Jen emerged from the jobcentre shouting and accompanied by a security guard. At first she was too angry to engage with us at all, convinced that, as with everyone else she had encountered, our offers of help were hollow. But something persuaded her to turn around and come back. Over a cup of tea in the café opposite, she explained that she had been on JSA but had taken a job for two weeks in a Glasgow club. When she signed on again she was put onto Universal Credit. She had asked for a Rapid Reclaim, but the DWP treated her like a new claimant and she was undergoing the long wait for her first payment. To make it worse, they initially failed to put through the claim at all and she had had to start again. It was now nine weeks since she had applied, and she was yet to receive any payments other than a £350 advance loan, which had almost all been swallowed up in rent, as she had to keep a roof over her head. Now she had no money and just £9 on the electricity meter. She had gone into the jobcentre because she had hoped that they would be able to find out the cause of the delay and ensure she got her benefit payments; but she had been told there was nothing they could do and been fobbed of with the usual assurance – in which she had little faith – that the money would come through that evening.
We rang the Scottish Welfare Fund from the café, and they took details of her situation so that they could decide whether to give her an emergency grant. It was too late to contact the foodbank, but we told her to ring us if she needed to do this the following day. That evening she was going over to her mother who had just rung to tell her she had borrowed more money off a friend to see her daughter through.
To make matters worse, Jen’s private landlady clearly had a cavalier attitude to health and safety and her boiler had recently exploded. No-one was hurt, but Jen had been relying on expensive electric heating for two weeks and her only source of hot water was the shower. We discussed taking this and her other housing problems to Shelter.
When she left the café her intense anger had evaporated. She has not got back to us so we hope this means that some money has finally got through.
Our last blog looked at a couple of the people we have helped after they were found ‘fit-for-work’ and bumped off ESA. This one looks at some of the other problems we have come across in our last two stalls outside Dundee buroo.
Richard lost his job on the Riggs two years ago and has only had bits and pieces of work since. He told us that employers in other areas of work aren’t interested in him because they assume that he will leave as soon as better-paid oil work comes along. There had been a prospect of a good oil job recently, but a vital license had expired and he didn’t have the money needed to renew it. He had asked the jobcentre for help, but they had said there was nothing they could do. It was already too late for that job when he discovered himself, through friends, that the Scottish Government has set up a fund to help people in his exact predicament: something – as he pointed out – that the jobcentre should have been aware of. He gave us the link for anyone else who might need it.
The problems of finding work when you are older are well known, but last week we learnt about an additional hurdle from a woman looking for care work. She told us that younger people get their SVQ costs paid for them, but others have to pay these back out of their wages. And despite all the homage paid to the idea of building people’s confidence, another frustrated woman complained that she had just been told by her ‘work coach’ that although she had had three job interviews that week she ‘shouldn’t get her hopes up’. She had been living on just £23 a week after rent and overdue deductions, so we suggested she see a money advisor to get her repayments rescheduled.
Allan was also waiting for his benefit money to come through. He had no money and had not had a proper meal in two days. We tried to get him a food parcel, but it was (again) too late that evening. He, too, had been given the usual promise that the money would be in his account by the end of the day, but previous experience led us to ring him to check the next morning – when we found ourselves having to give him details of the day’s soup kitchens, before getting back on the phone to our friends at Taught by Muhammad to arrange a food parcel. We also advised him to take his case to the Welfare Rights drop-in when he was at the soup kitchen.
Mark had no money and no home. He was staying on his friend’s sofa and had been sanctioned because his jobcentre appointment had clashed with his Gran’s funeral, which wasn’t deemed sufficient excuse to change the date. But he didn’t want help because he was getting away from it all and joining the army. Maybe that was what he had always wanted to do, but it is easy to see how jobcentres make dangerously easy recruiting grounds.
Thanks to: Gordon, Dave, Gary, Susan, Sarah, Alison, Grant and Tony