The verdict of one jobcentre ‘customer’ left us in no doubt of his opinion of the ‘service’ he had just received. (In these days of ‘terrorists’ under the bed I feel I should point out that this statement was rhetorical – we know of someone who was banned from the jobcentre for a similar comment.)
A look back at recent blogs demonstrates the huge amount of distress caused by jobcentre errors – what in any other organisation would be deemed culpable levels of negligence. That the DWP presides over a system so poorly structured and badly trained, demonstrates the official contempt for the people they are supposed to serve. Fran is another victim of the DWP’s bureaucratic incompetence, and when she first burst out of the jobcentre she was far too upset to talk to us. It was only after a long sit down with her daughter on the cold brick steps round the corner that she was clam enough to explain what had happened. She had been getting help from Welfare Rights, so we didn’t feel the need to go into the details of her case, but the DWP had been sending her from pillar to post, always demanding more paperwork. Meanwhile, she had no support for her teenage sons, who are at college, so that they were threatening to give up their courses and futures and join the scrabble for unskilled jobs; and the DWP were accusing her, without evidence, of a two week gap in her records. The last straw was the jobcentre’s refusal to sign a crucial document she had been given by Welfare rights. While there was no risk of anyone blowing up the jobcentre, I was more seriously concerned about her comments that life was no longer worth living.
When she had calmed down sufficiently, we rang her Welfare Rights officer who was able to see her again that afternoon and ring through to the jobcentre, insisting on the need for a signature. This time Fran emerged fro the jobcentre with a smile and a signed document. She told us that the man who had signed it observed, ‘I could have signed that an hour ago’.
Even when people are already getting professional help – and in our experience in Dundee increasing numbers are – it can still be important that when they are at their lowest after being processed by the jobcentre machine they can find people who recognise them as a fellow human being.
Tam should have been in hospital, but had checked himself out of his bed to sort his benefits. He is on JSA and we told him he should be able to get a thirteen week Extended Period of Sickness. He is returning to a further five to six weeks hospital care, where he hopes the social work team will help sort out the doctor’s line. Sean had also been in hospital, and in consequence had found his case closed for failure to attend, and was having to sign on again.
Arun has been homeless since April. A friend has offered him a flat in a few days’ time, but meanwhile the Council has decided that he has outstayed his welcome in their emergency accommodation. We went with him to the Salvation Army hostel and helped him fill in the paperwork to ensure he has a roof over his head.
We were also able to inform people about the possibility of getting a Short Term Benefit Advance, and other useful bits of information, and we could see the visible signs of relief on the faces of two women when we told them that we could accompany them to future jobcentre appointments if wanted. One told us that she felt ill before every visit.
Lastly, three bits of good news.
First, Westgap is going to be organising stalls outside Govan jobcentre from next week. If you are in the Glasgow area and would like to help, please get in touch with them: firstname.lastname@example.org
Second, a recent Upper Tribunal ruling should make it much easier to defeat the sort of bureaucratic incompetence that Fran is suffering from. The tribunal decided that if the DWP fails to provide proof that they have done what they claim (such as send out a letter), then they won’t have a case to answer. Of course most people would hope not to have to pursue their cause as far as an Upper Tribunal, but if you can demonstrate knowledge of this case, the DWP should be wary of insisting on making unsubstantiated claims.
And finally, the UK government has backed off from appealing against the high court ruling that changes to PIP rules made last March were ‘blatantly discriminatory’ against people with mental health conditions. Psychological distress must again be taken into account when looking at mobility, and the government will be making back-payments to everyone (up to 164,000 people across the UK) who was deprived of benefits because of the rule change.