This handful of cases from a recent stall perfectly illustrates once again the horrors of the UK benefit system, and why we need to keep pushing. We are determined to keep going until real change is made.
Ernie is a young man who has, for some time, been claiming the Limited Capability for Work element of Universal Credit. He approached us in a state of some anxiety. An administrative cock-up had left him facing a loss of his Universal Credit income.
His case was undergoing reassessment. He had duly turned up for his medical assessment, but they were running behind and could not see him on the day of his appointment. An alternative date and time were arranged. When Ernie turned up for the rearranged appointment, he was told he had missed it. He went straight to the Jobcentre and explained the situation. He was told to put a note on his Universal Credit journal explaining. He had also sent a letter to the DWP explaining. We suggested he re-send the letter recorded delivery, and keep a copy for his records, so that the DWP could not claim it was ‘lost in the post’.
We offered to go into the Jobcentre with him, but he declined. He emerged twenty minutes later looking relieved. A new advisor had been unusually helpful. A date for an assessment will be re-arranged. In the meantime, he will remain on his full benefit.
Bertha had also been claiming the Limited Capability for Work element of Universal Credit. But hers is a classic case of being found ‘fit to work’ when she is clearly unable to do so. She has appealed the decision and was waiting on the result. The Citizens’ Advice Bureau are helping her with her case, so there was little else we could say. We reiterated advice she had previously been given that it was worth applying for Personal Independence Payment in addition to Universal Credit.
Fred’s wife Fiona is at college full time. This means Fred is the full-time carer for a young child and a baby (what we used to call a Dad). He is being pressured by the Jobcentre into looking for full-time work. But Universal Credit makes no allowance for people to study. If Fred is the carer, then the DWP would expect Fiona to look for work. If she isn’t looking for work, then they would expect her to be caring for the children so Fred could work. Despite all the rhetoric, and the pushing of training schemes of dubious usefulness, you will get no support if you want to do a full time course that might really improve your prospects of future work.
Charlie talked to us about his son Chris. Chris is on a zero-hour contract stocktaking at a supermarket. He is working twelve hour shifts, often at night, and often at short notice. This hectic schedule means that he has missed a number of Universal Credit appointments. Chris has not been sanctioned yet, but his father is worried that he might be.
We are so resigned to the system being awful, that we can lose sight of the bigger picture. It is a picture that would be farcical if it was not so horrifying. Chris is working hard in a difficult job. He is doing everything that is demanded of him, yet he is still in need of state support. Not only that: the state is constantly threatening to turn that support off through the threat of sanctions. Fiona is trying to improve her life through education, and yet her husband is at risk of being sanctioned for taking care of the children. Ernie and Bertha are both clearly ill, and yet instead of compassion, they are faced with being forced to look for work they have little chance of being able to do, even if, by some miracle, they were hired. These are not the actions of a welfare system designed to support people in their time of need. We continue to call for change.