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

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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.

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‘Welcome to hell’

SUWN - amazon cartoon2

Jim was far from happy when we met him. Rules governing UC claimants who are in irregular employment were making his life a misery, and making him question the whole point of working. Jim, however, is no ‘skiver’, that largely mythical creature, so beloved of Tory ministers and their willing little mouthpieces in the main stream media. As he himself put it, ‘I hae to work, it’s noa jist the money, but it’s getting harder and harder.’ In the last few months his UC claim has been repeatedly shut down.

In the past, someone who got short-term work could make a rapid reclaim when it ended to get back onto JSA, and any way there was no long initial wait to get payments. Now, with the supposedly simplified system of UC, which was meant to make it easier to go in and out of work, your claim can get shut down if even a short term job takes you over the monthly threshold, and how long it takes to start up again is a lottery, depending on when in your assessment cycle your job ends. As we explained in a previous blog, you may be plunged into deep economic insecurity for as long as nine weeks before getting back on UC payments.

In the last year alone, Jim has had five separate jobs, and has had his UC claim shut down on two occasions. As a manual worker who is employed on zero hour and short term contracts, he is keenly aware of the difference between Tory rhetoric regarding life on UC and the sometimes brutal reality of working at the front line of ‘the gig economy’ that neo-liberal ‘voodoo economics’ have brought into being.

And, having worked for a wide range of employers, Jim is also well aware of the ‘tricks’ employers use to deceive and pressurise workers: of employers who take you on but then ‘punt you when their order is completed’; of managers at the Amazon warehouse in Dunfermline who take on new workers and then ‘beast them until they go faster, or get rid of them altogether’; of workers who receive verbal warnings (‘three strikes and you’re out’) for spending five minutes in the toilet rather than the two minutes they are allowed. As we talked, he turned to the buroo, and, pointing to its entrance, exclaimed, ‘There should be sign up ower that door, saying “Welcome to Hell”’.

Life and death in Bilbao by the Tay

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Dundee was long treated very much as the poor relation amongst Scottish cities, a place left in the slipstream of history, with a reputation for poverty and drug and drink induced violence – a place to avoid at all costs. In the last few years, however, Dundonians have been increasingly treated to headlines in the local, national and even international media telling them that, following the city’s ‘transformation from run-down industrial relic to vibrant creative hub’ (Sunday Times, April 14 2019), they now live in some kind of post-industrial arcadia. I’m only surprised that we haven’t yet heard from a local ‘high heid yin’ or design guru that ‘we’ve never had it so good’.

I have news for readers of this blog: this myth of ‘transformation’ is treated with widespread contempt and often anger by ordinary Dundonians who feel as though they’ve been barred fae a perty taking place in their ain hoose. Many Dundonians have experienced ‘transformation’ – there is a list of companies paying good wages for skilled work, such as NCR, Michelin and McGills, that have closed down or have laid off the majority of their workforce. We hear from many older skilled manual workers who have struggled to re-train for insecure and low paying jobs in the service sector. And, being used to a sense of pride in their abilities and skills, some have been horrified at the offhand and contemptuous attitudes they face from much younger managerial staff.

When we meet those who have suffered recent redundancy and who are forced to go into a job centre for the first time in decades, they often express their sense of shock at the ‘transformation’ in the impertinent way in which they are now treated (by ‘work coaches’ young enough to be their grandchildren) and how little help is open to them after a lifetime of working. This is ‘transformation’ of a sort, but not the kind that is often spoken about by those who talk up the notion of Dundee as a city crammed with young, go-ahead, mocha-slurping creative types. They may be, indeed, be found in the west end of the city, or, the ‘creative quarter’, as it has been renamed, but there’s not much sign of them in the schemes, where the vast majority of the population still live – despite the best efforts of city planners whose idea of ‘regeneration’ bore an uncanny resemblance to the Highland, and Lowland, clearances.

For all of that, I’m sure there will be some readers who will dismiss this view as talking down good news, or else as a prolier than thou attack on the shiny new middle-class reality that is emerging on the banks of the silvery Tay. There will be those who will see the victims of continuing de-industrialisation as regrettable but inevitable ‘collateral damage’ in pursuit of the ultimate goal – the creation of Bilbao by the Tay. Fair enough, but consider this – if we are to accept the claims that Dundee has now been transformed, or even that such sacrifices are necessary as Bilbao by the Tay emerges from its chrysalis, what of those pesky statistics that tell a very different and much darker story about the reality of life, and death, in Scotland’s ‘creative hub’?

