‘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.

 

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Thuds on the doormat

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It is always difficult to tell how a PIP or Work Capability Assessment went. No matter how you feel when you come out of it, it all depends on the faceless decision maker buried somewhere in the DWP’s bureaucracy. Rather like a school exam, you go in, do what you have to do, and then try not to worry about it until the decision thuds onto your doormat. Certain clues on an envelope give an indication of the contents. A return address of “Mail Handling Site A, Wolverhampton”, or “DWP, BELFAST” has undoubtedly struck fear in many claimants.

The SUWN has come across many people who have been given “null-points” after an assessment, when they are clearly unfit for work. This seems particularly to be happening with claimants who are being reassessed while still on the old-style ESA. After such a decision, claimants are then forced onto the harsher regime of UC in order to survive. Even if an Appeal against the decision succeeds, they are then stuck with being on UC. (To paraphrase our current leaflet, if your application was under the old ESA system, consult a welfare advisor before applying for UC, as you could be worse off in the long run.)

Appeals have a good success rate. Around two thirds of appeals rule in favour of the claimant. This suggests that at least that number of initial decisions are wrong, which is deeply worrying.

The SUWN frequently accompanies people into PIP and Work Capability Assessments. We are currently awaiting on the outcome a few of these. A recent blog post highlighted Andy’s hour long wait for his appointment. Joyce, at the same assessment centre, was seen within minutes. Her appointment lasted less than half an hour, as the assessor seemed to think there was more than enough information. We will see, if this is a good sign. Incidentally, the toilet in that assessment centre still seems to be out of order, as it has been on the last three occasions at least.

Janet went into a PIP assessment a few days later. Janet’s experience was different again. She was in her appointment over an hour. The nurse seemed new to the job, and even helpful. We cannot fault the thoroughness of Janet’s assessment, however, the experience was incredibly tiring and gruelling for both her and her SUWN advocate. It would be tempting to suggest that it went well. Certainly, she is deserving of higher rate PIP, but as noted above, you can never tell until the DWP’s decision lands on the doormat.

Enough to make Sisyphus weep

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One of the most common issues we come across at the stalls is the problems that folk experience after they fail their ESA re-assessment, and are forced into applying for UC. We have come across dozens of such cases since the introduction of UC, and the last stall proved to be no exception.

We met Linda, a 58 year old woman forced to give up her much cherished job as a lollipop woman after she was diagnosed with epilepsy, which added to problems she was already experiencing with her legs and stomach. Despite her obvious health problems, Linda, like countless others, was recently removed from ESA, placed on UC and deemed ‘fit for work’.  Since then she has battled mounting anxiety as the JC has increased pressure on her to find work, not least since many of the jobs they are asking her to apply for are clearly looking for younger and fitter folk. According to Greek mythology, Sisyphus was forced to roll a rock up and down the same hill for eternity. And, it appears as though the DWP have now adapted and up-dated this tale of eternal punishment in their approach towards the disabled and those clearly unable to work.

The strain she is experiencing was readily apparent by her distressed state when we met her. She also informed us that her epileptic attacks are becoming more frequent, around once every week at the moment, and, very worryingly, they are also becoming more severe. Having been bumped from ESA, she now faces a further strain on her already frayed nerves in the shape of a forthcoming assessment to be classed as unfit for work within the UC system. We assured her that we would accompany her in to her assessment, and that we would take her case up with the JC, and also suggested that she contact Shelter so that she can get a full benefit check, as she now has much less money since being put onto UC. Needless to say, we will be taking a close interest in this case.

UPDATE – 6th March:

Linda has reported back with the good news that her case may well be moving towards an unexpectedly quick and successful conclusion. During a phone conversation with her ‘work coach’ earlier this week, she mentioned in passing that she had also sought help from the SUWN regarding her forthcoming Work Capability Assessment. A few minutes later the ‘work coach’ put Linda on hold to check something on the computer. When she returned, she promptly informed Linda that a mistake had been made, and she didn’t actually have to attend the Assessment as she had been declared ‘unfit for work’ on the basis of her completed claim form. Linda was understandably delighted with this surprising turn of events, but questions still remain to be answered: first, if she has qualified where is her award letter? Second, will she now be freed not just from looking for work but also from being forced to undertake ‘work related activities’ – and receive an extra £37 a week? We will keep readers informed of the progress of this case, but we are confident that it will be resolved in Linda’s favour.

