SUWN response to the Consultation on Social security In Scotland

scottish_parliament_from_salisbury_crags

This is our response to the current Scottish Government consultation on the (limited) soon-to-be-devolved welfare powers. This consultation doesn’t include the schemes that are replacing the Work Programme as they are covered by a different minister. We addressed these in our recent letter to Jamie Hepburn. Thank you to everyone who signed our petition, which we have included with the response – and thanks to our activists for promoting it (especially Ronnie, who would win the prize – if there was one).

CONSULTATION ON SOCIAL SECURITY IN SCOTLAND, A RESPONSE BY THE SCOTTISH UNEMPLOYED WORKERS’ NETWORK, OCTOBER 2016

Thank you for setting up this important consultation. We are glad of the opportunity to make known our views, and hope that the Scottish Unemployed Workers’ Network can contribute to the on-going discussion on policy development and take part in the planned ‘user panels’.

PIP Assessments

We are very encouraged by the discussion so far on changing the nature of the PIP assessment process away from the current tick-box, try and catch you out and show you are faking, approach back to one based on evidence from a person’s doctor and other social services. We hope assessors will be able to be flexible as to the type of evidence they receive and that weight will also be given to the testimony of the claimant and their family and friends, as not all doctor/patient relationships are equally supportive.

We are sure that you are already well aware of the origins of the current punitive system, but feel it is important that it is not forgotten that the assessments used for both ESA and PIP were developed as a result of a long relationship, dating back to the 1990s, between the UK Government and a health insurance firm notorious for arguing that people’s problems were fake or psychosomatic and for not paying up on claims, and that they were deliberately conceived to remove large numbers of people from claiming the benefits.[1]

Evidence from GPs

We would also urge you to work closely with your colleagues in Health to ensure that claimants do, indeed, get the help they need from their GPs. Like you, we welcome the introduction of welfare rights officers into GP surgeries (so long as this is done with appropriate safeguards on patient privacy), but there are only welfare rights officers in a few places. In others, claimants for both PIP and ESA have to ask their GP directly for a supporting letter, and most GPs are charging for producing this. As benefit claimants don’t generally have the money to pay, they are putting in applications without medical evidence, severely affecting their chances of getting the money they need and deserve. As health is devolved, the Scottish Government have the power to intervene and make sure that people are getting free access to the support they need.

Advice and Advocacy support

While Scotland is much better provided with welfare advice than many places in England, we could benefit from increased investment in advice services, both face to face and over the phone, including more welfare rights officers in doctors’ surgeries and more stalls in public places such as shopping centres.  We would also like to see a positive recognition and encouragement of the role of friends and family and of volunteer citizen advocates and self-help groups  (like ourselves) in accompanying people to appointments, helping them ask the right questions and acting as witnesses to their encounters with an often unsympathetic bureaucracy. This should include prominent and clear recognition of a claimant’s right to be accompanied and for the person with them to be able to ask questions on their behalf if they require it. While such advocacy is already recognised in DWP rules, it is often denied in fact; but there could be a requirement for the rules to be prominently displayed in all Scottish offices, with contact details for an independent ombudsman. It should also mean that Police Scotland would not allow themselves to be used to shut down all questioning of DWP staff, as has frequently been experienced by both claimants and advocates, especially over the right to be accompanied. We have found that both the DWP and their subcontractors are very quick to call the police if anything they say is challenged, and that the police are very reluctant to listen to any other view of events. Better advocacy could also be assisted through the provision of a freely accessible, well publicised, telephone advice service dedicated to providing back up to the non-professional friends, family and volunteers who help claimants; something similar to the CPAG advice line for advisors, but more widely available.

Transfer from DLA to PIP

Of course many people have already lost out due to the UK Government’s insistence on instigating the transfer from DLA to PIP before the benefit was devolved. We would propose that after April no more people are transferred from DLA until the new systems are fully in place. We would also like to see the Scottish Government use its powers to provide additional help to assist those who have lost out through this transfer. We would recommend automatic reinstatement of mobility benefits lost through the cut-off for eligibility being dropped from walking 50m to walking 20m. We would also like to see additional help for people who have lost out on the transfer, perhaps through an enhanced Scottish Welfare Fund on a case by case discretionary basis.

