Fighting Universal Credit

stall as on book smaller

If articles calling for the end of Universal Credit translated into resistance on the ground, then this cruel system would be history. But of course it doesn’t work like that. The fight against the attack on social security, of which UC is the flagship, does have the potential to become a rallying cry for major social change, but only if this is understood and taken up. The cuts are affecting more and more people, and, for the first time anywhere, people in low-paid work who rely on benefits to have enough to live on are becoming subject to the punitive sanctions regime. But there is no single action that claimants can take to disrupt the system in the same way as people withheld their Poll Tax, and we can’t do anything that might prevent people receiving their vital payments. The only group who could carry out concerted targeted action is the PCS, the union for DWP workers, and they have resisted all calls to intervene as this would require them to run up against Thatcher’s anti-union legislation. But that doesn’t mean we can do nothing.

As France is showing us, history can move quickly. There is a lot of anger against the current system, and we can help direct it against the architects of this politically inspired austerity and the brutal regimes they have created. We have long argued that ‘welfare’, and the need to support the poorest and most vulnerable members of our society, could and should have been taken up as a rallying cry for a new Independence campaign. Instead all politics seems to have got lost in the byways of the debate around the EU, for which there seems little sign of an imminent end point of any kind. However, those basic bread and butter issues have not gone away. The fight against the destruction of our welfare system only grows in importance, and we will continue to ensure that no-one can forget it.

We hope that all those articles – as well as personal experience – will inspire more people to take up this fight, and for those who are wondering ‘but what can we do?’, we thought it might be useful to outline, again, the approach we have been taking. All our activity can be divided into three levels.

Grassroots solidarity

Every week, for over four years, we have had a stall outside Dundee jobcentre (and for some of that time also stalls in Govan and Paisley) where we have been able to talk with folk going in to sign on. We are acting as a sort of welfare rights sans frontiers, and because most of us are, or have been, in a similar position to the people we are talking with, we also provide mutual solidarity. Unlike the professionals, we also accompany people into meetings and assessments. Over the years we have been able to give support and confidence to a great many people, but this work is about more than that. It gives us a real understanding of what is happening, and it enables us to pass this understanding on to a wider public. Our regular blog provides useful information to those struggling through the system, and it also informs others about what is going on and why it matters.

Of course we have to make sure that any advice we give is accurate. We keep up to date with the main questions that we have to deal with, and ask the experts at the Child Poverty Action Group when we get stuck. And we have a list of office-based advisors we suggest people go to for further help. Central to this is our advice leaflet, which covers the basics and which we hand out to everyone going into the jobcentre. Particularly since the introduction of Universal Credit, we have caught the DWP making a large number of damaging errors. (For anyone thinking of doing similar stalls, you can download the leaflet here, and we would be happy to give advice on how to get started.)

Although the Tory government continues to ensure that the ‘welfare’ system gets worse, and we still hear accounts of bullying and intimidation, many people who come out of Dundee Jobcentre now assure us that they have been well-treated by the people working there. This was far from the case in the past, and we feel that it cannot be a coincidence that this change of approach has coincided with four years of campaigning scrutiny.

Campaigns on specific issues

We know that, ultimately, our political and economic system needs to change, but meanwhile there are meaningful reforms that we can fight for. These can be beneficial in themselves, and they can help build a movement for further change. We have helped highlight the horrors of sanctions, and we have helped to name and shame employers who are exploiting unpaid labour – both big companies and also local charities. (When it comes to the latter we try and engage them by letter first before putting a protest outside their door.) We have also lobbied politicians and councillors, responded to public consultations, and presented a petition to the Scottish Parliament. We always make clear that we know the cuts come from Westminster, but we believe that the Scottish Parliament can and must do more to help mitigate them. Our petition calls for more help in the budget, paid for by more progressive taxation. Specifically we have suggested that they provide more money for the Scottish Welfare Fund and for Discretionary Housing Payments (both funds that can be targeted at those most in need) and we have supported the call for a top up to child benefit. The draft budget will be announced on Wednesday. I expect we will be disappointed, but we will go on pushing these issues.

Looking at the bigger picture

At the same time as fighting for small changes we try and ensure we don’t lose sight of the bigger political and economic picture. Our economic analysis and our call for a Universal Basic Income (most clearly set out in our book) are inspired by our experiences of the realities of the current system of exploitation and punishment.

