When we asked John if his Jobcentre ‘Work Coach’ was trying to persuade him to move from JSA to Universal Credit, he laughed. ‘She’s like an insurance salesman’, he told us. ‘She never stops. I told her that I didn’t want to change over because you have to wait for the money and I could go into debt, and maybe lose my house – and she said I didn’t have to worry about going into debt because they would give me a loan!’. Perhaps failure to understand the link between loans and debt makes it easier for a jobcentre worker to sleep at night.
It was a busy – as well as frosty – morning outside the jobcentre on Friday.
Craig is a self-employed construction worker, but is currently unable to work due to a leg injury. He was carrying a big file of papers supporting his ongoing attempt to get some Universal Credit payments, which had become an absurd nightmare, with different government departments failing to communicate with each other. He had just been told by the jobcentre that he had to close down various arrangements to do with his business, and we urged him to check first with an independent money advisor. In another demonstration of DWP disconnection with the real world, his ‘Work Coach’ had commented that he should have put money aside for a rainy day.
Jim had been referred to a ‘Decision Maker’ for a possible sanction. He had been due to do a work experience placement, but it was cancelled at the last minute. He had let the jobcentre know what had happened, but this didn’t seem to have been enough. We stressed the importance of appealing if he is sanctioned – not just to get that sanction lifted, but to make them think twice about sanctioning him again, and because if you have been sanctioned once any further sanction can be longer.
Dave was visibly hassled. His payments were late and he had no food nor electricity. He was about to pick up his daughter from school, according to his court order, and was worried that bringing her back to a cold, foodless home could cause him to lose custody. He had been offered referral to a food bank, but had to hurry to the school. As he observed, ‘They’ve not got a clue!’ We asked him to contact us if he needed help later, but we’ve not heard any more.
Ronnie has £800 in shares that are being transferred from one company to another, and although he will receive no benefit from the transfer, somehow this has got classified as income, causing a reduction in his Universal Credit. The Council’s Connect team are already looking into this for him.
Steve told us that he had worked for a call centre for three weeks, but the company had upped and moved to Glasgow leaving 20 workers unpaid. We suggested he contact Unite the Union, who are fighting a similar case for Brassica Restaurant Workers.
And, yet again, there was someone who had been put on Universal Credit when he had been paying National Insurance and should have been on contribution-based – now called New Style – JSA.
In the bigger picture, too, it has been a bad week for Dundee, with the collapse of McGill construction. 200 Dundee workers, and over 200 more in Glasgow and Edinburgh, will be forced to sign on and discover the nightmare of the current benefit system. I hope someone makes sure that those who have up to date National Insurance get put on New Style JSA, not Universal Credit, and that those others who have to sign onto Universal credit are advised to sign on after they have received any final payment, so that this is not included in the first Universal Credit assessment.