Not only does Dundee have the highest rate of unemployment in Scotland, it also suffers from the highest suicide rate. As welfare activists, we have direct knowledge and experience of this developing epidemic, dealing, as we do, with folk who are sometimes at the end of their tether – a problem we encounter particularly, though not exclusively, amongst young men. We are also aware of the very real potential for the under-reporting of suicides with death being attributed to other causes – an issue that has been raised with us by visitors to our stalls. Even as the ‘concrete skip’ that is the V&A was unveiled to the international press corps, RNLI boats and rescue helicopters were seen scouring the Tay for signs of the latest suicide attempt from a Dundee bridge. The assembled press corps didn’t even have to budge from the conveniently placed viewing platform at the V&A to watch the grisly search unfold, as it is positioned midway between both bridges and faces the river.

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Our much vaunted ‘city of many discoveries’ also boasts a rate of deaths from drug taking that has seen it earn the, disputed, title of ‘drugs death capital of Europe’. Although local anti-drugs campaigners point to the 2018 figures as a cause for optimism – a decline from the 51 fatalities suffered in 2017 – in the six months between April and September 2018 alone, 14 people lost their lives. According to the local press;

‘[O]f those deaths, 12 were male and two were female. The majority of people who died were in the 40-49 age group. The DD4 postcode – which covers areas including Whitfield, Craigie and Maryfield – suffered the highest number of losses, with five.’ (Evening Telegraph, January 1st, 2019)

To round off the litany of despair that lies behind the gleaming façade of the new Dundee, we would point to the reports we are regularly receiving of increasing food bank usage in the city from folk who are in work. Skilled manufacturing jobs have, in the main, been replaced with zero-hour labouring in the gig economy. ‘Unskilled’ and service jobs have not only become a burden, but also an act of forced charity on the part of those caught within their trap towards the rich corporations that employ them. And, heaven forbid that they should refuse a job that doesn’t pay enough to feed and clothe them. If the zero hour worker leaves the job, they can expect little in the way of sympathy from their DWP ‘work coach’, and nothing in the way of material help.

Reality points, not to a city in the grip of a cycle of virtuous transformation, but one where working-class communities are suffering from deep social stress. Their aspirations have been dismissed and their plight ignored. Actually, it is much worse than this. The constant talking up of an already compromised form of top-down, corporate-led regeneration, is being used to mask the dark reality of a city that has for many years felt as though it is under siege. The current siege by ‘regeneration’ is only the latest in a long line stretching back forty years, courtesy of Tory voodoo economics, in its various blue and red varieties.

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Care workers tell yesterday’s May Day rally about their recent successful strike action and the constant pressures of working for a contracted-out service that only cares about the bottom line

 

 

 

 

When the DWP get their sums wrong

SUWN - April 26th 2019

A small mistake for the DWP is a big disaster for those affected. Sometimes, in recent weeks, the demand for our services has been lower than in the past. People are getting more savvy about the rules, and more confident about taking on the system by themselves. But this week’s stall proved exceptionally busy, and this report threatened to grow to epic proportions. And one key theme emerged from a selection of this week’s cases: the DWP seem unable to get basic calculations right.

Under the old system, Siobhan would have qualified for Working Tax Credits. Under the new system she has to claim Universal Credit. She’s been handing in her wage slips, but the DWP say she’s been earning more than that. The result of this is that the DWP are underpaying her. The stress of dealing with the DWP, on top of not getting her money, is making her suicidal.

While we were talking to Siobhan, Fiona emerged with a very similar problem. HMRC had calculated Fiona’s income over the previous two months, but the DWP had decided that same income was over one month, which took her over her allowed income. This cock-up meant she was short of money. The DWP weren’t budging. Fiona’s reaction was a different emotion. Instead of anxiety, she was justifiably apoplectic with rage.

Greg was having similar problems with the DWP refusing to listen. He was paying off a DWP loan at £170 per month. His debt advisor says the DWP shouldn’t be talking all that money off him, but they still are. We told him to get further advice.

In Steve’s case, his jobcentre Work Coach had actually told him he was owed £190, but to date the DWP have only paid him half of that. As a result, he is getting into arrears on energy bills. We directed him to Dundee Council’s Welfare Rights unit and the Dundee Energy Efficiency Advice Project (DEEAP).

