Sanctioned for grieving, DWP numptydom, and getting your job back: three sides of life and death on Universal Credit


Can you imagine waking up next to your partner only to find that they have died during the night? How would you feel, and how would you react? When we met John, he was caught between shock and anger. He was agitated, and his eyes darted to left and right as we spoke to him; he seemed to be a man on the edge, still computing the terrible loss that he had suffered. He was also angry, very angry, as he had just learned that he had been sanctioned for two weeks as a result of missing an appointment on the very day he had lost Joan, his partner. He had turned up at the buroo with a sicknote from his GP, but this appeared to make little difference to his ‘work coach’ and all she could suggest was to apply for a miserly DWP hardship payment.

We offered our sympathy, and an opportunity for John to express his frustration and grief without being judged or threatened with arrest because of the anger sparked by his still raw sense of loss. When he had calmed down a little we went through the appeal process with him, the financial help he might be able to access towards paying for Joan’s funeral costs, and information on bereavement allowances. John didn’t want to know. He was only relieved that the funeral had been paid for by Joan’s wider family; and he wasn’t eligible for a bereavement allowance, as, whilst he and Joan had been in a long-term relationship, they were not married, and had no children.

We provided John with contact details for welfare rights organisations that might be able to help him through the appeal process, and also suggested that he should claim a Welfare Fund grant. John feared that he had reached the limit of what the authorities were prepared to give, but we urged him to get the local council to clarify the situation; and, if, as he feared, no help was forthcoming, to get back in contact with us. We haven’t yet heard back from John, so it could be that he did receive some assistance, but, as experience has taught us, that is, perhaps, an assumption too far. After all, what kind of assistance would it take to relieve the heartbreak of grief? (For further details of help available to the bereaved, see here.)

Big Joe greeted us with a beaming smile on his face – he’s a cheery kind of guy, anyway, but, today, there was an almost mischievous twinkle in his eye. He admitted that, whilst feeling he was almost unemployable, he still quite liked going into the buroo for an invigorating joust with the system. He had just had a ‘wee spat’ with his ‘work coach’, which, while quickly resolved, was only the latest in a long line of such encounters. He gleefully recounted a notable confrontation that had taken place 2-3 years ago, when Dundee buroo was in the eye of the sanction storm. He had run into problems with his ‘work coach’ who, as a result of his continuing lack of job search success, had suggested that he ‘wis daen something wrang’ and that he should be more ‘economical with the truth’ about his quite extensive qualifications. Jim had reacted to this suggestion by arching his eyebrows, leaning over the table and asking, ‘yir noa suggesting that I should lie, are yi?’ After lecturing the increasingly exasperated ‘work coach’ on the morality of asking him to tell porkies, big Joe found himself surrounded by a number of security guards. As they edged closer, he turned round in his chair and demanded to see their i.d. cards, which stopped them dead in their tracks. None of them had any i.d., which led to a rapid retreat by both the security staff and ‘work coach’. The job centre staff, perhaps not surprisingly, are now very wary of pulling up big Joe, who, whilst he is nearing retirement, still revels in his ‘little victories’ over DWP numptydom.

We also met Piotr, a Polish guy in his forties who has been living and working in Dundee for ten years. He likes Scotland and his daughter is now married to a local lad in Edinburgh, but Piotr admitted to us that he had started to suffer from quite serious depression, which was often so bad that he couldn’t manage it into work. As a result, he had been sacked from his job at a Dundee engineering firm, despite his line manager being fully aware of his mental health problems. He had turned towards the job centre for help, only to be informed that, due to being sacked, he was not eligible for anything. Not surprisingly, the prospect of absolute penury had done little to help with Piotr’s mounting mental health problems. The situation had, though, been quickly, and almost miraculously, resolved when his old line manager had been replaced. This led to a complete climb down on the part of his employers: he had received a full apology from management and he had just re-started his job, on a trial basis, for four hours per week. As he crossed the road from the buroo, Piotr left us with this parting shot, ‘I like Scottish people, but not bosses – they were not good to me.’

Duncan, Gary and Tony were on this weeks stall.

2 thoughts on “Sanctioned for grieving, DWP numptydom, and getting your job back: three sides of life and death on Universal Credit

  1. Beveridge recommended state support from “cradle to grave” but we have moved a long distance away from that intent. Scot Gov will be introducing a new Funeral Payment this summer and hopefully it will be more generous and easier to access than the present DWP system. Along with the Best Start and other child care grants already in place then that means at least the beginning and end of life are going to be better covered; just leaves the rest of the benefits system to work on! The SWF budget remains unchanged despite SUWN petition and the criteria are just too restrictive to help most folks.
    Brief Overview:
    a. At UK level, just under 2 million people now on UC and this figure will continue to rise with new claims and “natural migration” (changes in circumstances for existing claimants). Whilst there have been a few positive tweaks to UC, some of which yet to be implemented, the overall picture for UC claimants remains grim. In Scotland, there is some flexibility with direct housing payments and split payments. Citizens Advice now providing UC “support to claim” service albeit issues (see SUWN FB link) re dates of claim. Ongoing misery of DLA to PIP migration; PIP assessments and reviews: ESA; benefit cap etc continues and nothing short of Mr Corbyn getting the keys to No 10 are likely to change this grim outlook for UK benefit claimants.
    b. At Scottish level, the devolution of some benefits continues (see above, plus carers supplement) but it will be 2020 before the next and biggest phase, i.e. DLA for children/young people; AA for older people and PIP for working age claimants start to be redesigned and delivered differently in Scotland. This is a highly complex process and at this stage it’s still DWP running the show for these benefits. Even with this process complete (2024?) the DWP will still be the main benefit provider. Scot Gov unlikely to adopt any new “radical” welfare policies until after 2021 Holyrood elections albeit some pressure to introduce a family income supplement before then.
    c. Advice services in Scotland continue to battle for claimants; recently discussed at Holyrood. Dundee was cited as a good area for advice – one job centre covering the whole city, accessible advice agencies and of course the physical presence of the SUWN team! Glasgow Council are also heavily investing in advice even though they have lost DWP money which is now going to CAB. It is essential that claimants get good advice and other mutual support in these difficult times.

    Thanks to SUWN for the personal stories as that’s just as important as all the stats and reports.


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