We also met Bob who had just lost his father, and had put himself into serious financial difficulties paying off the funeral costs. Following a quick phone call to the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG), we confirmed that, despite having already paid out the money, Bob was still eligible for a grant towards funeral expenses. Indeed, those affected can apply up to six months after the death of their close relative, by completing a SS200 form. We also arranged a food parcel for Bob, and urged him to apply for a Scottish Welfare Fund grant, and accompanied him into the buroo for his scheduled meeting with his ‘work coach’, which he was very nervous about. As we expected, however, the JC staff we dealt with were pleasant and helpful; but, being pleasant (as welcome as it is after years of sometimes open conflict) is no alternative to actually paying claimants more than a pittance and subjecting them to lengthy sanctions for the slightest ‘misdemeanours’. Bob, who was still grieving the loss of his father, confided that he had not eaten a proper meal in two weeks, but all the JC could offer was a referral for the same food bank that we had already spoken to and information on the Scottish Welfare Fund, which we already had covered. It seems sickly and ironic that JC staff now refer people to food banks, when it is invariably the inhuman and unsustainable system they administer that is chiefly responsible for leaving folk in desperate circumstances in the first place.

Finally, we also met Gary, in his thirties, who had just been sanctioned. Gary had been homeless and had missed an appointment at the buroo, which he didn’t find out about as there was no way of contacting him. He had subsequently been informed that being homeless and having no phone was not deemed a ‘reasonable excuse’ for missing the appointment. And, despite the fact that he now has a flat, he admitted that he was still on his ‘dowp’: he had no electricity or gas at home, no money, and had already had his ‘annual quota’ of Scottish Welfare Fund grants and food parcels. In fact, Gary had barely anything apart from the clothes on his back. We urged him to approach Shelter, and offered to take him there, but he knew the way, and he departed with one of our leaflets and our best wishes.

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

The Last Post for our petition

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This photo was taken at our protest outside the Scottish Parliament budget debate, where we called for ‘progressive taxation 4 welfare mitigation’ and pointed out that every day in Scotland 465 households are only kept afloat thanks to a Trussel Trust food parcel.

On 21st February, 15 months since we submitted it, the Scottish Social Security Committee agreed to close our petition ‘calling on the Scottish Parliament to urge the Scottish Government to make more money available to mitigate the impact of UK Government welfare cuts through reassessing spending priorities and bringing in more progressive taxation’. When we first wrote it, we had hoped to influence the Scottish budget for 2018-19. Now another year’s budget has as good as passed, with us unable to make any impression.

At one point it looked as though the Scottish Government might raise the amount of money available for the Scottish Welfare Fund, which was one of our requests. This fund has remained at the same value since 2013/14, and the Social Security Committee recommended to the Government that it be increased. But their call fell on deaf ears.

As the Green’s Social Security Spokesperson, Alison Johnstone put it at the Social Security Committee meeting, ‘we are closing the petition after we have been unsuccessful. The Parliament has not been able to convince the Government… We have urged the Scottish Government, as the petitioner has requested, to make more money available and it has said no or, certainly, not at the moment.’ And Mark Griffin for Labour also commented that the Committee had ‘effectively agreed with the petitioner’.

However, last year there was, overall, an underspend from the fund, allowing the Scottish Government to argue that no more money is needed. Actual figures vary very much from council to council, but the trend for Scottish Welfare Fund applications is generally upwards (see graph below), and a total underspend at a time when the number of households resorting to foodbanks has continued to go up dramatically should raise questions about the delivery of the fund, not about the need for it. I suspect that there are a lot of people who need help but don’t know about the fund, or don’t think they will get anything as they have had help before. And, as we pointed out in our petition, an enlarged Scottish Welfare fund could be used as a vehicle for helping a range of people who are not currently eligible but have been exceptionally badly affected by benefit cuts, including cuts to disability benefits.

SWF applications graph

This graph shows applications for the Scottish Welfare Fund by month from 2013 to 2018. Community Care Grants are in green, Crisis Grants are in blue and the total combined is shown in black.

