Another busy day at Dundee buroo

Th National 2More ESA problems and benefit delays kept us busy outside the jobcentre yesterday – and if everyone we spoke with followed our advice, the welfare rights drop-in in the afternoon will have been busy too.

Worryingly we learnt of another example of the jobcentre claiming that someone couldn’t submit a sick note from their doctor when they were on JSA while putting in a Mandatory Reconsideration for an ESA Work Capability Assessment. This is not what the law says –as we have written about before. Anyone in that situation has to be treated the same as anyone else on JSA. In this instance we didn’t have to take it further though, as the man concerned was told by the jobcentre that his mandatory Reconsideration had just been rejected, so he can now go on to put in a full appeal and be eligible for basic rate ESA again while that goes through.

All this focus on making it hard for people applying for ESA has probably taken some of the pressure off people on JSA, and we should admit that many emerge from the jobcentre without problems; however years of cuts and crackdowns have undoubtedly resulted in pretty low expectations. The meanness of our benefit system was emphasised by a German woman who was shocked to find she was expected to live on only £73.10 a week. She told us that in Germany if you lose your job after a year you get 60% of your salary. Of course some of the systems that reward long-term employed in that way can be very harsh on those with more precarious work histories, but UK benefits are brutally low by any standards. The least talked about cut, but one of the biggest, has been the freeze on benefit levels. This was implemented last April and followed three years with a rise of just 1% and three decades when benefit increases lagged behind wage rises.

The inbuilt callousness of the system is demonstrated by the increasing number and length of benefit delays. The prevalence of precarious and low-paid jobs makes every delay a potential disaster, and yesterday we had to arrange two food parcels for people waiting for their benefits – one for a young homeless couple and one for a man who had lost his job after being injured in a road accident.

Our stall was visited by the National Road Show, which spent the day in Dundee (see photo by Norma Drummond). They made a wee live video, but we don’t seem to have made it to the paper edition, where the upbeat vision of our city will seem unrecognisable to many of the people we meet with.

PS Hammond’s uninspiring budget showed no deviation from austerity and an extraordinary blindness to the Brexit elephant in the room. It was, received by the usual baying of MPs, especially at every jibe he made at Jeremy Corbyn. The phrase ‘ordinary working families’ appeared four times (a fifth if you also include ‘ordinary working people’) but he had nothing positive to offer most workers, let alone people without jobs who’s future of decreasing benefits and increasing policing has already been mapped out. And with reference to that last point, in February the government announced that the ‘DWP will work with an external data provider to better identify fraud and error caused by undeclared partners’. After the disaster resulting from using a private company to chase supposed overpayments of tax credits, are we to see a repeat with benefits?

Thanks to Tony, Norma, Gordon, Susan Dave and Gary

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