 

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‘My journal would be a testament to how well UC works…’

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It is difficult to understand how a benefit that has been so many years in development can produce such a tragedy of errors.  This journal extract demonstrates how these play out in what should be a simple – because not unusual – case. Jim had been on ESA (the disability benefit), but when he went for a reassessment, he was found fit for work. He applied for a Mandatory Reconsideration of the decision, and signed onto Universal Credit. The Mandatory Reconsideration was successful, and he was put into the ‘support group’ as unfit for work or work-related activity. This should have resulted in him receiving an extra £328.32 a month, as well as not having to go to the jobcentre.

Under Universal Credit, your main method of communicating with the DWP system is through an online journal. Jim’s journal shows how long it took for the system to register this simple change and pay him the money due. Along the way he had messages from at least nine different people, as well as nonsensical action requests that were subsequently withdrawn. He had advice from a Welfare Rights officer, who helped him chase the DWP office in Clydebank and clearly state his position, but the situation was only finally resolved when his MP wrote to the DWP on his behalf.

Jim’s journal is reproduced below. We can’t include the record of payments because this was retrospectively altered to appear as though they were paid correctly at the time, which seems to be standard practice.

We will be sending a copy of this record to the Work and Pensions Committee inquiry into the current state of the UK’s welfare safety net.

(All names have been changed.)

The picture shows another of the notices that recently appeared in the lobby of Dundee Jobcentre. I don’t think it’s meant to be ironic…

 

28 May 2018 at 5.08pm

Following my ESA disallowance on 03.05.18, I submitted a mandatory reconsideration and a claim for UC. On 17.05.2018 I spoke to a decision maker at Clydebank who said they would revise the ESA decision in my favour and place me in the Support … Some time has passed now and I have yet to hear anything. I would be grateful if you would advise me whether you have been advised of this change and if so when I can expect the adjusted payment. Many thanks

 

29 May 2018 at 8.52am

It was a Mr Mike Hawkins from welfare rights who asked me to get in contact about these changes can you please contact me on … to let me know what I have to do next. thank you.

 

29 May 2018 at 9.04am

I have forwarded your query onto your case manager for response Jim. Angie

[Added by Angela Dundee Jobcentre Plus]

 

29 May 2018 at 9.07

thank you … i’m just a bit worried because the housing has contacted me about having to supply details of the benefits I’m receiving for my rent ..

 

29 May 2018 at 10.40am

The payments section on your account has a breakdown of your benefits Jim.

[Added by Angela Dundee Jobcentre Plus]

 

29 May 2018 at 11.46am

i can’t find a payments section anywhere on here …

 

29 May 2018 at 11.57am

Jim, It will appear after your first payment which is due on 16/6/18

[Added by Angela Dundee Jobcentre Plus]

 

29 May 2018 at 11.59am

ok

 

30 May 2018 at 3.57pm

Hi Jim, we have had no contact regarding your mandatory re-consideration. it will be sent to you first or put on your journal. please contact us once you have received it to allow us to get outstanding payment processed. regards Liam

[Added by Liam Dundee Service Centre

 

5 Jun 2018 at 10.47am

Failure to attend appointment completed

 

5 Jun 2018 at 11.01am

Liam … i have just been told i missed an appointment this morning at 10 past nine …. i had and no knowledge of this appointment or i would have attended .. welfare rights and clydebank had advised me i didn’t have to go back to the wellgate office ..

 

5 Jun 2018 at 11.02am

angela.. i have just been told i missed an appointment this morning…

 

5 Jun 2018 at 11.28am

Hi Jim.