Even when the system is getting it right, we have advice to give. Bill has recently been made redundant, and had gone into the jobcentre with his wife Julie. When they emerged, we were delighted to find that the jobcentre had, for once, given them the correct advice. We confirmed that Bill needed to apply for the six months contribution-based New JSA, and that Julie should qualify for Personal Independence Payment (PIP). And we sent them off with our standard warning about PIP: get a welfare advice worker to fill in the form with you; give them as much detail as possible, and take a witness into the assessment.

Just as we were about to pack up, a young man emerged. He said he’d had no bother with the jobcentre but asked, “Would you like some chocolate eggs?” With our faith in humanity restored, we packed up the stall, and headed off to our usual pub for a well-deserved coffee.

Tony, Duncan, Jonathan, Cait, Ronnie, and Norma were at this week’s stall.

If you don’t ask, you don’t get

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Labour Farce Survey

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Waiting for casual work – before mobile phones

If you are so inclined, the Labour Force Survey statistics from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) are always interesting reading. Even more interesting is how those statistics are collected and manipulated.

One recent rumour we heard was that if you work for an hour a week, you are officially classed as employed. The ONS recently confirmed to the BBC that this was indeed the case. However, the BBC go on to state that “The ONS data shows that the number of people usually working six hours or fewer a week is just 1.4% of the UK working population – or just over 400,000 people, which compares with a total of 32.4 million people in work.” (BBC NEWS, 21/11/2018).

Of course, the fact that a ‘mere’ 400,000 people are working less than 6 hours a week says nothing about those worker’s needs or intentions.  It says nothing about how many of those people would work more hours if they had the opportunity. There is also the wider issue of part time working in general. Even those working part time for 16 hours a week, may desire more hours, where none are available.

Another problem with the statistics is that they do not include those on disability benefits. These are classed as ‘Economically Inactive’. Such people are not included in the figure for the ‘unemployed’. To quote the ONS: “Economic inactivity measures people without a job but who are not classed as unemployed because they have not been actively seeking work within the last four weeks and/or they are unable to start work within the next two weeks.” Again, this says nothing about the reality of workers in this position.  We in the SUWN are completely against attempts to force the disabled and ill off meagre benefits and into work; but we have come across many people claiming sickness benefits who would love to be able to work if suitable jobs were available – and if trying out a return to work could be done without risking the loss of disability benefit.

The self-employed also present a similar problem. We know from personal experience that many who are freelancing, or self-employed, would love more work, or to be contracted by a formal employer. These formal jobs are not always available, or where they are available, are not located in the right areas.

Finally, another piece of food for thought: The March 2019 bulletin claims that there were 1.34 million unemployed between November 2018 and January 2019, (using the narrow definition of the ONS). There were 854,000 vacancies between December and February. Even if those vacancies were magically filled, that leaves a deficit of 465,000 jobless.

References:

BBC NEWS, 21/11/2018. Reality Check: Can you be ’employed’ for one hour’s work? [https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-46264291]

Office for National Statistics. Labour Force Survey, March 2019. [https://www.ons.gov.uk/employmentandlabourmarket/peopleinwork/employmentandemployeetypes/bulletins/uklabourmarket/march2019]

The birdman of Dundee buroo (when boredom is good)

Last week’s stall passed almost completely without incident, which is such a rare occurrence we thought it merited a headline. The blustery spring weather undoubtedly contributed to keeping business to a minimum: the breeze was so bitter that a guy I spoke to complained it was ‘stripping the skin affa my puss’, and driving hailstones forced us, on a couple of occasions, to cover up the stall and seek out corners of the buroo that offered any kind of shelter, however minimal. It is little wonder that folk, rushing by with hoods up and heads down, were reluctant to stop and chat.

However, there are some who, irrespective of the weather, conspicuously ignore us when we ask them if they’re having any problems. They pass quickly by staring fixedly into the middle distance, often with a muffled tune emanating from their headphones. Whilst this annoys some of our activists, being ignored is actually a good sign, as the folk that are guilty of it are unlikely to have any pressing issues that need to be addressed. Others answer us with another question, ‘why should I hae problems when meh work coach is braw and ahm daen ahin ahm supposed tae’.

There has, indeed, been a marked improvement in the attitude of many Dundee Jobcentre staff towards welfare claimants – which we would claim some credit for – but, despite doing everything required of them, many claimants can still end up entangled in the UC spider web.