Questioning decisions

A fairer initial assessment system should reduce the number of appeals, but we would ask in addition that the Scottish Government takes out the Mandatory Reconsideration stage, which primarily serves to delay the appeal process and to discourage people from taking their appeal through to conclusion.

A petition on key points

We have drawn up a petition that highlights five key points for the newly devolved welfare services – both those covered by this consultation and those under the auspices of the Minister for Employability and Training. We will send the 551 signatures by post as many are on paper, but the petition is reproduced below:

‘When more welfare powers come to Scotland, please can you make sure that:

  • No-one can get sanctioned for not attending or complying with any devolved ‘employability’ scheme, and this is made clear to everyone affected so that these schemes are effectively voluntary.
  • Scottish health services and other social and community services are kept completely independent of any DWP schemes that pressure people to apply for jobs. (We especially don’t want to see anything like the placing of ‘work coaches’ in GPs’ surgeries recently trialled in Islington).
  • The new Scottish PIP assessment process takes full account of evidence from health and other care professionals, and the GPs etc. have to provide this evidence.
  • Everyone who has lost benefits as a result of the cut-off for Higher Rate Mobility having been dropped from walking 50m to walking 20m can apply to get them reinstated.
  • There is no role for private companies in any devolved service.’

(We are emailing the pdf of the comments made on the online version of the petition along with this response)

Finally, we would like to give some additional responses to specific questions in the consultation that have not already been covered:

  1. Benefits should be provided in cash, but with the option of paying the rent directly to the landlord. There should also be options of using the benefit for reduced cost schemes e.g. for energy or mobility, and continued schemes for free public transport etc.

Digital applications should always be an option not a default expectation, and free phone numbers should be easily available.

Social services should be delivered through the public sector and should never be contracted out to private profit-making companies.

Third sector organisations should be seen as a source of additional help and not part of the public social security service.

  1. There should be some permanent independent body or ombudsman that one can approach with complaints and that could ensure that decision making is clear and transparent.

We would also like to see prompt publication of fully detailed statistics on claims/awards/appeals etc. (statistics not targets)

  1. (Please also see comments above)

Yes, there should be timetables set for assessments and decision making.

Yes, people should be asked to give consent to allow access to personal information including medical records as part of their application process; they should also be able to give consent to access some parts of this and not others.

In looking at the impact of a person’s impairment or disability, an assessment should include the impact on their ability to take part in social activity.

We are supportive of the idea of developing a consistent approach to disability benefits across all ages and ending the current arbitrary transfer from one benefit to another.

All assessments should be carried out by professionals within the public sector (see 3.)

People with long-term conditions should not have to undergo reassessment.

The option of reduced energy tariffs and other dedicated support is welcome.

We would like to see greater investment in public transport to help people more generally.

We support the continuation of some sort of motability scheme but are concerned that the present system may not always provide good value to those who use it.

  1. We are pleased that the Scottish Government is raising the Carer’s Allowance and hope that this is just the first step towards a Carer’s Living Wage. Caring is, after all, deemed to be a full time job.
  2. We are pleased that the extra help proposed for young people who have been unemployed is going to them and not to their employer, as schemes that pay the employer simply mean that younger people are taken on at the expense of those who are older.
  3. We are pleased to see that people in receipt of Universal Credit will be able to get this paid twice monthly rather than monthly, and that they will be able to choose to have the rent element paid directly to their social landlord. This should certainly be extended to private sector landlords. The risk of eviction is worse in the private sector and without those guaranteed payments, many private landlords will refuse to rent to people on Universal Credit at all.

We would like to see individual payments of Universal Credit as the default position. This could be crucial in any household where there is abuse, and also in cases where a partner has difficulties controlling their spending, e.g. through an addiction to shopping or gambling.

With respect to the housing element, one of the worst injustices that should be addressed is the meanness of the allowance given to single people under 35 who are in private rented housing. This is only enough to cover a room in a shared house, which is especially difficult for those who would like to be able to have their children come and stay.