I advised you of this appointment at our last meeting and this was also sent to you on your journal. You are required to attend appointments with me (your work coach). Can you please advise when you were advised by Clydebank that you did not have to attend further appointments and who you spoke to. Thanks Angie

[Added by Angela Dundee City Jobcentre Plus]

 

5 Jun 2018 at 11.30am

On 17.05.2018 I spoke to a decision maker at Clydebank who said they would revise the ESA decision in my favour and place me in the Support group…

 

5 Jun 2018 at 11.38am

i am waiting on an email from welfare rights that i can send you … i hope this helps

 

5 Jun 2018 at 11.48am

Thank you for alerting me to my journal this morning. I had no idea that I was due to attend a meeting this morning and apologise for this oversight. I would be grateful if you would reschedule this meeting. I have looked at my journal and am not seeing any notification of appointments and would be grateful if you would direct me to where I have missed this instruction. In discussion with Angela, my advisor, I had the impression that I wasn’t to attend again, suggesting to me that I go to my GP. I recently appealed the decision to take me off ESA. I spoke to a decision maker at Clydebank a couple of weeks ago who was very helpful and advised they were going to reinstate my ESA placing me in the Support Group (Welfare Rights also spoke to this decision maker and were of the same impression, though they questioned whether ESA could be reinstated now that a UC claim has been made). The decision maker advised me I would no longer require to submit fit-notes [DWP-speak for sick notes] and not to worry about UC as they would be in touch with you. I have yet to receive written confirmation from ESA or I would forward it to you immediately and I assume there has been no contact between ESA and yourselves. While ESA were quick to reconsider the ESA decision they don’t appear as swift in processing the change or notifying you of this event. I am very worried about the consequences of missing this meeting and a sanction would have a financially devastating effect on me. My first payment date still seems to be an eternity away for me and I would not knowingly jeopardise this… Many thanks.

 

5 Jun 2018 at 1.18pm

Hi Jim.

Your appointment was on your account under “to do” – attend your commitment review. However, this has now been removed as you did not attend. There will be no sanction applied for failure to attend. With regard your ESA, this cannot be re-instated and you are now on Universal Credit however I can see that you have been place in the support group following a review of your case. I have referred this to your Case Manager to chase up and provide the decision to you. You will not be required to attend the Job Centre at this time. You will need to “Accept your Commitments” on your account (to do) once your ESA decision has been carried over to Universal Credit. Hope this clears things up.

Angie

[Added by Angela  Dundee City Jobcentre Plus]

 

5 Jun 2018 at 1.21

thank you angela … im sorry I didnt see it or i would have came in …

 

5 Jun 2018 at 4.38pm

No problem Jim.

[Added by Angela  Dundee City Jobcentre Plus]

 

7 Jun 2018 at 12.55pm

Hi Jim, I see that Angela has already sent a message to you through your journal. Thanks

[Added by Gordon  Dundee Service Centre]

 

11 Jun 2018 at 12.13pm

Hello

You have made an online application for Universal Credit. please can you now call 0800 328 5644 to make an appointment at the jobcentre to allow us to progress your claim – Thanks

[Added by Julie  Dundee City Jobcentre Plus]

 

11 Jun 2018 at 1.04pm

angela, this just came the day in my journal […]

 

13 Jun 2018 at 8.09am

gordon, i was hoping you can help as i haven’t hear back from angela … this appeared in my journal 2 days ago. can you explain why i received this message? […]

 

14 Jun 2018 at 4.25pm

i want paid fortnightly & i want my rent to go direct to the housing …

 

14 Jun 2018 at 5.59pm

Hello Jim – this was an error with the message – please just ignore it – sorry about that – thanks

[Added by Gemma  Dundee City Jobcentre Plus]

 

14 Jun 2018 at 6.07pm

Hello Jim. I have passed your request on to the service centre and they should action this for you – they will respond to your message – Thanks

[Added by Gemma  Dundee City Jobcentre Plus]

 

15 Jun 2018 at 9.08am

i was notified that i had been placed in the support group but my payment is much less than what i received before. my journal says i only receive a standard uc payment but was told i would receive more because of the support group, why haven’t i received it?

 

17 June 2018 at 8.43am

Choose how you housing costs are paid completed

 

17 June 2018 at 8.44am

Choose how often your Universal Credit is paid completed

 

20 Jun 2018 at 1.24pm

Do you have a letter from ESA to confirm this as system has not been updated it still shows claim ended no LCW [Limited Capability for Work]. I have sent off to ESA for confirmation but that could take a week before I get a reply.

Adam

[Added by Adam  Dundee Service Centre]

 

20 Jun 2018 at 1.27pm

i don’t have any letters Adam .. i am seeing someone from welfare rights this afternoon. hopefully he can advise me

 

20 Jun 2018 at 1.30pm

whats LCW?

