No winners in the game of welfare roulette

vegas

John was absolutely fizzing when we met him on a bitterly cold Monday morning outside Dundee buroo. He didn’t want to be there, would much rather have been at work, but is being forced into the hands of the DWP due to his failing health. Back in 2003, John, who is fifty one, had suffered three heart attacks in just two days. As a result, his life had been turned upside down. The necessity of letting his body recover meant that he had been remained away from work for over a year. And, whilst he had been able to return to paid employment, as a maintenance engineer, the effort required to get through a working week was becoming increasingly difficult to sustain. He was eventually forced to bow to the inevitable and started signing on in March this year. Despite the fact that John was forced to stop work due to increasing health issues, and had a history of poor health, he was advised to claim JSA and not ESA, and was informed that he should expect a text inviting him to a meeting to discuss his claimant commitment. When the text did arrive, however, he was surprised, indeed horrified, to learn that the scheduled meeting, for which he had received two days advance notification,  was due to take place in Southend-on-Sea.

John, who was now in a state of mounting panic, phoned the DWP and laid bare his dilemma. The adviser on the other end of the phone asked him, pointedly, ‘are you refusing to go?’ He confirmed that he was indeed refusing to attend and explained why, all over again. It appeared, however, that the geography of the (dis)United Kingdom was not the advisor’s strong point, and it took another four or five very long, expensive and often frustrating phone calls, before the situation was eventually resolved – John’s meeting was re-scheduled to take place at Dundee buroo and he was advised to apply for ESA.

When we met him, was palpably stressed out because his ESA payment was late and he was subsisting on his PIP money, of around £55pw.  The serious stress that he had experienced back in March had returned with a vengeance, and he was also suffering a recurrence and worsening of a long-term problem with Carpal-Tunnel syndrome, a condition that is caused by constant pressure being exerted on the median nerve of the wrist, a legacy of a lifetime working with his hands.

This case, which is now being dealt with by a housing association welfare advisor, was, though, by no means the only administrative cock-up that we encountered. We also met Judith who had emerged from the buroo after unsuccessfully trying to sign on. She had earlier received a text asking her to attend a meeting at 11am, but when she turned up had been told by her ‘work coach’ that this was a mistake and that she had to return at 2.30pm. Needless to say, Judith was not best pleased to be messed about, and when she had enquired why this had occurred had been curtly informed that it was due to ‘problems with the system’.

At least the cock-up that Judith experienced did not affect her already pitiful JSA payments. Sye was not so lucky. Despite having been on ESA, due to serious depression, for six weeks he had still not received any money. He was desperate, and had come to the buroo to request a short term benefit advance (STBA), but because his ‘work coach’ was off on a course to train her in the even more devilish ways of Universal Credit, he was simply told to return next week when she would be back. We provided Sye with details of a welfare organisation that could help him, both with his case and with access to food parcels and a food bank, if necessary.

One of our final cases of the day was Gordon, who turned out to be in a similar position to Sye, as he had not received his latest JSA payment, but his work coach had phoned up Clydebank Escalation Dept, and the money had been deposited in his account before he even left the buroo.

This week’s cases underline the mounting problems that are being experienced by all those signing on in the wake of the roll out of Universal Credit (UC). Pressure is clearly mounting on a welfare system that is already sagging under the weight of its own internal contradictions, to the extent that it increasingly becoming a game of chance as to whether people have their claims properly dealt with  and their already miserable ‘benefits’ (sic) paid on time. This infernal game of ‘welfare roulette’ provides no ‘fortunes’ for those lucky winners who may have an understanding ‘work coach’ who will actually intervene when admin problems do occur. For those that don’t have even that help, the cost is often heavy and long-lasting. It is measured in days without enough food or no food at all, of increasing mental health problems as frustration gives way to despair, and increasing physical ill health. This is not a welfare system, but a murderous misery-driven meat grinder. It is not good enough, however, just to ‘rage against the machine’ – we need to disable it and replace it with real social security.

 

Advertisements

Saying ‘No’ to Universal Chaos!

P1020820

Today the Universal Credit Full Service roll-out hit Dundee, and we made sure that we were outside the buroo to let the DWP and the wider public know what we thought about it.

Tony Cox for the SUWN called for Scottish civil society to come together in a mass movement of resistance to make Universal Credit May’s Poll Tax, and Mike Arnott of the Trades Council and Jimmy Black who chaired the Dundee Fairness Commission added their voices as a first small step towards that unity. And among the small crowd that gathered to show support were councillors from Labour and SNP, Rev Erik Cramb, and members of Unite. Here is the video of the speeches

And here are some photos and the text from our leaflet.

(We have been busy updating the Universal Credit page on this site and writing a new Know Your Rights leaflet. You can check out the page and we will get the leaflet up in the next day or two. There are a lot more rules and a lot fewer rights!)

MAKE UNIVERSAL CREDIT MAY’S POLLTAX!