On top of this, our petition didn’t just ask for more money for the Scottish Welfare Fund. We also backed the widely-supported campaign for an extra £5 on child benefit, and called for more money for Discretionary Housing Payments to meet the needs of people affected by the Benefit Cap. We supplied a document full of evidence for why all these were needed, and we made the case for funding it all through more progressive taxation. So it is particularly galling to realise, from comments made by committee members, that most have not engaged with any of this.

Michelle Ballantyne, one of the two Conservatives, dismissed our petition as ‘not particularly evidence based and quite emotive’. But then she also said that ‘there is no such thing as bedroom tax.’ What was more frustrating was the general implication, especially from Pauline McNeill (Labour) the Deputy Convenor of the committee, that we were asking for mitigation of all welfare cuts, which we had never done as the amount of money involved would ensure such a request was instantly dismissed. Much of the committee’s discussion was taken up by Keith Brown (SNP)’s valid, but tangential, concern that there should be no reduction in the mitigation of the bedroom tax. He admitted that he was new to the committee and hadn’t heard the petition, but he had clearly not read it either.

And so we find ourselves asking, what was the point of all this? How has it contributed to our wider campaign? Putting together our demands and evidence has helped us to clarify issues and make a clear, evidenced argument to back our demands – for anyone who takes the time to look at it. And going through the process of presenting the petition has demonstrated the failures of the existing system, making the case for more fundamental political change that can shake up the current complacency.

The SUWN has not only been very active in the Indy movement, but has also, in the past, called for a tactical SNP vote as most likely to bring progressive change. Ofcourse the SNP has always tended to try and appeal to people across a wide political and social spectrum, but, like New Labour before them, they seem to be increasingly following a mainstream business agenda, and taking the support of the mass of working-class Yes voters for granted. They may think they are being cautious, but this reluctance to depart from dominant neoliberal economics is being proved everywhere to be a very dangerous position.  We know that many Indy supporters are unhappy with any criticism of the SNP this side of Independence, but we prefer the inspiring injunction, made popular by Alisdair Gray, to ‘work as if you live in the early days of a better nation’. We call on our Scottish Government to raise their aspirations and leave behind the dog days of neoliberalism.

The three matrons of Dundee – and other tales of our times

Three matrons, Rhineland

The sign of a good day on the stall is absolute boredom. Last week’s stall was busier than we would have liked it to have been. Indeed, we had our first case before we had even set up the advice stall, and it was the kind of case that is all too familiar to us.

Bruce had just been released from a short prison sentence and was worried and angry in equal measure. He had just been told by Job Centre staff that he could not receive UC payments due to his lack of a bank account or photographic identification. Job Centre staff were clearly being unnecessarily difficult.

Although a bank account is required to receive UC payments, the lack of one needn’t be any barrier to setting up a UC account. All that is required is for the claimant to fill in the sort code field in the UC claim form with the figures 1,2,3,4,5,6 and the Account number field with the required number of x’s, which allows the claim to be processed while the claimant looks into setting up a bank account. With regards to the issue of photographic identification all anyone recently released from prison should need to provide to the JC with is their bail letter. After we had discussed the situation with Bruce, he went back into the JC on his own, despite our offer to accompany him, and re-emerged some time later in a much happier frame of mind. The JC staff had seen sense and had helped him set up his UC account, and had offered him a, much-needed, advance payment.

At the same time that we were trying to help Bruce, yet another recently released ex-prisoner, John, came to our attention. He reported that he had been sanctioned last April for missing an appointment. Shortly afterwards, however, he started serving his prison sentence. He was shocked to find that the sanction had been carried over from last year, and that he should expect no payments in the foreseeable future, and was horrified when he learnt that, due to owing the DWP money, he had also been turned down for a Scottish Welfare Fund grant. On his first day free of prison he was now faced with surviving on his wits, as the welfare system could not be relied upon. As he ruefully remarked, ‘how dae they think ahm gaena survive, if they winna help me?’ ‘How’, indeed. John was in an understandably agitated state at his predicament, and his mood did not change when we pointed him in the direction of the Dundee Shelter office, which provides walk-in assistance for claimants. He admitted that he found it difficult dealing with officialdom of any kind and was suspicious of offices, a common problem amongst some of the folk we deal with. However, his relief and gratitude was obvious when one of our volunteers offered to chum him along to the Shelter offices.