  1. In looking at eligibility for PIP, any new system should be more responsive to long-term Scottish residents who have returned from a prolonged time abroad.
  2. We welcome the commitment not to recover overpayments that are the result of official error
  3. We are glad that you have acknowledged how relatively rare benefit fraud is and ask that all investigation is done so as not to create unwarranted alarm – unlike in the current system of random checks and computer-generated letters.
  4. Benefits should rise at least in line with the greater of the consumer price index or average earnings.[2]

canongate-wall-brookbank

This is one of the carved stones set into the parliament wall

[1] Foot, Paul (1995) ‘Doctor on Call’, Private Eye, 16 June 1995, reproduced here: https://beastrabban.wordpress.com/2015/04/13/private-eye-from-1995-on-unum-and-peter-lilley-in-the-tory-government; Rutherford, Jonathan (2007) ‘New Labour, the market state, and the end of welfare’ Soundings 36, Lawrence and Wishart; Stewart, Mo (2016) Cash not Care: the planned demolition of the UK welfare state, New Generation Publishing

[2] Unemployment benefits used to be increased in line with earnings or prices, whichever was higher, but since 1980 have been tied to prices, which have risen more slowly. Average consumption and living standards have risen with earnings, but people on benefits have been left far behind.

Advertisements

Mental health issues – in colour and 3D

img_3571

The exhibition by ‘artists with lived experience of mental health issues’, showing at Summerhall in Edinburgh, has some important messages for the people running our benefits system, and also our health service. Taking in the art on display, and reading the accompanying descriptions by the artists, one becomes aware of the personal significance of each piece, and the strength that must be needed first to make it and then to show it to the public. But I hope that the other artists will forgive me for just focussing on two artists whose work will resonate with everyone who has been on health related benefits. The first is Lauren Stonebanks, whose collage box included the sad note above, and was given this explanatory label

lauren-label

Lauren also has another piece in the exhibition, though she is only tangentially responsible for it. This is a bashed in door

door

for which she has supplied the following explanation

label-for-door

The author of the second piece describes themselves only as ‘B’. B has created a comment on the huge number of pills people are prescribed and their debilitating side effects. Each new pill seems to require a further prescription to balance it out. I have often wanted to question the pages long prescriptions accompanying some of the benefit applications I have helped with: I hope some doctors see this work!

 

clock-detail

The exhibition runs until 30 October.

exhibition website

 

 

‘Work Coach’, aye right

16-10-21

On the day that ‘I, Daniel Blake’ hit the big screen, the SUWN were ootside Dundee buroo, conducting our regular advice stall, where we distributed flyers for the forthcoming free screening of this powerful indictment of our so-called ‘welfare state’ at Dundee DCA on November 2nd, which raised a fair amount of interest. Whilst recent reports have emphasised how relatively quiet the stalls have been (due to the establishment of a welfare rights team in the buroo), today was different. Four pages of notes were taken from the many people that we spoke to, including Jim, who had recently started signing on, and who was so angry at the shoddy treatment that he had received that he wishes to get involved with the SUWN. He reported that he is being asked to sign on weekly for the first thirteen weeks, and, because he is co-habiting with his partner, that he had been hauled into the buroo three times in the first week of signing on, in order to answer intrusive and, frankly, ridiculous, questions about the nature of his relationship with his partner.

In another notable case, Roddy, a young guy in his twenties, reported that he was also required to sign on weekly, and that he had been enrolled, very much against his wishes, onto a new scheme called ‘Walking the Patch’, which involves him being required to trawl around Dundee city centre so that he can ‘introduce’ himself to prospective employers in the retail trade. He was under the impression that he would be accompanied by a DWP employee whilst ‘walking the patch’. If this is the case, particularly when it is combined with widespread weekly signing on, it may not be too long before Dundee buroo comes to a grinding halt. We have talked to other welfare agencies in Scotland who told us that they had not come across the ‘Walking the Patch’ scheme, and who believe it may be limited to the Dundee area. Yet again, Dundee seems to be getting ‘special treatment’ – whatever have we done to deserve this? We were also informed by the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) that weekly signing is not unknown in other places, though quite unusual. In the case of Dundee, however, it is being reported more and more frequently. If you are being asked to sign on weekly, we would like to hear from you.

