Nothing for the weekend


Outside the jobcentre on a Friday afternoon we are very aware that any problems will not be resolved till at least next week. It is only the foodbanks that can save people from a hungry weekend. The two people we referred to the foodbank this week had both found themselves penniless after being caught out by the new payment schedule under Universal Credit. Instead of the fortnightly payments of the old system, UC is paid monthly. Without a hint of irony, the DWP claims that this is meant to help people prepare for monthly wages, though the amount paid is only a fraction of what you would get in work. They were warned from when this was first proposed that it would cause problems, and of course it has.

In Scotland you can ask for the payment to be staggered so that you get your money twice monthly instead. This is almost like the previous fortnightly payments, but not quite; and that was Richard’s undoing. He had been under the impression that he would get his benefit payment two weeks after the last one and had budgeted accordingly. When he asked why he hadn’t been paid he was told the money wasn’t due until Tuesday.

Lisa was getting monthly payments and was unable to budget that way – especially with money being taken off for debt repayment. She knew she couldn’t cope and was trying to arrange twice monthly payments instead, but meanwhile she had spent her meagre allowance and there was still two weeks before her next payment was due.

This is a system that sets people up to fail. With benefits pared to the bone, it demands a level of financial planning that few if any of its authors could even conceive of. Foodbanks are under huge pressure, but what is remarkable is that this is not even greater.

The right to take notes

Maximus doodle

Every so often we have to remind the powers that be that claimants and their friends always have a right to take notes at interviews – as is clearly stated in the DWP’s own guidance documents. Most recently, we had to write the following letter to Maximus, who run the Work Capability Assessments in Scotland:

We are writing because we are concerned that your Dundee assessment centre is giving confusing advice about taking notes in assessments. We have been informed by someone who accompanied a friend to her assessment recently that, rather than the usual warning that you can take notes but these won’t be treated as an official record, she was simply told that she couldn’t use her notes in a tribunal. This is both incorrect (they can be used but won’t necessarily be accepted as an accurate account), and likely to make an already worrying situation worse. Personal notes can be an important aide memoire, and it is very worrying if people are being discouraged from taking or keeping them. It is also unnecessary to raise the spectre of a future tribunal. The assessor had gone out of the room to ask advice on this, which suggests that this confusion is likely to be replicated by others. Please can you insure that all your assessors are fully aware of the rules on note taking and the correct procedures for conveying those rules?

We got an almost instant response from Maximus saying they would inform their Dundee centre. We have heard nothing from Dundee, but trust they have taken the message on board…

Please let us know if you are having similar problems anywhere. We know this sort of misinformation can be common as well as damaging. And always insist that you have a right to take notes – which you don’t have to show them.

 Watch out for workfare!

boycott workfare new logo

Our last week’s post about unpaid work for M&S got a huge response. We have collected some of the comments below. Please let us know if you are being asked to work for nothing. Businesses that are exploiting the unemployed need to be NAMED AND SHAMED.

J – 3 years ago I worked for M&S for two weeks full time unpaid with the promise of a job at the end of it… guess what I’m still waiting

K – I’ll be getting put on this in October as “it will help get me experience”

A – I did 4 weeks with M&S. Got a job out of it for 3 months. Told they would extend my contract but didn’t
Went back on benefits and went from JSA to UC losing out on £250 a month

M – I was on that scheme for 4 weeks and it was horrible

Was hoping to get a job out if it

I was sent there by a scheme who help people who are struggling to find work…
It was a year ago and my experience told me not to work for M and S ever
They only care about sales and you have to be pushy even in food it was horrid…

What struck me is that I told the people who sent me to M and S that I’m not good at approaching customers and sales, assuming they’d pass this along to M and S. Nope, so when I was not very good at this and not pushy with upselling stuff I was told off, and I’m like I am not good at this and I hate it as a customer so why would I want to do it to other customers…

I mean, I was told that I could get a job out of it, that’s why I did it. Out of the 4 people who started including me, the only one who got a job was the guy who had come out of retirement. We weren’t all disabled we were just finding it hard to find work. There were 2 girls as well one who was in a wheelchair who didn’t get jobs; then again the store was not wheelchair friendly if you were staff…
I was getting shit from the Jobcentre for not looking for work at the same time, even though I thought it was better to concentrate on the placement to help improve my chances…

Also we had a £3 allowance for lunch each day but in M and S you’d be lucky if that got you a basic sandwich.

