This week’s report is dominated by cases generated by the private firm, Triage, which advertises its services on its website in the following glowing terms:
‘Founded by Kate Carnegie MBE in 1998, the company has grown to become one of the most successful Scottish private sector welfare-to-work companies in the UK. Its mission is to develop new and innovative approaches to employment and training that work for both individuals and companies alike.’
The difference between the firm’s rhetoric and the reality of the kind of ‘service’ (sic) they actually provide, can be demonstrated by this observation, from the pages of a Scottish Left review article;
‘A BBC documentary illustrated how staff of Triage (a sub-contractor of Ingeus and Working Links) in Aberdeen referred to clients of the Work Programme as LTBs – code for ‘lying, thieving bastards’. The documentary also reiterated that staff were told not to spend much time and effort assisting jobseekers with disabilities as they were seen as too difficult to get paid employment.’ (Stephen MacMurray, ‘The Not Working Programme’, SLR, Issue 78)
At the Dundee office, ‘clients’ are habitually treated as sanction fodder – you have a much greater chance of finding a job under your own steam, and you are also much more likely to be sanctioned than ever finding a job through the efforts of Triage. At yesterday’s too busy stall we found clear conformation that Triage’s business plan and raison d’être can be summarised as ‘profiting from other peoples misery’. No sooner had we set the stall up than we were approached by Helen, a mother of two young children, who explained that she had been sanctioned for missing an appointment following an appointment letter from Triage, which she firmly insisted that she had not received. She raised the matter with her ‘advisor’ at Dundee Jobcentre, who informed her that this was not a good enough excuse, as Triage had insisted that the letter WAS sent. She then turned to her family social worker who accompanied her into the Jobcentre to argue the toss with her ‘advisor’, and, hey presto, the sanction disappeared. Now, this is all very well, but what about the vast majority of people who don’t have a social worker or any other ‘professional’ to speak on their behalf?
We met Linda, the mother of a twelve-year-old child. We have worked with Linda in the past, and when we spoke to her yesterday she was in high dudgeon; she reported that she had received a letter informing her that a 12 week sanction was due to come to an end in early September, and that she would then receive full entitlement. She reported that she had been sanctioned for failing to take part in a ‘work focused interview’, but explained that she was ACTUALLY in the Triage office at the time of the interview conducting an internet jobsearch, and that her advisor was aware of this.
In addition, the day following the receipt of this letter she received a further letter from Triage saying that she was now facing a further sanction from mid-July to mid-October. No reason was given for this further sanction. Two and half months of subsisting on hardship payments of around £48 per week had taken their toll, and she was now facing the prospect of a further two months of Triage sponsored starvation. We made a referral to Taught by Muhammad for a food parcel for the two of them, provided her with details of Scottish Welfare Fund grants, and urged her to sign up with Welfare Rights. We also asked her if she is in contact with the social work department, but she baulked at this suggestion, saying that she had had dealings with social work before and had little confidence in them – fearing that she may have her daughter taken from her. We have spoken to Linda today, and she tells us that she has received the food parcel and that welfare rights have supplied her with vouchers for gas and electricity.
I further advised her to contact welfare rights and arrange an appointment, so that they could take up her case, and suggested that she also take her case to her MP, Chris Law, who has been very active in taking up such cases since being elected. She admitted, however, that she has no credit in her phone and will have to wait until Monday before she is in a position to use her phone again.
We also came across Bill, an older gentleman who is stuck on the Work Programme, and who had just been granted an extended period of sickness (EPS). He approached us to ask if he would still be ‘bothered’ by phone calls and appointments from Triage whilst he was on EPS, and, if so, whether he could just ignore them. We cautioned him against this approach, but were able to confirm that he should not be expected to take part in work related activities when he has been declared too ill – despite the claims by the DWP that work IS a clinical outcome for the sick and disabled.
In addition to speaking to many other unemployed folk, and dispensing other bits and pieces of advice, we were also briefly visited by Mike Arnott of Dundee Trades Council who was on his way to deal with a union issue in another part of town. It would be fair to say that Mike was not a happy chappy, following news that his Union, the GMB, had just declared for Owen Smith in the Labour leadership race. Major questions will be asked of the union leadership after only 43,000, out of over 600,000 GMB members, had actually participated in the election, and not a single GMB member in Scotland had received ballot papers.
Thanks to Gordon, Norma, Chris, Tony and Sarah for helping with this week’s stall.