We are also coming across regular cases of people being wrongly put on UC when, having only just left employment with fully paid up National Insurance, they should be on contribution based Job Seekers Allowance – now called New Style JSA. Two such cases came up at our last stall, involving an oil worker and a building worker, respectively. The frequency with which this issue crops up only leads us to the conclusion that JC staff are being deliberately directed towards getting as many people on to UC as possible, even when claimants clearly qualify for another benefit. This is no small matter for those affected, as it will make the difference between receiving financial help within a few days, compared with having to wait at least five weeks for a UC payment. As a fellow volunteer has written in bold capitals alongside this case note, ALWAYS ASK.

Another of our volunteers had to accompany Shona and her teenage daughter along to Shelter. Shona explained that she had failed her ESA work capability assessment (WCA) late last year and had been put on UC, but had received no payments since the middle of December last. As a result, she and her daughter had had to move in with her mother, who, however, is also on benefits and has now run out of gas and electricity. In addition, Shona is receiving no help with her housing costs and had found that her UC account had been inexplicably closed. The JC staff had been of no help whatsoever, and the poor woman’s distress was clearly apparent. We attempted to calm her down and set her mind at rest that she and her family would not be left longer in such a situation. This was not enough to prevent the poor woman from bursting into tears as she and her daughter were being accompanied to the Shelter office. At the birth of the post-war welfare state it was justifiably claimed that the citizen was protected from cradle to the grave. Eighty years on, welfare ‘reform’ now starves three different generations of women from the same family, at the same time. That, as they say is, progress, Tory style.

This week’s stall was manned by Tony, Duncan and Jonathan.

I’ll Huff and I’ll Puff: a morning with Maximus

Wolf demon DWP

Mike has mobility issues. He’s not in a wheelchair, but he cannot walk far. He also cannot sit still for long periods. He is unable to get out of the house much and consequently suffers from depression and anxiety issues. He had an ESA assessment coming up, so one of our volunteers agreed to go with him.

The appointment was an early one. Despite this he still was forced to wait nearly an hour beyond his appointment time. When a complaint was made, it was explained that previous appointments had ‘obviously been difficult cases’ and ‘run on’. Mike’s disability means he cannot stand or sit in a chair for long periods, and he had to get up and down. The long wait actually meant that he was in danger of losing his seat, as the ‘customers’ for the next set of appointments were coming in.

The solitary toilet was out of order. It was out of order in December as well. Clearly the budget does not stretch to a decent plumber! On a more serious note, this meant that disabled claimants had to do the long walk back to the lobby to use the communal toilets for the building.

There was also a bit of dark comedy.

A claimant came in with her daughter and pre-school aged granddaughter. The granddaughter dutifully played with the box of rather sad looking toys in the corner. This contained a storybook that she presented to her mother to read. An over-crowded waiting room of claimants, support workers, and friends was treated to the story of ‘The Three Little Pigs’ having their homes taken away from them by the big bad wolf. How apt a description of the modern benefits system.

After the assessment, and as soon as we left the building, Mike lit up a cigarette. He’s clearly not the only one. There is now a large build-up of cigarette ends. How many of these are the last cigarettes of the condemned, or the ‘Thank God that’s over’ cigarettes of the relieved we leave our readers to guess.

(Maximus is the private company subcontracted to administer the DWP’s Work Capability Assessments that are used to decide whether someone qualifies for Employment and Support allowance or has to look for work.)

Cuts stop here!

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Today we took part in what has become the annual Dundee anti-cuts rally. Of course, with every year, there is even less to cut from. We distributed leaflets (see below) and talked to the reporter from STV, and I spoke from the platform. I began my speech by recounting an incident that happened yesterday, when a group of us were campaigning for freedom for the imprisoned Kurdish leader, Abdullah Ocalan.  We were in the city centre, and a young man approached us full of anger: why were we doing this rather than support people here in Dundee suffering under Universal Credit? Tony was able to tell him that we do that too – and invite him to join us at our stall outside the buroo on Monday morning – and to try and explain that these things are different aspects of the same bigger struggle against right-wing reaction and for a better world.

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Here is the text from our leaflet:

Marching against cuts has become a regular event in the Dundee calendar. Of course, we all know that the source of those cuts is Westminster ‘Austerity’ – or Westminster ‘let’s use the crisis caused by the bankers as an excuse to reduce public spending and demolish the welfare state’. The Tory government is the main focus of our anger, but that doesn’t mean that other levels of government should just pass the cuts on.