We also meet some folk who pointedly refuse to take the ‘Know Your Rights’ leaflet that we offer them when going into the buroo (including staff, who, as we often remind them, can also be sanctioned). On more than one occasion we have had guys (it’s always young guys) informing us, ‘I ken mah rights, pal, ahll well soart them if they gie me ony shite’, only to have them re-appear fifteen or twenty minutes later complaining bitterly and loudly that ‘ahv jist been bloody sanctioned’. Other folk tell us that they already have a leaflet pinned on their fridge, but take one to pass on to friends and/or relations. And, it is always gratifying to hear, as happens regularly, that the leaflets have helped folk sort out problems on their own, without our aid.

So, what do welfare activists do on the stalls when it is quiet? Firstly, few of our stalls can be described as ‘quiet’: familiar faces and freends and comrades often stop by for a bit of advice or simply for the craic and to pass the time. The stalls can often become a debating forum, sometimes involving dodgy conspiracy theories that passing ‘local worthies’ insist on regaling us with. Debates often develop amongst us activists as well, covering a wide diversity of subjects from Brexit to the mating habits of herring. And, of course there’s always the doos’ to feed, courtesy of the birdman of Dundee buroo.

Duncan, Jock, Norma, Tony, Gary, Jonathan and Katie were on this weeks stall.

Fear and self-loathing on Universal Credit

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Being on the front line of welfare reforms, we are constantly made aware that the founding aims of the welfare state are being turned on their head. People pay taxes and National Insurance contributions towards a system that once protected them, but now turns on them when they need it most, and then reduces them even further rather than raising them up. Denis Curran, the inspirational founder of Loaves and Fishes, damningly observed that the most insidious aspect of the Tory welfare reforms was not sanctions, hellish as they are, but the way that the DWP were getting inside the heads and messing with the minds of the very people they had a duty to care for. We see evidence of this at almost every stall, and recent experiences strongly suggest that the problem will worsen as UC takes further root.

We are coming across too many people who blame themselves for the problems that commonly ensue when a person goes onto UC. Some folk beat themselves up because they don’t know how to use a computer; others describes themselves as ‘stupid’ when forgetting about an appointment, and accept responsibility for getting themselves sanctioned. But, should we be surprised? When folk who have next to nothing are relentlessly berated to stand on their own two feet and to take responsibility, when they are often at their wits end, it is little wonder that some give in to fear and loathing.

Ingrid, in her late twenties, perhaps early thirties, started to break down when recounting how her husband had died two years ago. She was completely bereft, and embarrassed that she has had to move back in with her mother, who is also on UC, but has no bed to sleep on. We advised her to approach Shelter or CAB and to ask to apply for a crisis grant through the Scottish Welfare Fund. At the same time as we were dealing with Ingrid, Robert introduced himself to us. Robert had been turned down for a Welfare Fund crisis grant and was without any money, gas or electric as he awaited a decision on his UC claim. We could, at least, arrange a food parcel for him, courtesy of Taught by Muhamad. Truth to tell, I did not get the full details of Robert’s case, as the stall was busy and we were juggling two or three cases at the time. I do, however, remember the look on his face, as it is one we are seeing a lot of: a mixture of puzzlement, resignation, fear and loathing – the look of someone on the verge of giving up.

Our message to people in this situation is simple – remember that you are not on your own. We will provide support and info on the help folk can access to improve their position, but the most important service we can provide is instilling confidence in folk to represent themselves, so that they can break out of the isolation that often follows in the wake of unemployment and disability.

Duncan, Katie, Jonathan and Tony were on this week’s stall.

Papers please!

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There’s an old German joke: Three government bureaucrats are in a room, but only one is actually doing anything useful. Which is it? Answer: The desk fan. Dealing with the DWP’s bureaucracy is a constant theme in the cases we encounter, and this week’s stall was no exception.

Adam, who is on Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA), had attempted to hand in an indefinite sick line, but the Jobcentre hadn’t accepted it. The guidance for issuing ‘fit notes’ says that doctors cannot give a note for more than three months unless their patient has already had their condition over six months. Three months is also the maximum length of time that a person can be counted as unfit for work and remain on JSA. Adam’s doctor may not have looked up the rules, but that was hardly Adam’s fault. However, he wouldn’t have been given a ‘fit note’ if he didn’t need one, so there is no obvious reason why the jobcentre couldn’t have allowed the note to run for the three months. (If, after that time, Adam is still not well he will have to apply to be treated as unfit for work on a more long-term basis through the Universal Credit system.)

Rob was also having problems with paperwork. He needed to provide identification. If you don’t have the money to pay for a passport or driving licence, what do you use? This is an increasing problem, and one that we need to stay on top of. We advised Rob to approach the council, as anyone who is a council tenant or otherwise has dealings with their local council you should be able to get a National Entitlement Card.

