From a trickle to a stream

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Bob emerged from a routine appointment in the Jobcentre looking shaken. He explained that had been stopped by security personnel when entering the office, who had “closed in [on him] like automatic doors from each side”. He obviously felt intimidated and had asked his advisor what they were doing. He was told that security were there for “staff protection”. He was also told they were able to “frisk” people. If this is illustrative of a wider policy, it is a worrying development.

Of course, we have been here before. Back in 2014-15, we had many confrontations with the security staff in Dundee Jobcentre, who were very fond of laying their hands on SUWN volunteers as well as unsuspecting claimants, who often found themselves in a half Nelson when all they’d done was perhaps question an advisor’s ruling or contemptuous attitude towards them. We will keep an eye on this situation, but, in the meantime, if you’ve had experience of over-bearing or confrontational security guards at Dundee (or any other) Jobcentre we’d like to hear from you.

After two to three months of fairly quiet stalls, when we were dealing with perhaps two to three cases, this week proved to be very different, with around ten folk requiring assistance or help of some kind. Doreen emerged from the Jobcentre looking perplexed. She had been sent a letter from the DWP. Until recently she had been claiming Carers Allowance (CA), as she had been raising her two disabled children. But she was now no longer responsible for one of the children, and the DWP had sent her a letter claiming this represented a change of circumstances, meaning she would now have to apply for Universal Credit (UC). We offered to accompany Doreen into her appointment, but she felt confident enough to deal with the issue herself, and when she re-appeared shortly afterwards, her beaming smile indicated that she had resolved the problem and would continue to be paid CA. Doreen was only too well aware of the problems with UC, and was determined to avoid being transferred into its loving embrace for as long as possible.

Fergus had been detained overnight in police custody. He had consequently missed a Jobcentre appointment. Obviously, he had had no way of accessing his online journal, or any other way to contact the Jobcentre. He feared a sanction, but emerged looking very relieved. The Police had been helpful and had confirmed his story to the Jobcentre. He remembered the SUWN from the past, and thanked us for our ongoing work.

Adam had also just been released from a short jail sentence, during which time his medical ‘fit note’ had run out. He had been unable to renew it, and was now worried about the ‘gap’ and whether his GP was going to be difficult about continuing the fit note from the end date of the old one. He took a leaflet and said he would be in touch if he had any further difficulties.

Emma had come to the Jobcentre to ask about the process of applying for Personal Independence Payment (PIP) on behalf of a friend. We explained that the initial application for PIP was done over the phone, and provided her with the number. We also urged her to get help with the application process from a welfare rights organisation. It is always worth applying for PIP if you think you might be eligible, but we always advise folk to get help with the paper form, preferably from a welfare rights advisor.

Ian told us that he is getting £80 taken off his payments every fortnight due to paying off a loan. This leaves him living on only £50 a week. We advised him to apply to the Scottish Welfare Fund to help with immediate difficulties, and to register with Welfare Rights, who should be able to negotiate a less crippling repayment rate.

Gill, who has COPD and who works part time in a discount store, had been on Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) for some years, but now gets Universal Credit, and the Jobcentre is pressurising her into applying for full time work. This is placing her under severe stress and exacerbating her condition. The matter was not helped by her advisor, who she felt had been openly contemptuous of her and who had threatened her with a sanction if she didn’t comply with demands to up her working hours, despite Gill’s repeated explanation of her medical condition. Gill had recently changed to a new advisor, which had resulted in a slight improvement in tone, but she said she might want someone to go in with her next time. We have advised her to apply for the Limited Capacity for Work element of Universal Credit.

Hamish is a part-time taxi driver. His UC payments are not coming through, and his hours are up and down. The SUWN has highlighted the problems of UC for those on uneven hours, or who are self-employed. We advised him to seek a full benefit check from welfare rights, which would clarify whether he has been short changed, or whether this is another case that demonstrates just how unfit for purpose this ridiculous excuse for a welfare system actually is – particularly when it comes to protecting the low paid.

Jack has had previous dealings with the SUWN. He is doing everything he can to look for work. He told us that the Jobcentre, are sending him on a two-week employability course. He was not exactly sure of the details of it, but suspected that it will be tutorials on CV Writing. Jack already has an excellent CV, and has several different versions tailored to different sectors. He will be taking copies of his various CVs to the course and asking what they could possibly tell him that he isn’t already doing. He has also promised to keep the SUWN informed as to what the course entails. We warned him to be careful about any paperwork he signs.

Duncan, Garry, Jock, Jonathan, Norma and Tony were at this week’s stall.

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