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.