The three matrons of Dundee – and other tales of our times

Three matrons, Rhineland

The sign of a good day on the stall is absolute boredom. Last week’s stall was busier than we would have liked it to have been. Indeed, we had our first case before we had even set up the advice stall, and it was the kind of case that is all too familiar to us.

Bruce had just been released from a short prison sentence and was worried and angry in equal measure. He had just been told by Job Centre staff that he could not receive UC payments due to his lack of a bank account or photographic identification. Job Centre staff were clearly being unnecessarily difficult.

Although a bank account is required to receive UC payments, the lack of one needn’t be any barrier to setting up a UC account. All that is required is for the claimant to fill in the sort code field in the UC claim form with the figures 1,2,3,4,5,6 and the Account number field with the required number of x’s, which allows the claim to be processed while the claimant looks into setting up a bank account. With regards to the issue of photographic identification all anyone recently released from prison should need to provide to the JC with is their bail letter. After we had discussed the situation with Bruce, he went back into the JC on his own, despite our offer to accompany him, and re-emerged some time later in a much happier frame of mind. The JC staff had seen sense and had helped him set up his UC account, and had offered him a, much-needed, advance payment.

At the same time that we were trying to help Bruce, yet another recently released ex-prisoner, John, came to our attention. He reported that he had been sanctioned last April for missing an appointment. Shortly afterwards, however, he started serving his prison sentence. He was shocked to find that the sanction had been carried over from last year, and that he should expect no payments in the foreseeable future, and was horrified when he learnt that, due to owing the DWP money, he had also been turned down for a Scottish Welfare Fund grant. On his first day free of prison he was now faced with surviving on his wits, as the welfare system could not be relied upon. As he ruefully remarked, ‘how dae they think ahm gaena survive, if they winna help me?’ ‘How’, indeed. John was in an understandably agitated state at his predicament, and his mood did not change when we pointed him in the direction of the Dundee Shelter office, which provides walk-in assistance for claimants. He admitted that he found it difficult dealing with officialdom of any kind and was suspicious of offices, a common problem amongst some of the folk we deal with. However, his relief and gratitude was obvious when one of our volunteers offered to chum him along to the Shelter offices.

We are also coming across regular cases of people being wrongly put on UC when, having only just left employment with fully paid up National Insurance, they should be on contribution based Job Seekers Allowance – now called New Style JSA. Two such cases came up at our last stall, involving an oil worker and a building worker, respectively. The frequency with which this issue crops up only leads us to the conclusion that JC staff are being deliberately directed towards getting as many people on to UC as possible, even when claimants clearly qualify for another benefit. This is no small matter for those affected, as it will make the difference between receiving financial help within a few days, compared with having to wait at least five weeks for a UC payment. As a fellow volunteer has written in bold capitals alongside this case note, ALWAYS ASK.

Another of our volunteers had to accompany Shona and her teenage daughter along to Shelter. Shona explained that she had failed her ESA work capability assessment (WCA) late last year and had been put on UC, but had received no payments since the middle of December last. As a result, she and her daughter had had to move in with her mother, who, however, is also on benefits and has now run out of gas and electricity. In addition, Shona is receiving no help with her housing costs and had found that her UC account had been inexplicably closed. The JC staff had been of no help whatsoever, and the poor woman’s distress was clearly apparent. We attempted to calm her down and set her mind at rest that she and her family would not be left longer in such a situation. This was not enough to prevent the poor woman from bursting into tears as she and her daughter were being accompanied to the Shelter office. At the birth of the post-war welfare state it was justifiably claimed that the citizen was protected from cradle to the grave. Eighty years on, welfare ‘reform’ now starves three different generations of women from the same family, at the same time. That, as they say is, progress, Tory style.

This week’s stall was manned by Tony, Duncan and Jonathan.

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