‘You should be here every day, that’s the most helpful they’ve been’
SUWN volunteers were back on duty following last week’s terrible guilty verdict against Tony Cox. Our stalls outside JC have been quite quiet for some time, and we had wondered if this was something to do with the long drawn out Euroref campaign. Whilst the jury is still out on that question, we can report that we came across more cases on Monday and today (Thursday) than we have for some time. On Monday we met Helen, a 37 week pregnant woman who reported that her Income Support claim had been shut down, and she was going into the jobcentre to find out why. She was very anxious about the prospect of facing an advisor on her own, and was clearly upset. We managed to calm her down, and a SUWN volunteer accompanied her in; after a fairly lengthy wait the problem was resolved and Helen’s claim was re-opened. Another volunteer accompanied a claimant in and reports, ‘I accompanied X in who had asked for support over a few issues. His ‘job coach’ was most reluctant to let me in on the interview: she protested that there was nothing on his record to say he needed anyone with him and told me to wait in the waiting area, but she had to relent when X insisted he wanted me there and I pointed out that this was OK by their own guidelines. I was therefore able to reassure X that he did not have to submit to their pressure to let them email Universal Job Match (UJM) links to him.
‘The jobcoach set up a new claimant commitment and X and I were both surprised that instead of stipulating a set number of job applications each week she insisted that it was the activities that he did to look for work that were important. While this is a shift in the right direction, the test will be what they consider appropriate activities, and I certainly didn’t get the impression that they were trying particularly hard to help make his job search productive (for example they could have volunteered information on updating his qualifications, rather than leaving me to request this.)
‘X had also received a letter saying that his benefit was being suspended, which had produced the predictable worries. He was able to confirm that all that had happened was a bureaucratic hiccup in registering his new address, but these letters are indicative of the callous attitude shown by the DWP to those who rely on their meagre dole. We met another person who had gone through similar concerns that same afternoon.’
The issue of advisors forcing people onto UJM continues to surface, as the above volunteer also reported, ‘We were rung up by someone we had given a leaflet to who had just signed on. He told us that he had been told to sign up to universal jobmatch at his initial phone enquiry before he had even come to the jobcentre. It was presented as part of the preparation for his first meeting, along with bringing all relevant documents.’
Also on UJM, Brian said that they tried to sell UJM to him by saying he ‘might not’ have to come into the jobcentre every month as they could check up on him online.’
At today’s stall we met Joe, a middle aged man who reported that he had just been sanctioned for three months. He only found out about the sanction when he went to try to get money out, and when he raised the issue with the DWP, he was told that the sanction dated from three months ago, but there had been a delay in the sanction being processed. Joe reported that he had received no notification of any sanction, and that he doesn’t know why he was sanctioned – neither was he informed about his right to apply for hardship allowance. We urged him to complete a mandatory reconsideration and to contact a welfare rights organisation to help him with the appeal he will have to go through when his mandatory reconsideration is, inevitably, refused by the DWP decision maker. We regularly come across many people who give up on the appeal process following the rejection of their MR, as they mistakenly believe that the MR constitutes their appeal; always remember that the MR is only the first part of the appeal process.
We came across another sanction issue today, which further underlines just how the introduction of the MR has reduced the number of appeals that are successful; Fiona is in her thirties, a single parent with an eleven-year-old bairn. Just over a month ago, she received a text from Triage saying that an appointment she had had been cancelled, only to be informed today that she had been sanctioned for three months. She also reported that she had been sanctioned last Xmas and at Easter, for one month on both occasions. Fiona, like many others, was not aware that the MR was not the end of the appeal process, and when she had been told that her MR had failed on the previous two occasions, she had not taken her cases any further. When we met her she was clearly upset and close to tears and declared that ‘there’s nae point, they always win’. We explained how the appeal process works and urged her to fight the sanction. After a lengthy chat during which we reassured her that it WAS worth her while to fight she agreed to phone in her MR, and to get in contact with a welfare rights organisation when it came time to appeal. She left us much happier than when we had found her, which by itself is justification enough for the work we do.
In addition to these sanctions, we also came across Alan, a single parent with a bairn of eleven, who, after an extended period of ill health had been told that he should shift from JSA to ESA. He made the application for ESA, but was not informed that he had to close his JSA claim. As a result, he had received no money for three weeks, and when he had made inquiries was informed that he had to open another ESA claim, and that he would miss out on the three weeks money he was due. We urged him to complain and to claim JSA money back, and gave him details of welfare organisations that could help him. We also came across a number of people who had recently been bumped from ESA to JSA, and this was causing no end of anxiety and stress. This issue needs to be addressed as matter of priority as it benefits no-one to have people who are palpably unfit to work declared as such by jumped up assessors who often fragrantly ignore medical evidence and who misrepresent the words of those they are assessing.
All in all, this week’s stalls were a bit too busy for our liking, which underlines that we must remain vigilant. On a more positive note, we received a visit from Bennie, Shauna and (new) baby Jacob, which gave rise to much oohing aahing on the part of volunteers and passers-by alike. We can only hope that by the time baby Jacob is of age that these inhuman, sulphur smelling, so-called ‘welfare reforms’ will be a dim, but still nasty memory. We aim to ensure that is indeed the case.
Thanks to both Sarah’s, Chris, Grant, Gordon, John, Fuzzie and Tony for helping with the stalls on Monday and today. The names of all people in our report have been changed.