Another man, Eddie, complained that his ‘work coach’ (sic) had insisted that he had to complete his weekly job searches despite the fact that he was signed off with serious depression – this did not stop his ‘work coach’ (sic) from phoning him up to pressurise him into complying with his ‘claimant commitment’. We have enough experience with such cases to know that such pressure on people who are already struggling can have serious, even deadly, consequences. He seemed better within himself for getting his problems off his chest and we urged him to register a complaint against the totally unnecessary, and counterproductive pressure that was being forced on him by the DWP.

We have not come across many sanctions of late, although we have been kept busy with many other issues, but we came across Ken, a young man in his twenties who informed us that he had just been told that a recommendation for a sanction had just been phoned through to the ‘decision maker’. He had been an hour late signing on, but when he tried to explain that he was late because he had to look after his six month old child until his partner was available to take over caring duties, this was dismissed. We explained the sanction process to him, and urged him to get in contact with welfare rights asap, and provided him with our contact details so that we could monitor the progress of the case.

Finally, we heard a very alarming account from an unemployed man who reported that he had been bumped from ESA, despite suffering from serious depression, and was now required to attend to sign on. On all three occasions he been into the buroo, he had been goaded and insulted by a security guard who is well known to us due to his aggressive and generally unpleasant, attitude. We have discussed this case with other agencies in Dundee, and asked them to keep a ‘watching brief’ on this case, and will report any further progress.

i-daniel-blake-houses-of-parliament

The scene of the crime

All names used in this report have been changed. Thanks to Chris, Gary and Gordon for helping out at the stall at short notice.

 

Torture by Triage

triage-dundee

Following our post on Tuesday’s occupation of Triage in Dundee, we received a couple of comments from people who refused to believe that there were any grounds for direct action, and that we shouldn’t call out staff for just ‘doing their job’. Find below, an account by Jake from Montrose who details his treatment at the hands of this so-called ’employability firm’. We believe this firm should face an investigation into the countless allegations we have received of poor treatment of the unemployed and disabled, and we sincerely hope that the Scottish government will strip them of their ability to make profit from other people’s misery when their contract comes up for renewal in the spring of next year;

‘I had to use Triage 4 years ago, first couple of times fine, sounded like they knew what they were doing and had “contacts” for getting someone a job; then the pressure started, the stupid looking through Angus business book and sending away 30 CVs. I got back 5 replies, all said not to BOTHER them again, they would not accept spur of the minute CVs. Lo and behold the joker working there handed me the same book and said do another 30!!!!! I refused and it was a battle every time I was there. They would call you through and I used to ask why am I here, they all looked at each other clueless and said do a job search, another battle as I carried out job searches every morning and was not travelling to Arbroath to do the same again. The I became ill and was signed off, they phoned and threatened me even though I was in ESA Support group, but silence once they found out. So glad this took me to the end of my 2 years fucking waste of time with them; they asked on my last day as I signed off “Did I want them to keep in touch! NO was the short sharp answer. Useless bullying corrupt organisation making millions for basic harassment and bullying of people needing help !!!!!!!!!!!!’

And for anyone who still harbours any doubts about this company, here’s the reviews that have been posted on Google – all 5, completely unedited:

GOOGLE REVIEWS FOR TRIAGE DUNDEE

Sarah Murphy
a month ago
This place does not help you get a job they have gave me set appointments and they juat about keep getting me sanctioned there is drug users in the place all the time when triage should know them selves that young ones like me actually want a job but me and the rest of them are to scared to go in incase they have a drug user on there case absolutley disgusting!

Michelle M
2 months ago
Dreadful place rude staff who don’t care about the unemployed the reception staff discuss you when they see you in the streets. Staff make you out to be a liar, they also stand outside smoking talking about clients using language like wasters no hopers etc. They treat you like you are stupid and a kid using idle threats to get your money stopped they tell lies to get a funding grant after people gain employment by saying they got you the job when they didn’t all staff are very unprofessional and discriminate against people with disabilities

Catherine T
2 months ago
Horrendous place. They don’t care at all for the people who are looking for work they don’t help you when you ask for help they expect you to do everything even when you can’t they constantly talk about you rudely to there colleagues in the street especially the young reception staff and they make you out as a lier to get your money stopped when they are the one at fault this company should be shut down

lorraine grace
2 months ago
This joke of a place should be CLOSED down.I have had experience of them in the past myself but this instance is to do with my daughter.got sent to a company for an interview and the company knew nothing about it.Total incompetent staff.

james saunders
7 months ago
I have never felt so belittled and harangued in all my life, since I met these people. In fact I am debating whether to take legal action against this company and those psycho-babble launderers who are wasting valuable tax payers money to run their grotesque little show.