Every week, at our stall outside the jobcentre, we meet people weighed down with problems.  We give all the support and help we can, but we know it is just  a drop in an ocean of suffering created by a Tory government that is determined to destroy the welfare state and turn it into a new penal system for the poor. The UK Government’s austerity cuts are a calculated attack on rights and concessions that have been won by decades of working-class campaigns. They weaken the structures that allow people control over their lives, and open up opportunities for private companies to make money, including from public funds. The claim that austerity is about saving money is a smoke screen. It is all about making it easier for business to make bigger profits. Universal Credit is the central plank of this Tory attack. It deprives us of our right to social security and increasingly of our rights as citizens.

Scottish civil society has to come together as a mass movement to defend our basic human rights. The UK government won’t shift, so we should demand the powers for Scotland to make a better system.

If not now when?  If not us who?

WHAT’S HAPPENING TODAY?

From 8 November, anyone in Dundee who makes a new claim for a means-tested working age benefit (currently JSA, ESA, Income Support, Working Tax Credit, Child Tax Credit, and Housing Benefit) will have to apply for Universal Credit instead. Previously UC had only been brought in for people in certain categories, such as the single unemployed. (If you are on one of the above benefits and your other circumstances remain the same you will not be moved to UC for now.)

 

UNIVERSAL CREDIT’S DESTROYING LIVES & CREATING UNIVERSAL CHAOS

Evidence from pilot areas on the impact of the new benefit is devastating, but although the staged rollout was supposed to allow the system to learn and improve, the Government has refused to make any significant changes.

Further major benefit cuts have been deliberately built into the new system.

You have to demonstrate that you have spent a full 35 hours a week looking for work.

No money is paid for the first 5 to 6 weeks – often longer. Claimants can get an advance but this is a loan that has to be paid back off future benefits. This leaves people struggling on impossibly low rations for months. Over 80% of people on UC are in rent arrears and many are facing eviction. Private landlords are refusing to let to people on UC, and councils and housing associations are budgeting for major loses, which will impact on their ability to provide homes.

Anyone who is sanctioned under UC and needs to get a Hardship Payment will find that this is also now a loan that has to be paid back. This means that they will be struggling on less than minimal money for 2 ½ times the length of their actual sanction.

 

UC is calculated each month. This can lead to major problems if you are paid irregularly for any reason, e.g. if you are self-employed  and get a large payment one month and nothing the next.

This benefit is unique in that sanctioning will also apply to some people in work. If you are earning less than the equivalent of 35 hours a week on the minimum wage and relying on UC instead of Working Tax Credit you can be made to look for more or better paid work under similar conditions to someone who is unemployed (including no holidays).

Although the Government claims UC is designed to ‘make work pay’, claimants who get a bit of extra work will still lose 63p for every pound earned. (Compare with people on incomes over £150,000 who loose only 45p in the pound.) Most people in low-paid work will get much less than under Working Tax Credit.

Claimants will be expected to do everything on line, even if they don’t have a computer at home. You will need to provide a reason why you cannot use a computer in order to avoid this.

Whistleblowers have exposed a system that is chronically under staffed and under trained, so any problems can take an age to sort out, by which time people are often in serious difficulties.

 

‘Ahm arite, son, I aye dae whit ahm telt’ – SUWN stall report

17-10-31 b

Despite his ‘glass half full’ attitude, it turned out that George, a 63 year old ex-trawlerman and HGV tyre fitter, is far from ‘arite’. After nearly fifty years of heavy labour, his body is starting to give up on him – the pain from the serious degeneration of his lower spine was etched on his face, and when he dropped our advice leaflet and attempted to bend down and pick it up, he did so in stages and almost fell over with the effort. Despite his obvious disability, George is on Job Seekers Allowance (JSA) – the question of George moving onto Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) had never been raised by  his ‘work coach’ (sic), who, instead, only appeared interested in whether or not he had met his job search commitments. As he said himself, George is very much ‘auld school’ – he ‘disna like the idea oa being idle’, but he reluctantly admitted to being torn between missing work, and knowing within himself that he really couldn’t cope with the demands of tyre fitting. He was also worried that taking heavy labouring work – the only kind of work he has ever done – would only worsen his already serious and degenerating health; which begs the question, what is the role and duty of care of the DWP in a situation such as this?

Unfortunately, watching out for folk like George, who desperately want to work but are in no condition to do so, seems a distant second for the DWP who, instead, prioritise ticking boxes and meeting targets. After further discussion, George agreed, rather reluctantly, that he should really be on Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), and we provided him with details of local welfare organisations that would be able to guide him through the application process, along with our own contact details in case he has further problems. This is a man who had always worked and had never asked for anything from anyone, but who now realised that he was at the end of his working life. He does not and cannot not know what the future has in store for him. He was, though, aware that his optimism and openness was costing him in his dealings with a DWP that has become nothing more than a gigantic meat grinder.

We also met Helen, in her fifties and suffering from severe depression as well as a number of other physical health conditions. However, she had recently failed an ESA Work Capability Assessment (WCA) and was now on JSA. She had not been able to attend a recent DWP appointment due to ill health and, despite having a sick note form her GP, had just learned that she had been sanctioned for 48 days.  Helen is receiving hardship payments, but explained that this latest sanction had followed earlier ones, leaving her in mounting debt and making her already serious depression even worse, thus highlighting the emptiness of the Tories’ apparently heartfelt pledge to treat those suffering from mental health problems with understanding and fairness. The reality is that the Tories’ so-called welfare reforms have created the conditions for the developing epidemic of mental health problems that we are witnessing.

