A change is as good as a rest, they say, so last Tuesday some of us from Dundee joined comrades from Glasgow for a stall outside Govan Buroo. The problems we met with, though, were depressingly familiar.
Ann had been bumped off from ESA after being given no points at her Work Capability Assessment. This wasn’t surprising as she had never received the form, so they had no written evidence of her problems. She had also been told that she had no right to appeal. We assured her that this was not the case and directed her to Money Matters in Orkney Street.
John had also been awarded no points despite severe mental health problems and dyslexia. He had got help with a mandatory reconsideration, but had spent the last 7 weeks with no money as he was worried about applying for JSA. We assured him that it was quite legitimate for him to get JSA and would not affect his future ESA appeal – and that once he was on JSA he could get a doctor’s note. He had also had his housing benefit stopped as he hadn’t told the council his situation and they had just assumed that since he was no longer getting ESA he no longer needed help with housing. He told us that the ESA assessors had refused to believe he was dyslexic because he had a degree. Universities have elaborate systems in place to help people with dyslexia, but it seems that for John this had just added to his problems.
June had been sanctioned because she had assumed that the jobcentre would be shut for the July holiday. She had applied for Hardship Payments but not been told she could appeal or that she could apply to the Scottish Welfare Fund to help her while she waited 2 weeks for the Hardship Payment to come through. She will now contact Money Matters or her Housing Association to help her with this.
As so often, we met a man recently out of prison and having problems with the benefit system. Steven’s DLA payments had been stopped when he was in Barlinnie, but although he had been out since February they had not started up again. Luckily he has a social worker who is sorting this out, and so is expecting to get a big back payment.
It is always depressing to observe how, in many ways, we are becoming an increasingly subservient culture, and so our hearts sunk when, as we set up the stall, someone asked ‘are you allowed to be there?’ However, our faith in Glasgow obstinacy was restored when we were told the story of a woman’s 100-year-old mother who had refused to accept the Queen’s birthday telegram. Her son had drowned serving in the Black Watch, and she blamed the Queen for his death.
Thursday saw us back outside Dundee Buroo, where we came across more examples of DWP mismanagement and deliberate misinformation. Most worrying was Kiera, a young single mum with two children, one aged 2 going on 3 and the other 4 going on 5. Kiera told us that she had been made to sign onto JSA. We urged her to get in touch with Welfare Rights and get them to demand that she is shifted to Income Support as soon as possible. While her youngest is still under 3 all she should be expected to do is attend the odd interview; and while she still has a child under 5 she cannot be made to look for work, though they can get her to do various ‘work related activities’.
Lynne had been given a two and half week sanction, and when her Mandatory Reconsideration had been refused her jobcentre advisor had talked her out of putting in an appeal. Appeals have a very high success rate, but not nearly enough people go through to this stage. Lynne had also been told three times that she had to tick the box to let them see her Universal Jobmatch Account, even though data protection law means that this can’t be made compulsory.
Donna was attempting to protest against a Triage sanction. She told us that Triage had rung her to cancel an appointment that they had never made, and then sanctioned her for not showing up. She had phoned in a Mandatory Reconsideration and was initially told everything was OK; but since then the jobcentre has claimed there is nothing on the system, and she has wasted a lot of money on premium rate phone calls to the DWP. She was waiting for a call back later in the afternoon. We asked her to contact us or Welfare Rights if the situation wasn’t sorted, and reminded her to keep records of all phone calls etc. Her friend told us that when he had been sanctioned some time back the DWP call handlers had laughed down the line. He had recorded the conversation and played it to his jobcentre advisor, but they thought this behaviour unexceptional.
With thanks to Ann, Darren, Jen, Douglas, Ronnie S, Sarah, Tony, Gordon, Ryan and Gary