Occupation of Triage, Dundee

16-10-17-triage-certificate

Yesterday SUWN activists carried out a successful occupation of the Triage office in Dundee. This firm lauds itself as committed to helping people into work, but not only do they fail miserably in their ostensible purpose, they also generate an exceptionally high number of sanction referrals. Many people approach us regularly to complain that they have been sanctioned for failure to attend Triage appointments that they were given no notification of. This is unacceptable treatment of the unemployed and disabled. We will not accept it – and neither should you. Our activists did intend to present the manager of the Dundee Triage office with an ‘IDS Award’ for services towards sanctioning, but she appears to be keeping a low profile. After we had been there about three quarters of an hour, the police arrived and we left the building. There were no arrests. The office was closed to ‘clients’ as a result of the occupation, so, at the very least, a number of Dundonians have been spared the experience of being patronised within an inch of their lives or being referred to a sanction for ‘non-compliance’. We hope that when the Scottish Government takes over training schemes in April, not only will they be run completely differently (with attendance voluntary), but that firms such as Triage will be history.

17-10-18-occupation

The occupation was reported in Common Space, the Dundee Courier and the National

A BOOK – by the SUWN

The SUWN is proud to announce the birth of our BOOK

RIGHTING WELFARE WRONGS: Dispatches and Analysis from the Front Line of the Fight Against Austerity

suwn-cover-drawing-small

You can buy a copy from our publishers, Commonprint, HERE for £10

This book has been forged through grassroots activism by and with people at the sharp end of ‘welfare reform’. It illuminates everyday battles to maintain human dignity and even existence in the face of the new punitive welfare state. It is about solidarity and mutual support, but it is also about understanding and taking on the bigger politics behind this brave new world of coercion and control.

It has been written for everyone who wants to comprehend what is happening and what we can do about it – and maybe even have a laugh along the way.

‘I am convinced that the network must have saved many vulnerable people from going over the edge, as has tragically happened in many parts of the country. I am not surprised now that this same group has written this marvellous book.’ – Paul Laverty, Screenwriter for ‘I, Daniel Blake’

Warning – this book will make you angry!

A letter to the Minister for Employability and Training

Dear Mr Hepburn

We in the Scottish Unemployed Workers’ Network have been very relieved to see your public announcements about not allowing Scottish ‘employability’ schemes to be used for sanctions, and we congratulate the Scottish Government on following through on your anti-sanction rhetoric and taking this position.

At the same time, we would like to draw your attention to the growing risk of Scottish public institutions becoming tied into the DWP’s punitive regime by the back door. As I am sure you are aware, there is pressure from the UK Government to integrate DWP ‘job coaches’ into a range of public and community organisations and spaces, including libraries, schools, social care settings and housing schemes. But these ‘job coaches’ are the very people who have the power to sanction the unemployed, to dictate how they spend their time (their one remaining asset) and to deny them their dignity. We believe it is absolutely essential that services designed to advise and help are kept – and are seen to be kept – completely separate from those set up to control and punish. People need to be able to use their own community services without feeling that they may be being spied on. Otherwise those most in need of community support will be further isolated.

bigbrother1

However, this integration is already happening. Here in Dundee, for example, our council ‘employability’ service hosts a jobcentre ‘outreach worker’ twice a week . And back in April, North Ayrshire Council was shown to have taken on the whole disciplinary ethos and was running a training scheme that included a system of fines – £1 for forgetting your name badge, £5 for falling asleep or getting a call on your mobile.  (The story appeared in the Ardrossan Herald on 1 April and we had to ring the paper to check it wasn’t an April fool.) I am sure there will be many more examples.

