants is causing them further health problems.

We marked out a 40m corridor in chalk to demonstrate what Atos in Dundee were up to. This, however, was described as ‘an act of vandalism’ by an officious jobsworth who introduced herself as ‘THE city centre manager’. When we pointed out that the Dundee weather would ensure that it wouldn’t be around too long, she then shifted her focus to our collecting tin and demanded to see our license. We just stood back, shook our heads and carried on, at which point she informed us that she was phoning the polis and we should expect a £50 on the spot fine when they turned up (they did turn up, had a good look at the chalk marks and then got back in their van and hung aroond for a bit)

The response we received fae ordinary Dundonians was in stark contrast to that of this pettifogging jobsworth. We were able to distribute around 700 leaflets and our use of the megaphone drew a fair amount of interest from passers by. We were also able to dispense a fair bit of general advice to those who approached us with welfare issues, and met three people who said they would like us to keep in contact with them. Thanks to all the volunteers and supporters who came along to offer help and support. We now plan to have regular street stalls in the city centre, perhaps once per month or so, in order to help raise public consciousness regarding the impact and consequences of welfare reform.

Many thanks to Karen Brownlee for the cracking phoaties.

 

Psychocoercion and unemployment: A marriage made in austerity’s hell

By Dr Bruce Scott – Psychologist and Psychoanalyst

16-07-05 Bruce Scott at Psychocoercian demo

I joined comrades from the Mental Wealth Foundation and other organisations on the 5th July to demonstrate outside the Hallam Conference Centre in London, where the New Savoy group and members of the big five psy organisations were meeting. These five organisations were: the British Association for Behavioural and Cognitive Psychotherapies, the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy; the British Psychoanalytic Council, the British Psychological Society and United Kingdom Council for Psychotherapy. We called on them to refuse collaboration with the Department of Work and Pensions and the unethical provision of psychological treatments by its members. We called on them to stop the unethical conflation of unemployment with individuals’ ‘psychopathologies’ needing to be ‘cured’ to make them fit work. This detracts from peoples real issues of mental distress, and detracts from the political and economic issues of why people become and are distressed.

I agree that work, the right kind of work, being able to work, rewarding work, and non-alienating work can be a good thing; however, work per se is destructive if it is under conditions of poor pay or zero hours contracts, or in conditions where human flourishing cannot occur. But this is the harsh reality of austerity fueled Tory Britain today; a reality where unemployment is now deemed to be the remit of ‘mental health’ services and psychological treatment. The psychological ‘treatment’ of worklessness is called psychocoercian.

Worryingly the DWP policy of psychoceoercian  appears not to be being criticised by the Scottish government, who dictate that work is a good ‘health outcome’. I wrote to the Scottish Government earlier this year to ask what their position was on the pernicious DWP policy of psychological treatment for being unemployed. Their response was simply:

… the Scottish Government recognises that work is an important part of people’s lives and can help to enhance health, wellbeing and quality of life, and people should have the opportunity of support to return to and remain in work… we aim to provide targeted support to help long-term unemployed people enter sustained employment.’ Quote from letter from Scottish Government to Dr Bruce Scott -30/06/16.

In London on the 5th July 2016 outside the Hallam Conference Centre, in response to psychocoercian, where ‘service users’ and psy professionals are being corralled into the service of neoliberal and austerity politics, comrades collectively cried: NOT IN OUR NAME!

‘I don’t like this place, Daddy’

DUNDEE SUWN WEEKLY REPORT, 4-8 JULY, 2016

‘I DON’T LIKE THIS PLACE DADDY’

16-07-04 Dundee

Bairns can be very perceptive, as the above comment, fae a wee mite emerging fae the gloom of Dundee jobcentre and into the summer sunshine, testifies. We weren’t able to get to the bottom of his problem with the buroo, but plenty of other people were only too willing to unburden themselves, in no uncertain manner. Traffic was, like last week, worryingly busy, with complaints regarding treatment at the hands of (Work Programme Provider)Triage dominating discussion. We heard from two people who had been sanctioned as a result of missing appointments at Triage – the single biggest reason for sanctioning that we come across. Andy is a middle aged man with blood clots in his legs, who had recently been bumped from ESA, and who had went through two previous sanctions. He was distraught at being sanctioned for missing an appointment he had not been given, had missed the deadline for appealing, and saw little point in doing so, anyway. In the course of chatting to us, Andy explained that he had previously appealed sanctions and had got nowhere. However, when we dug a little deeper it became apparent that he had only went through the Mandatory Reconsideration stage, and, when this was refused, had given up because he thought he had exhausted his options. We explained that he should have taken his appeal to an independent tribunal, where he would have a much better chance of winning, as his case would not be judged by a DWP ‘decision maker’. After further discussion, we urged Andy to consider a claim for PIP, as he complained of constant pain and restricted mobility due to the blood clots in his legs. We provided him with the PIP number and explained the application process to him, and provided him with info of welfare organisations that can help him with filling in the PIP form, which is absolutely essential as these forms are designed to trick and trip up claimants.