 

20 Jun 2018 at 3.21pm

Good afternoon Adam. I have spoken to Mike at Welfare Rights, who also got a call from the decision maker at Clydebank regarding my ESA mandatory reconsideration, and he will e-mail the customer services team tomorrow asking for a decision letter. Mike was called by Clydebank on 17.05.18 and advised that it was likely that I would be placed in the Support Group. Mike was surprised that I hadn’t received some form of written confirmation as more than a month has now passed. Looking back through my journal I had corresponded with Angela and in an entry on 05.06.2018 she was able to confirm that I had been placed in the support group after review. While I endeavour to find some form of confirmation that my MR [Mandatory Reconsideration] was successful, I would be grateful if you would double check your available systems to see if there is in fact any confirmation of me being placed in the support group. You will appreciate that I am very anxious in this matter and keen to have the matter resolved. Many thanks. Jim

 

4 Jul 2018 2018 at 8.44am

have you had a reply back from ESA yet adam??

 

13 Jul 2018 at 1.39pm

i contacted you on 20.06.18 – over 3 weeks ago & you still havent responded ?? Do u read these journals n do you ever respond back to any querys ??

 

19 Jul 2018 at7.57pm

Yes i do have a letter adam .. but nobody has responded back to me since i sent a message on 20th of June ?

 

5 Aug 2018 at 12.01pm

Hi Jim.

There does not appear to be any electronic notification in your Universal Credit account advising that you are in a different work group. Please contact the Universal Credit Helpline on 0800 328 5644 to query this further. Phone using the contact number you registered with your account to get in touch with your case manager.

Thanks

[Added by Rehana]

 

6 Aug 2018 at 8.23am

ive already said i have the letter from esa here … why cant i bring it into the signing office to see my advisor ??? also i don’t know what “using the contact number i registered with” means .. what contact number ??

 

7 Aug 2018 at 9.05am

You went to your further evidence appointment

[Completed by an agent]

 

7 Aug 2018 at 4.06pm

Hi Jim.

The contact number you registered with refers to your user name and password. I can see how this information would be confusing. I see you have provided copies of letters received regarding ESA decision and your case…

[Added by Angela  Dundee City Jobcentre Plus]

 

15 Aug 2018 at 5.02am

Choose how your housing costs are paid has expired

 

15 Aug 2018 at 5.02am

Choose how often you Universal Credit is paid has expired

 

15 Aug 2018 at 9.52am

i want my rent oaid direct to my landlord & i want my payments fortnightly …

 

26 Aug 2018 at 9.11am

Please call 0800 328 5644 on Tuesday 28.8.2018 – they should be able to arrange this for you. (the office is closed Monday 27.8.2018)

[Added by Adam]

 

9 Sep 2018 at 9.40am

i presented evidence on 07.08.18 and it was confirmed in my journal that i am in the support group. yet i am still in the standard payment group.. why hasn’t this been resolved yet. how can i contact my case manager?

 

11 Sept 2018 at 4.50pm

Hi Jim

You can send a message to your Case manager by choosing Service issues option when you send a message. Alternatively you can call the Service Centre on 0800 328 5644

[Added by Angela  Dundee City Jobcentre Plus]

 

11 Sep 2018 at 6.04pm

yeah .. cos we all luv to listen to vivaldi for 38 minutes on loop ….

 

11 Sep 2018 at 6.11pm

who is my case manager and how do i contact them without waiting a month for a response?

 

12 Sep 2018 at 1.54pm

I’ve asked that your Case Manager, Liam, looks at your case and respond to any issues you may have. They will update your journal by 2pm Friday 14 September with further information.

Angie

[Added by Angela  Dundee City Jobcentre Plus]

 

14 Sep 2018 at 4.55pm

im still waiting on a response back from my case manager … you had said we will update my journal by 2pm Friday 14 September with further information.

 

17 Sep 2018 at 12.16pm

how long does yir journal entries take to appear in my journal ? STILL WAITING .. im just going to go through my welfare rights representative and my mp. Because u lie & ignore me constantly n make me more agitated than i was .. i also think my journal would be a testament to how well UC works better than the old system..

 

17 Sep 2018 at 12.29pm

I also want to query why 8 different people has responded back to me on my journal … i thought i had a case manager and an advisor ?? why is my medical condition public to Everyone ??

