Malkie rang us after we had met him outside the jobcentre. He had received no money that month and had no idea when he would next be paid. Like so many others he was discovering the reality of the benefit that was supposed to make it easier to move in and out of work and to help people learn to manage their money! It took some time to work out what had happened. He had received wages from his last job at the beginning of the period in which the DWP assessed his benefits, and that had taken him over the income threshold for receiving anything from Universal Credit that month. So he wouldn’t receive anything before the end of the following month. And he was also paying off his benefit advance that he had had to get to tide him over when he signed onto Universal Credit, which was taking big chunks out of his payments and forcing him ever further into debt. Sorting out what was going on and getting some temporary help from the Scottish Welfare Fund took a long time and a visit to his MSP. In the course of this Malkie needed to get a photocopy of his award letter. The jobcentre wouldn’t even help with that and he had to spend his last pound at the print shop.
John, who we met a couple of weeks later, was also unable to find out how much and when he was getting paid. He was recently out of prison – I’m sure this uncertainty will help him keep to the straight and narrow!
Another Universal Credit claim is that it is supposed to provide practice for being in work by being as like a job as possible. That is the stated justification for expecting people to spend 35 hours a week looking for work: the only difference from having a job is you don’t get paid! I suppose you could argue that this financial insecurity might prepare you for work in the insecurity of the gig economy.
The idea that ‘work coaches’ are training you to be ‘employable’ promotes a very condescending attitude. One of our activists was told that it would be better if he didn’t arrange for his housing element to go directly to his landlord because he should learn to look after his money. As he observed, they could almost have added ‘like a grown-up’.
And the ‘work coaches’ are very keen to get as many people as possible into this improving regime. Another of our activists, who is on Jobseeker’s Allowance, repeatedly has to inform his coach that he does not want to change over to Universal Credit, and to remind her that he doesn’t yet have to.
Thanks to Tony, Norma, Gary, Duncan and Dave for help with recent stalls