That is why, two weeks ago, we were outside the Scottish Parliament when they discussed the Scottish budget. We were there to say, take note of our petition (and all its supporting evidence) and use progressive taxation to support more welfare mitigation. The Scottish government has had its block grant badly cut, and it should never stop protesting about this, but it is also barely using the powers it has to raise more tax from those who should be able to afford it. Which means it is very limited in what it can do for those least able to survive without help, and money for local government has been cut yet again.

Despite the last-minute deal with the Greens (did Derek Mackay deliberately hold some money back so he could be seen to be making a concession?) councils have suffered another hit. Council administrations of all political colours will be attempting to cover their multiple services with ever skimpier resources.  Opposition councillors will express outrage, while privately acknowledging that if they were in charge it would be them axing services. And, the same people who we meet at our weekly advice stalls outside the jobcentre, will be hit over again by cuts to council services. But councils don’t have to accept the role of simply choosing what to axe. They don’t have to accept the political hand they have been dealt as though it were a natural phenomenon that nothing could shift.  As well as protesting to the Scottish Government, they have the option of coming together to refuse to cut back – of organising and resisting. 

It’s time our politicians at all levels learnt to stand up and say no to this deliberate destruction of social systems and public assets that have been built up over generations. We are here to help them do that. Perhaps they could start by learning a bit of resistance from our schoolchildren.

 

 

The DWP oils prison’s revolving door

revolving door

If the ‘benefits’ system had been designed so as to ensure that someone released from prison was likely to be back there very soon, then it probably wouldn’t be very different from this.

Mike told us he had just signed onto Universal Credit after coming out of prison, and that he had been told he would get no advance to cover the 5-6 week wait before he received any payments. The reason given was that he had not informed the DWP when he went to prison, and so had gone on receiving benefits he wasn’t entitled to. But whatever he received has now gone, and he has nothing – not even a place to stay. He told us he was sleeping rough and would have to steal to survive. We directed him to the Shelter advice drop-in.

Peter had also had trouble with the law. He had been remanded in custody overnight, but was subsequently told that his benefits had been stopped because he had been in prison, which was not the case. He had been told to reapply, and was concerned that this meant another 5-6 weeks wait. In fact, he should get paid on the same day of the month as before, but there is still the problem of payment for the time he wasn’t signed on, and there may be a long wait till his next payment date. We directed him to Shelter, too, to get this sorted out and put in a complaint.

Richard had been thrown out of the Salvation Army hostel and had no place to stay or food to eat. Another one for Shelter.

Of course the vast majority of people were not caught up with the law, just the heartless mess of the benefit system, with its troubled computer system and inadequate training.

Ruth is yet another person who has been having problems getting the New-Style JSA she is entitled to on the basis of her National Insurance payments, rather than being put on Universal Credit. She had lost money, too, as she has a small pension that had been set against the Universal Credit payments but wouldn’t affect the contribution-based JSA. Her problems had started when she signed on online and was automatically redirected from JSA to UC, but she had been given a lot of wrong advice from the DWP since.

John had gone into the jobcentre to find his National Insurance number, which had got lost when he moved house. He needed to give it to a job-agency, but the jobcentre told him that now everything was computerised he had to request it online, and they were unable to give it him.

Joanne told us that her expected UC payment hadn’t come, and she had been told that she would get nothing till next week. But, as sometimes happens when people feel totally let down by the whole process, she refused our offer of help.

There were other cases too, in this busy, rainy two hours. And it was worrying to be told by two separate people that they had just been made redundant from construction jobs that were quite separate from the collapse of McGills last week.

 

 

‘If you want to avoid debt, take out a loan’ – DWP

debt

When we asked John if his Jobcentre ‘Work Coach’ was trying to persuade him to move from JSA to Universal Credit, he laughed. ‘She’s like an insurance salesman’, he told us. ‘She never stops. I told her that I didn’t want to change over because you have to wait for the money and I could go into debt, and maybe lose my house – and she said I didn’t have to worry about going into debt because they would give me a loan!’. Perhaps failure to understand the link between loans and debt makes it easier for a jobcentre worker to sleep at night.

It was a busy – as well as frosty – morning outside the jobcentre on Friday.

