It was OK until they bumped me off ESA – how often have we been told that by worried people coming out of the buroo? It was certainly a common theme at our stall this week.
When we met Kate she had just signed onto JSA while she asked for her Work Capability Assessment to be looked at again under a Mandatory Reconsideration. She had been invalided off work due to serious back problems, but was now being expected to look for jobs she had been proven to be unable to manage. She had a note from her doctor and she had explained to the ‘work coach’ that although she might be able to sit at a check-out for 10 minutes, she couldn’t sit for longer. But their only acknowledgment of her problems was to say that she could look for part-time work – which makes no sense for her or for any potential employer. It sets her up to fail. Her Claimant Commitment also noted that she ‘acknowledged’ that she should use the DWP’s Universal Jobmatch website. Kate didn’t have enough money to use the internet on her phone, so this meant regular visits to the library. Universal Jobmatch is generally a waste of time even for those who could actually do a job, and using it is not mandatory unless you are specifically directed, but it is always presented as though there is no option. Although Kate found moving around a struggle, the jobcentre had also decided that she must come in, not fortnightly, but weekly. Claimant Commitments are supposed to be ‘reasonable’, and although the DWP holds all the cards – if you don’t sign the Commitment they have effectively dictated you won’t get any money – there is scope to ask to get them looked at again. We have offered to help Kate argue for something that takes account of her very real limitations.
We always warn people that asking to be moved from the ESA Work Related Activity Group into the Support group does incur the risk that when the DWP look at the evidence again they could move the other way and declare them fit to work. This is what had happened to Mary. She had arranged to get help with taking this decision to appeal, but meantime she was very low and very worried – especially as the DWP seemed uncertain whether her JSA claim had been registered so whether she was going to get her payment that week at all. As she was about to see a professional advisor we didn’t have to give her advice over the benefits, but she was clearly pleased to have someone else to listen to her and take her situation seriously, especially as this is something she hasn’t been able to rely on. She told us that despite her spinal problems being clearly recorded in her medical notes, her GP had tried to tell her that she was just being lazy. She was now making sure she saw a different doctor, but still no-one had arranged for her to get the basic aids that would make life easier. She mentioned that she would like a zimmer frame but couldn’t afford one – and was surprised to discover that the NHS can supply walking aids.
John had just been refused ESA and asked us what to do next. We advised him to phone in his Mandatory Reconsideration for the ESA decision first before applying for JSA, as that way they wouldn’t make him apply for Universal Credit instead.
Most of the other people we talked with seemed to be training in security – which must say something about our society. There don’t seem to be any jobs making things any more – just guarding places. Generally the jobcentre will help with the costs of training, but one guy had been given the training and not the necessary certificate. He had a potential job though, so we were able to tell him that the DWP should also pay for the certificate if he asked for it.