On Thursday, we also met a mother who was accompanying her 19 year old son into the buroo. Whilst he was too angry to talk, his mother explained that he had been sanctioned for two weeks for missing a Triage appointment, and had only just been informed that he had received another four week sanction, but with no reason given. Whilst they had been informed about hardship payments, they were unaware of how the appeal process worked. We explained the importance of appealing, and the consequences of not doing so – yet further sanctions, as you are marked as sanctionable. On Monday we had met Steve, in his late twenties, who reported that he had also been threatened with a sanction from Triage. He had phoned to re-arrange an appointment with them as it clashed with a community work appointment, which he was legally obliged to attend. He was informed by his Triage advisor that he was also expected to attend the appointment at the Triage office, and that if he didn’t he could expect to be sanctioned. We urged him to provide evidence of his community work appointment to Triage, along with a letter complaining about his treatment, and asked him to keep in contact for advice and to let us know how his case was going. In addition, we also heard from a couple of people who complained about being made to wait long periods for pre-arranged appointments at Triage, with waits of up to an hour and beyond being reported – this from an organisation (sic) that regularly sanctions people for turning up five minutes late to an appointment.

In other notable cases, on Monday we heard from Mandy, a young mother on IS, who had had her payments stopped when she was admitted to Carseview on two separate occasions over a month long period following mounting mental health problems. She was extremely upset when we met her, but we were able to calm her down, and provided her with advice on the appeal process – she was aware of the hardship payment scheme – and details of welfare organisations she could approach for more help, as well as urging her to raise the issue with her ‘key worker’ at the social work dept. Finding out that her claim had been closed, and the worry that she could not feed her children had hardly helped her depression, but she was in a better place after speaking to us. We could only shake our heads at the heartlessness of a so-called ‘welfare system’ that could treat vulnerable people in such a cold manner.

On the same day, we also met Steve, who is on ESA, but who had been urged by his social worker to apply for part time work. When he had found a job of 12 hours per week, he had been informed by the jobcentre that his ESA claim would be shut down. Steve, who suffers depression, was put into a tailspin by this news, despite the fact that these working hours are within the ‘permitted range’, so there was no basis for a sanction. We urged Steve to raise the issue with his social worker and to complain about the incompetence of his, so-called, ‘advisor’, and the stress and anxiety that this example of bureaucratic numptydom had caused him.

This is by no means exhausts the cases and inquires that we came across at our stalls on Monday and Thursday, which continued the rising pattern of traffic we experienced last week. It seems it might be a ‘long hot summer’ on the front line of the war against welfare reforms and the monstering of the unemployed.

Thanks to Susan, Sarah, William, Chris, Gary, Fuzzie, Jenny, Grant, Gordon and Tony for helping out at the stalls – all names in this report have been changed.

 

They take with one hand and take with the other

grabbing-hand-clipart-money_grabber

Last week we were contacted by someone who had taken one of our leaflets outside the buroo after just signing on to Universal Credit. He had just been dismissed from a long-term job and been paid a lump sum in lieu of three month’s work. He had paid quite a bit of tax on this, but been reassured that he would be able to claim the tax back, as indeed he will – BUT in the month he receives the tax rebate it will be ‘treated as employed earnings’ when they calculate his Universal Credit.  The same is true of repayment of National Insurance contributions. Clearly grossly unfair – and clearly laid out in Universal Credit rules.

On a more positive note, we also got a phone call from a man in Ayrshire who had just got back from two years working in another EU country and was having to rely on support from his father, as he had been told by the DWP that since he had been living abroad he couldn’t get any benefits for three months. After a long discussion with CPAG I was able to inform him that under EU coordination rules he should be able to get Income-based JSA straight away as his time working in the EU counts towards this. (The EU does have some uses.) He will have to put in a Mandatory Reconsideration and get temporary help if necessary from the Scottish Welfare Fund.