I did a similar scheme for Tesco but within 2 days of being there, they wanted to hire me cause I was able to stack shelves. I’ve been there 9 months almost.

[This writer liked the fact that he could prove he could do the Tesco job and didn’t have to struggle with an interview – but of course he could and should still have been paid for his trial period.]

C – M&S have been doing this for a long time. My friend did unpaid work for weeks and then had to apply for a 6 month post, at the end of which had to apply for another 6 month post. No job security, sick pay etc. Took years of this before she was eligible to apply for a permanent post.

N – The management there are terrible. They lie and cheat saying they help people with disabilities which is untrue, they just care about making money and profit. I used to work for them until November 2016. Only for 23 months.

W – Serial offenders. About 5 years ago, a friend’s daughter who was of 6th form age answered an M&S advert targeted at school leavers. She was attempting to do the right thing by working whilst her longer term plans materialised. After two weeks work in the store, she was given her first payslip which showed zero pay. She was told this was because those two weeks were ‘training’. It was the first she had heard of this and was very upset. Within weeks, her employment was terminated. The reason given for this was that she had reached the age where the minimum age applied (they had been paying less than the minimum wage). Other recruits in her cohort were subject to the same rule.

L – They [M&S] joined [this scheme] a few years ago using the Prince’s Trust… only a few [people] are kept on temporary to see them over their busy period, then they are let go. Very few if any will actually get a permanent job as most of the staff are on short term contracts

B – Brilliant! That means we can go into an M&S and just take stuff without paying.

G – Total sham – so every manager should work for free too then

D – Let the shareholders work for nothing.

P – I have boycotted Marks & Spencer since Rose was CEO and said that Companies which stopped using workfare because of protests were cowards. M & S has always not only used it but promoted it.

[Here’s a link to what the writer is referring to.] 

R – My wife did 3 unpaid trials for Premier Inn at 3 different hotels. They just wanted extra people to help with their breakfasts. Absolutely disgraceful

Remember that a task set by the jobcentre is only mandatory if it is part of your claimant commitment, or you are given a Jobseeker’s Direction (JSA) or a Requirement (Universal Credit). If you are 18-21 and have been unemployed on UC for 6 months you can be mandated to go on training or a work placement.  If you are sent on a mandatory work placement you can still refuse to sign the documents that are needed for them to process it, so long as you show willing to do everything else. (See our Work Programme Survival Guide.)





Unpaid labour for M and S, anyone?

M and S

So, Markies have joined the list of companies expecting people to work for free in order to win the privilege of a job interview: four weeks’ work receiving only unemployment benefit (paid out of the public purse), and just the promise of an interview at the end. And, of course, with lots of people working for free, they should actually need to employ fewer paid workers. The young graduate who told us of this offer from the jobcentre was far from impressed, but others will no doubt be persuaded that they have little choice, either through fear of saying no to the jobcentre – although this scheme is not actually mandatory – or through lack of other opportunities.

And last week we also talked with Paul, an angry and frustrated man with serious health problems, who had been on ESA and PIP but had had his ESA claim stopped when he went into hospital for six days. He had been made to reapply through the Universal Credit system, and had thereby lost hundreds of pounds in disability premiums. The ending of these premiums in Universal Credit is a major cut for disabled people that is rarely talked about. In Paul’s case this should also never have happened, because the original ESA claim should not have been closed.  Paul was already getting help to appeal, but we also came across a couple of people with complicated problems who weren’t getting help, who we sent to the Shelter drop-in.

And talking of limited job opportunities – the army was in the jobcentre again, carrying out their economic conscription.