With the Westminster Government putting renewed pressure on the sick and disabled, they are especially at risk. We are very concerned about plans for closer integration between the DWP and Department of Health, as this will be based on the UK governments dangerously simplistic premise that work is good for health – an approach that is the product of a long collaboration between successive Tory and New Labour governments and US-based health insurance company, Unum (Mo Stewart (2016) Cash not Care: the planned demolition of the UK welfare state). In a society that fetishises work and defines people by their job, it is inevitable that lack of work will affect self-esteem and social engagement; and when benefits are also cripplingly low, those without work can be starved of the necessities for basic subsistence, never mind social engagement. However, these impacts are not the result of lack of work per se, but of the place given to paid work in our social system. And, on top of this, even research commissioned by the DWP acknowledges that ‘Beneficial health effects depend on the nature and quality of work’. Of course they do – and yet people are continually being pushed into searching for work – any work – as soon as possible and at any cost. In contrast, recent research from Australia showed how retired people were able to develop healthier lifestyles by using the time not spent working.

We recognise, of course, that there are many people with mental and physical health problems who would welcome helpful adjustments to allow them to find and do a paid job, but this natural desire for equality and acceptance has been distorted by government policy makers and turned into a stick with which to beat all sick and disabled benefit claimants. It is being made increasingly difficult to get ESA, and at our stalls outside the jobcentre we are increasingly coming across desperate people who have been found ‘fit for work’ while this is clearly far from the case. Even when they may be technically able to manage some limited types of work, it doesn’t make sense to force them to do this rather than give them the opportunity to improve their health and perhaps even return to something more like their former employment.

In England we have seen health professionals getting sucked into the system, at the expense of their independence, their relationship with their patients, and their professional ethics. There are examples of Cognitive Behaviour therapists in jobcentres, and there was a pilot introduction of DWP ‘job coaches’ in GP surgeries. Even if therapies, or supposedly therapeutic work advice, are nominally voluntary, the atmosphere in which they are delivered, with the ever-present fear of sanctions, will make it difficult for people to exercise their right to say ‘no’. We hope that the Scottish Government will be able to give us a firm assurance that they will maintain a clear line between the DWP and the Scottish Health Service, and that we will not see similar practices here. (Scottish examples of welfare rights advisors in GP’s practices, as here in Dundee, are very different, and thoroughly welcome.)

We are also very concerned, both from our own experience and that of other grassroots advocates, that the DWP and their subcontractors (such as Maximus) tend to call the police whenever their statements are questioned by claimants or their friends, and that Police Scotland has been too ready to listen only to the officials and not allow the claimant and their friends to give their side of the story. If the Scottish Government wants to change the nature of social security in Scotland, then our Scottish police will need to be part of that change.

Returning to the sanctions policy with which this letter began. We hope you have a plan B for if Westminster says ‘no’. We trust you will not let them overrule your decision and that you will make a stand to preserve the right to protect some of Scotland’s most vulnerable citizens. If it comes to that, we can assure you of our support.

Finally, we wrote to your office some weeks back asking to meet you as a group as part of your consultation over the new Scottish legislation. Your office was very friendly on the phone, but we are still waiting for a date. We would like the opportunity to discuss these issues in more detail based on our experience. Meanwhile, we hope that you and your staff will come to our talk at Commonweal’s IdeaSpace (on Welfare and Decent Work, Thursday 13th at 7pm together with Oxfam) and visit our stall, where we will have copies of our new book, Righting Welfare Wrongs.

P.S. I have put ‘employability’ in inverted commas because this word tends to suggest that the reason people don’t have jobs is due to personal failing – lack of employability, rather than a lack of employment. Alongside the Scottish Government’s welcome changes in word usage, can we suggest that you replace this demeaning term? How about simply ‘training’ schemes? (I realise you might have to change your job title too.)

Advice for Daniel Blake

i-daniel-blake

Ken Loach’s award winning film should open everyone’s eyes to what is happening in Britain’s jobcentres. It also demonstrates how things can get even worse when there is no advice on how best to deal with the situation. The film begins with Daniel being declared fit for work after his Work Capability Assessment and refused Employment and Support Allowance (ESA, the benefit  for people unable to earn money through work). In order to get any money he has to sign up for Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA), despite clear advice from his doctor that he should be given time off to recover from his heart condition.