Paperwork is not the only problem. More than one claimant has fallen foul of unintelligible regulations. Kevin claims Carer’s Allowance (CA). He approached us asking if we knew how many hours he could work without invalidating his claim. A call to CPAG provided confirmation that you are allowed to earn up to £120 per week, but there are, however, no specific restrictions on how many hours you can work. Kevin was over this £120 limit and had been called into the Jobcentre. Carers Allowance rules are complicated. If you earn over the limit you can lose your allowance for that week, but if you have irregular earnings it should be possible for these to be looked at over a period and averaged out. Faced with impenetrable regulations, Kevin had fallen foul of them. We wished him good luck as he headed upstairs.

Universal Credit (UC) has been widely criticised for its delayed first payment, which forces people to take a Benefit Advance – a loan that they have to repay from future UC instalments. Gordon is struggling to repay his loan as he now has £100 less a month than he would have otherwise. Jackie had to leave her job as a barmaid. She has had to put half of her £400 loan towards paying the rent.

UC is adding to people’s mental health problems. Martin left teaching after struggling with work-related stress. If that weren’t enough, UC is also contributing to his anxiety. He is now in the ridiculous position of having to claim limited capacity for work, as a direct result of the added pressure of constantly being forced to look for non-existent jobs under UC.

While the SUWN’s work outside Dundee’s jobcentre continues, we also get enquiries from all over Scotland. Mhairi asked for our help with her case. Her description of her treatment by the staff in Paisley jobcentre was appalling. The SUWN can claim some credit for the changed attitude of staff in Dundee, but Mhairi’s case reminds us that overall the job of changing attitudes is far from done.

Tony, Norma, Ronnie, and Duncan were at this week’s stall.

 

 

‘Will I be sanctioned?’

SUWN stall - 13th March 2019

This is a question we are often asked, sometimes from folk who have been through the sanction mill before, but often from those who have not – a stark reflection of the climate of fear that surrounds the whole experience of being in need and seeking your legally entitled right to welfare. In this instance the question came from Maureen. She was on the verge of tears when we met, fearing a sanction for the heinous crime of applying for more jobs than was required for her UC online journal. We struggled to put her mind at rest by assuring her that she wouldn’t be sanctioned and by reminding her that she wasn’t on her own – that if she ever was sanctioned then we’d make sure the DWP would be publicly embarrassed and the sanction quashed. She was due to attend a meeting with her job coach but felt confident enough to go in without being accompanied by a SUWN volunteer. When she reappeared around half an hour later her broad smile confirmed that all had went well.

We have also met a few folk who have been recently made redundant following the closure of McGills, the Dundee based building firm. Andy had worked there for twenty nine years, and admitted to the shock of now having to manage on a £73.10 p.w. JSA payment. He also revealed that he and others had not yet received their pay in lieu of notice, which amounts to a statutory payment of three month’s wages, and that, thanks to a recent change in the law, he was now limited to twenty year’s state pension entitlement. The stormy weather at the buroo was a perfect mirror of Andy’s mood, whilst his views of the Tories are pretty much unprintable.

Gordon is on ESA, and is having issues with the DWP, which claims that he is living with his girlfriend, when he is actually sofa surfing as he doesn’t have a permanent address. He made a statement to the Job Centre, took one of our leaflets and admitted that he may well have to contact us if the DWP continues to pursue him. Needless to say, we hope that we don’t hear from him.

Jim has recently been made homeless, and now lives in a hostel and has no money of his own. He has asked for a payment from the Scottish Welfare Fund (SWF), but has been denied. As UC is being allowed to do its worst, this is becoming an increasingly common and alarming problem. Currently, individual claims for SWF grants are normally limited to three per year, and there are similar restrictions on entitlement to food parcels. But, this is proving totally inadequate for many folk, who, no fault of their own, find themselves struggling to subsist for sometimes months on end, as a result of having to pay back UC loans, being sanctioned, and the inevitable and far too common bureaucratic mistakes made in administering the unworkable UC system. More money and more flexibility for the Scottish Welfare Fund was one of the central demands of our petition to the Scottish Government, so it is more than frustrating to see the need for this proved again and again, especially as this particular demand was supported by the parliament’s own Social Security Committee. If folk who are left without the means to keep body and soul together are to be denied even the aid of food parcels and Crisis Grants then we refuse point blank to condemn them for having to steal to survive.

Duncan, John, Kait, Jonathan and Tony were at this week’s awfy blawy stall.