Craig is a self-employed construction worker, but is currently unable to work due to a leg injury. He was carrying a big file of papers supporting his ongoing attempt to get some Universal Credit payments, which had become an absurd nightmare, with different government departments failing to communicate with each other. He had just been told by the jobcentre that he had to close down various arrangements to do with his business, and we urged him to check first with an independent money advisor. In another demonstration of DWP disconnection with the real world, his ‘Work Coach’ had commented that he should have put money aside for a rainy day.

Jim had been referred to a ‘Decision Maker’ for a possible sanction. He had been due to do a work experience placement, but it was cancelled at the last minute. He had let the jobcentre know what had happened, but this didn’t seem to have been enough. We stressed the importance of appealing if he is sanctioned – not just to get that sanction lifted, but to make them think twice about sanctioning him again, and because if you have been sanctioned once any further sanction can be longer.

Dave was visibly hassled. His payments were late and he had no food nor electricity. He was about to pick up his daughter from school, according to his court order, and was worried that bringing her back to a cold, foodless home could cause him to lose custody. He had been offered referral to a food bank, but had to hurry to the school. As he observed, ‘They’ve not got a clue!’ We asked him to contact us if he needed help later, but we’ve not heard any more.

Ronnie has £800 in shares that are being transferred from one company to another, and although he will receive no benefit from the transfer, somehow this has got classified as income, causing a reduction in his Universal Credit. The Council’s Connect team are already looking into this for him.

Steve told us that he had worked for a call centre for three weeks, but the company had upped and moved to Glasgow leaving 20 workers unpaid. We suggested he contact Unite the Union, who are fighting a similar case for Brassica Restaurant Workers.

And, yet again, there was someone who had been put on Universal Credit when he had been paying National Insurance and should have been on contribution-based – now called New Style – JSA.

In the bigger picture, too, it has been a bad week for Dundee, with the collapse of McGill construction. 200 Dundee workers, and over 200 more in Glasgow and Edinburgh, will be forced to sign on and discover the nightmare of the current benefit system. I hope someone makes sure that those who have up to date National Insurance get put on New Style JSA, not Universal Credit, and that those others who have to sign onto Universal credit are advised to sign on after they have received any final payment, so that this is not included in the first Universal Credit assessment.

 

 

Why we will be outside the Scottish Parliament on Thursday

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This is the day of the first phase budget debate. For over a year – since before the last budget – we have called on the Scottish Government to make more money available to mitigate the brutal welfare cuts. We presented a petition to the petitions committee, and we backed up our case with detailed arguments and evidence.

We have always been very clear that the cuts are the product of Westminster austerity, and we have acknowledged the significant help the Scottish Government already gives – but that doesn’t mean that they should not help further. If they abandon the poorest members of our society to destitution, they have no right to our respect.

We know that Scottish powers are limited, and we are ready to believe that if Scotland had control over welfare, the situation would be much improved; but Scotland does have the power to provide more help where it is most needed, and the power to raise money through more progressive taxation to pay for this without making cuts elsewhere. The Scottish Government has shown that they are prepared to set different tax rates from the rest of the UK, but so far, the differences have been very small, and earlier promises to replace Council tax with a fairer system have been left to gather dust.

(We can also see the hypocrisy of Scottish Labour now demanding that the Scottish Government pay a bit more to mitigate the cuts when it was Labour that ensured that welfare was not devolved; but this should not be a reason to reject further mitigation and play politics with people’s lives.)

We are far from alone in our call for further help. A coalition of third sector organisations has been campaigning hard for an increase in child benefit as the best way to reduce further child poverty. The Scottish Government’s own Social Security Committee recommended an increase in the Scottish Welfare fund as Universal Credit piles on the pressure, and desperate homeless families have demanded that the funding for Discretionary Housing Payments is increased to make up for the financial devastation brought on by the Benefit Cap. If the Scottish Government is serious in claiming to treat people with ‘dignity, fairness and respect’, it must respond to these calls.

Every time we raise these issues we are met with knee-jerk responses defending the SNP and suggesting that because the cuts originate in Westminster it is not the Scottish Government’s job to take action. Last time we even had someone tell us that we shouldn’t demand more off their 48,000 a year salary. If anyone – including MSPs – is tempted to make such arguments, perhaps they should first imagine themselves saying this to one of the 465 Scottish households a day who are only kept afloat thanks to a Trussel Trust food parcel.

Please join us outside the Parliament at 1.