‘You’re better off in jail’

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Those were the words of one of the many unhappy people we met outside Dundee buroo this week. He had been sanctioned, and his observation was based on personal experience.

There were other sanction cases too. James had been sanctioned for 65 days for not coming to an appointment that clashed with his college course. He had informed the DWP, of course, but the relevant information had got lost. He wasn’t surprised at this because they had been consistently chaotic, even sending him appointments at a Manchester jobcentre, rather than Dundee. And now he was waiting for an overdue hardship payment. We asked him to contact us if the payment didn’t come through that day and he needed immediate support.

Alan had missed a Triage (Work Programme) appointment back in October because he was at a job interview. He had told them and they had also phoned on the day to say ‘where are you? They then demanded to see a letter from the prospective employer, but the arrangement had been word of mouth. We explained how a Universal Credit sanction will only be lifted once you have shown that you have done whatever was asked of you, and again ensured he had our details in case more help was needed.

Robert was rather less bothered about his sanction because he was starting a job in 2 weeks’ time – but we did have to warn him that if the job didn’t last long, the sanction would still be hanging over him, so it was worth appealing. Also, the DWP shouldn’t be allowed to get away with treating people in this way.

As usual, there were ESA problems too. Paul had been told that it didn’t matter that he was in pain. He had explained that he couldn’t sit and had problems getting around – and they had said he should use a wheelchair…  We gave him details of people who could help with an appeal.

Richard’s life began to unravel when his mother died ten years ago, and he is now in a homeless hostel. He had a break in his ESA claim due to a spell in prison and is only getting the basic £73.10 assessment phase rate – minus deductions for outstanding debts – until the DWP ‘decision makers’ look at his case and agree to reinstate his benefit. We gave him details of that week’s welfare rights drop-in sessions as they should be able to escalate this process, and we also helped him make a claim for PIP, which should provide him with further support and backup.

Kirstie had come up against the inflexibility of DWP bureaucracy, which doesn’t allow for people’s actual circumstances. Her ESA claim had been shut down because she was unable to provide the identification evidence demanded of her. It seems the DWP hasn’t worked out what to do when someone has no passport or driving license and lives with another family member and so doesn’t have their name on the utility bills – yet that can’t be a very rare occurrence.

There were also several new signers-on who were glad of our rights leaflet and the chance of an informed chat: two made redundant from the rigs and two from the Flint Group printing company, which has just closed its Dundee factory, with the loss of 110 jobs.

And finally, a bit of good news – or at least not-so-bad-in-the-circumstances news. Helen, who we have helped in the past, told us with huge relief that she would no longer have to face the jobcentre as she had just got herself a 20 hour a week retail job. She wants full-time work, but in these days of lowered expectations, she was just pleased that it wasn’t a zero-hour contract.

(The photo is from the previous week – we were too busy to get the camera out this time.)

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