This week’s report involves a recent case that came to us via email, which raised issues that have become all too common since the introduction of Universal Credit (UC). We reproduce below the initial inquiry from Alan, which is not only well written, concise, but also a model of clarity;
‘I have been helping a friend by accompanying him to his Job Coach interviews. Unfortunately, during an interview I couldn’t attend, they got him to update and sign his job search commitment to include job coach recommendations. He has since been sanctioned for not going to an Open Day at XXX Hotel. He says that the updating of his commitments occurred after The Open Day.
He suffers from Vestibular Disorder and, although his health has improved, he has problems with balance and also standing for a long time. He therefore has not been applying for jobs like bar or waiting work that he knows he could not do. In my opinion it is clear he has other mental issues though he does not see this himself. His doctor gave him a line recommending part-time work only. He has asked for a mandatory reconsideration of the sanction and a new job coach.
During a job coach interview that I attended Colin was told that if he did voluntary work, the hours he did would be taken off his job search hours commitment and that he could get travel time deducted as well. During the job coach interview before he was sanctioned, the job coach reneged on this and told him none of the hours would count.’
After a phone conversation with Alan, we arranged to phone Colin to discuss the case with him and our strategy, and also arranged to meet him fifteen minutes before his appointment with his new ‘job coach’. Colin is very keen to get off Universal Credit and back into the world of paid work, but, as he realises himself, he should really be treated as ‘having a limited capability for work’. Like countless others, however, he had failed his ESA Work Capability Assessment (WCA), and was now expected to meet the full job search demands. Our strategy, therefore, centred on renegotiating his ‘claimant commitment’ so that his job search hours would be reduced, his voluntary working hours deducted from his job search hours, and that he would not be expected to take work that meant long periods of standing – such as the bar jobs he was ‘recommended’ to apply for and which led to him being sanctioned.
With all the problems that Colin had experienced with his previous ‘job coach’, who appeared to view him as little more than sanction fodder, Colin was understandably nervous about going into the buroo. We attempted to put his mind at rest, assuring him that everything would be fine, and that he would probably notice a big change in the attitude of his new ‘job coach’. And, as we had predicted, the new job coach could not be more helpful, and all of the changes we proposed were agreed to in what was a very pleasant and productive half hour. Of course, it should be totally unnecessary, for Colin – or any other claimant – to be accompanied into meetings with their ‘job coach’ by a SUWN volunteer in order to have the issues and problems they raise to be taken seriously. The major lessons that claimants should take from this ‘wee victory’, however, is that if you are in a similar position to Colin and have recently failed a ESA WCA, this doesn’t mean you have to simply accept everything that your ‘job coach’ demands of you as a UC claimant. Most of all, remember the old adage – if you don’t ask, you don’t get.
The names of all people in this report have been changed to ensure their anonymity.
One thought on “If you don’t ask, you don’t get”
“Two is company, three is a crowd”: Well, maybe in romantic situations but in situations as described above, the “third person” can make all the difference. Even if that third person acts as observer only, he/she is a powerful force. Apart from my welfare rights experience, I encountered “the force of the third person” whilst participating in a counselling skills course (which I didn’t complete as I decided it was not my thing). We (we being a group of individuals all committed to supporting each other as positively as possible etc) performed several mock counselling sessions with the A,B, C format. A is the interviewer, B the interviewee and C the silent observer, we each played a different role each time. From A’s perspective, the presence of C always made an enormous difference, knowing that everything was being observed of the high intensity human interaction between A and B. That was in a positive, risk-free learning situation. So, no surprise when in a potentially negative high risk (you could lose benefit) situation where there is no trust and lots of stress, taking someone along (esp. if you, B are feeling nervous, intimated and powerless) can make all the difference. C’s presence will reassure you, certainly. But the presence of an observer (and even more so an interactive observer such as a benefits advocate) will fundamentally alter the power dynamics of the situation. To put it simply: (official) bullies do not like being observed; the “bully will not come out to play” if someone else is watching!