We meet people in a similar predicament all the time, and we can expect to see many more Daniel Blakes: there has been a significant cracking down on the Work Capability Assessment and the Westminster Government is demonstrating a rigid determination to push the sick and disabled into work – any work.

So, if we had been able to meet Daniel coming out of the jobcentre what advice could we have given him? Often people need persuading that it is worth appealing the assessment decision and that this won’t be affected by their signing onto JSA, but Daniel was already preparing to go through the appeal process and had signed on. However, no-one had told him that once he was signed onto JSA he could ask his doctor for a note to say he was unable to work due to ill health for ‘an extended period of sickness’ of up to thirteen weeks. This would have stopped the Jobcentre pressurising him to apply for jobs. We would also have given him details of local welfare rights advisors who could give him professional help with his appeal application.

Although it would probably not have been applicable in Daniel’s case, we often also ask people if they have thought of applying for PIP too. Many people are not aware of the difference between ESA, which is the benefit for people unable to earn money through work, and PIP, which is the benefit that is meant to cover the extra costs of being sick or disabled and is not means-tested. Although PIP is meant to be an extra benefit to cover extra costs, people are increasingly having to rely on it for basic survival if they have been refused ESA and missed the deadline for appealing, or if they have lost their ESA appeal.

If Daniel had had a sick note he should not have been in a position to get sanctioned in the first place, but if we had only met him after his sanction, we would have done our best to make sure he applied for hardship payments and we would have encouraged him to appeal the sanction. (Like for the ESA appeal this would be a two stage process – internal Mandatory Reconsideration and, when that failed, external tribunal.) We would also have advised him to make sure he was still receiving housing benefit and – if the area he lived in paid this – council tax reduction. He would be entitled to these because of low income, but sometimes they are stopped when people stop getting benefits as it is assumed they are no longer needed.

Paul Laverty, the script writer, resisted our request that he set the film in Scotland, but had he done so Daniel could also have applied for help over the gaps from the Scottish Welfare fund, administered through his local council.

With a bit of advice, Daniel’s situation could have been very different; but most people, like Daniel, do not get that advice.

We hope that a great many people will go and see this powerful film and get angry about what is happening; and we hope that as well as campaigning for a major change in the rules and approach, some will become actively involved in assisting people to find their way through the new punitive ‘welfare’ system.

Activists united

img_3285

Yesterday Edinburgh’s High Riggs Jobcentre provided another excuse for activists to gather together from across Scotland and share solidarity and practical experience. As on previous occasions – and despite previous apologies from the manager – we were protesting the jobcentre’s deliberate flaunting of the DWP’s own rules that clearly state ‘Customers have the right to ask a representative to help them conduct their business’. A month ago the jobcentre not only refused to allow a rep from Edinburgh Coalition Against Poverty (ECAP) to accompany a young man to his interview, but also refused access to his father and called the police. You can read the details here. So we were back again – activists from Dundee and Glasgow as well as from Edinburgh – to show our support for ECAP and make it clear that this was not acceptable and would not pass unnoticed. Among the protestors was another father who had been prevented from accompanying his child. There were relatively few people going into the jobcentre so we suspect that they had deliberately avoided making appointments for the time of the protest. The picture shows Tony Cox from the SUWN stressing the importance of more people getting involved in frontline work so as to make it more difficult for the DWP to respond in this high-handed fashion.

Today we were back outside the buroo in Dundee, and as on the last few occasions, although most people were glad to take our leaflets, few needed our help. We hope that this is a genuine reflection of better treatment overall and not just a response to our presence and because issues are being referred directly to the welfare rights officers inside. There’s some debt advice sessions in there too now, organised by Christians Against Poverty. More worryingly, the Home Fundraiser recruiters, who used to pounce on people inside, have now been allowed to recruit in the buroo itself. ‘Home fundraising’ means being out in the cold and wet, getting doors shut in your face – so nobody should feel under any pressure to accept such work. The mere fact that they are inside the jobcentre could make people feel under pressure to sign up.

On a more positive note, we have found out that the proposals to weaken the tribunal process reported in Benefits and Work should not apply in Scotland.