 

23 Sep 2018 at 10.55pm

… im still waiting for an update from th 14th from my case manager adam ?

 

23 Sep 2018 at 11.00pm

or liam

 

28 Sep 2018 at 3.03pm

Good afternoon Jim

When you made your claim to universal credit you declared that you did not have a health condition. In order for us to review your payments and ensure you are being paid the correct amounts I have created a To-do for you, This is asking for you to report your health condition as a change of circumstances, If you can enter the date effective from as 09/05/2018. Once this has been completed we can review your payment amounts. If you require any assistance with this then please do not hesitate to call us on 0800 328 5644 or you can discuss at the job centre plus.,

Kind regards UC

[Added by Harvey  Dundee Service Centre]

 

28 Sep 2018 at 4.20 pm

Report an illness or disability completed

 

28 Sep 2018 at 4.21pm

New illness or condition – declare changes cancelled

 

28 Sep 2018 at 4.24pm

i am reporting a change of circumstances about my health … i still have the same illness i had when i was receiving esa … this has not changed …

 

28 Sep 2018 at 4.32pm

this has not changed since the 09. 05. 18 …

 

28 Sep 2018 at 4.43pm

Good afternoon Jim

I understand this. in order to add any decisions we would need you to declare that you had a health condition on your universal credit claim. As universal credit and ESA are different benefits we can not add this to your claim until you have declared a health condition on universal credit

Kind regards UC

[Added by Harvey  Dundee Service Centre]

 

28 Sep 2018 at 4.47pm

Report health change

 

28 Sep 2018 at 5.26pm

please see attached

Read the attached file:…

[Added by Angela  Dundee Service Centre]

 

4 Oct 2018 at 1.12pm

Accept your commitments completed

 

5 Oct 2018 at 11.52pm

why are you now asking for a fit note ??? ive gave you all the documents you need … i will go and see my MP again because i thought this miscommunication had been resolved .. apparently not.

& why if this is so important i wasn’t notified as usual by text??

 

5 Oct 2018 at 11.55pm

Health – declare a new fit note cancelled

 

13 October 2018 at 10.36

Hi Jim

You do not need to provide a fit note since you have been found to have limited capability for work requirement. Sorry about any miscommunication or misunderstanding.

[Added by Tom]

 

15 Oct 2018 at 8.05 am

Ok thank you

The suicide question

 

judge

I’m sorry, I have to ask you, but have you ever had suicidal thoughts? When? Did you act on them? What did you do? What happened? And were there other times? Each heart-wrenching answer seemed only to prompt a further question, and although they were asked with gentleness and seeming concern, the questioner was a Work Capability assessor. The aim of this deeply personal grilling was not to help, but to judge. And that matters. Hugely.

I have been with people when that have been asked about suicide before – it is a standard question the assessors ‘have to’ ask. The grilling has never been quite as persistent as it was when I accompanied Julia last week, but it is never comfortable. And the awful thing is that you hesitate to suggest they move onto another line of questioning because every awful recollection can strengthen the case for the person being declared unfit for work. Nothing exemplifies the cruelty of the assessment system more than the suicide question.

No doubt the DWP will take refuge behind the argument that talking about these things can be helpful. But this has to be done in a sympathetic and caring environment. Suicidal thoughts can often come from a sense that no-one cares. To be asked to reveal such a raw personal history, for it merely to be fed into the system, may simply serve to confirm those feelings. And what if, after all that, your case is dismissed as not serious enough to merit ESA? How could that make you feel?

Julia has already been let down so many times by a system that just doesn’t seem to care, and she is in constant fear of being judged. I was glad I was able to be there with her – welfare services don’t generally provide that form of support and people often face this questioning alone – and that she had a friend ready to talk with her when she got home. I hope that helped a bit. But this sort of questioning should not be happening. Doctors and other professionals who know the person applying for ESA should be able to provide the evidence needed (as we expect to see happen with PIP assessments when the Scottish Government eventually takes these over). This is far from the first time the horror and danger of the suicide question has been raised, but so long as nothing is done to change the system we need to keep protesting at what is happening.

If you are feeling depressed and need someone to talk to, try contacting Breathing Space, which is run by NHS Scotland