We urged Helen to immediately appeal the sanction, but her response was ‘whit’s the point?’, a regular refrain from those who have been worn down by repeated sanctioning. We explained that if she didn’t appeal, it was highly likely that the DWP would come after her again. They are like bullies, who thrive on the fatalism of those who have been repeatedly forced through the DWP meat grinder – the only way to stop the cycle of sanctioning is to challenge the DWP, which will make them think twice before sanctioning again. And appeal is also likely to lead to a sanction being overturned.

Both Helen and George’s cases are of a kind that we are only too familiar with, and, whilst both underline the fundamentally heartless nature of the so-called welfare reforms, they also pose searching questions regarding the presumed ‘cost savings’ that these are supposed to deliver. It is becoming ever clearer that whilst the DWP’s often brutal approach may be saving pennies, they are also creating much larger long term costs – economic, as well as human – for society as a whole. It is the already struggling NHS that is expected to pick up the pieces as they fall from the DWP meat grinder. And, as sure as night follows day, the developing crisis within the NHS, which has been fuelled by swingeing budget cuts and the Tories’ own ‘welfare reforms’will be used to fuel demands for the further privatisation of English health services (with knock-on impacts in Scotland). Meanwhile, the meat grinder will continue, day after day, remorselessly grinding away. It’s up to all of us to work together to stop it.

Whilst these two cases were the most notable that we dealt with this week, we also dealt with others at the buroo, by phone, through facebook and via email, which we don’t have the space to deal with. Norma, Tony, Jonathan and Kat were involved with this week’s stall.

Taxes for Welfare – a petition to the Scottish Parliament

Parliament front

Click HERE to sign

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.’

Tory austerity is turning the welfare system into a new penal system for the poor, with benefit cuts that are destroying livelihoods and lives. Smith ensured that all the major means-tested benefits remained with Westminster, but Scotland has gained powers to add new benefits, and to alter income tax bands and rates. Without powers over other taxes and economic levers, possibilities are limited, but it is still important to make maximum use of the powers we have, both for the sake of the people this will help, and if we are to demand the need for the full control that comes with Independence.

The Scottish Government already provides important help through mitigating some of the cuts (notably the bedroom tax) and giving emergency grants. But there are urgent calls for more help from so many different groups who have found themselves at the sharp end of Westminster cuts, as well as pressing demands for more spending on council services, public sector pay, and all the things that make a decent society. If these are not to be forced to compete with each other in some sort of competition in desperation, then the Scottish Government will have to find more money by bringing in more progressive taxation. Indeed they have a moral duty to do so.

To help put this case we have submitted a formal 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.’

We urge everyone to show their support by adding their name. There is also scope to add your own comments and experiences.

Here’s the LINK again

Background:

We have seen the huge difference made by existing mitigation policies such as the payment of Bedroom Tax and the help provided by the Scottish Welfare Fund. The situation is much worse south of the border. But that is not enough. Thousands of people are still struggling, and unless funding is increased any improvement in one area becomes a case of robbing Peter to pay Paul. The Scottish Government have dismissed widely-supported calls for an extra £5 on Child Benefit, and they have turned down our call for additional support through the Scottish Welfare Fund for people who have lost out in the transfer from DLA to PIP as they wait for the new Scottish disability benefit to be brought in. Even without this, demands on the Scottish Welfare Fund are set to increase considerably as Universal Credit is rolled out to more and more areas, and there is also insufficient money for everyone hit by the Benefit Cap to get help via Discretionary Housing Payments. These are all crucial areas and the focus of vital campaigns, and underlying all is the need for more money.

Our government has a political and moral duty to help the poorest in our society, and it can do this by taking more taxes from those with the biggest incomes and land-holdings. As if the human case were not enough, spending more on social security also makes sound financial sense as failure to provide help at this stage has major financial as well as human consequences.

As welfare activists and campaigners, with a regular stall outside the jobcentre and further interaction with those at the sharp end of welfare ‘reform’ through phone and internet, we are only too aware of what is happening and the urgent need for more help. We also keep a vigilant watch on what is happening in other places and the fears that have been raised about future changes. We can see the urgency of the different calls that have been raised for more help in different areas – for children, for the disabled (including people in the ESA WRAG group and its Universal Credit equivalent who have lost £30 a week, and people who have lost out in the transfer from DLA to PIP.), for carers, for people waiting for Universal Credit, for people affected by the benefit cap, for people losing out on Universal Credit for their third child. We recognise the importance of all these needs and don’t want to see them being forced to compete against each other for the small sums currently available. We don’t believe this is necessary, nor even financially prudent. We have seen directly how the lack of relatively small sums of money at a crucial time can have major knock-on effects on individuals and families that, as well as being personally damaging, result in much greater demands on the public purse through social and health services. The huge growth of mental health problems linked to welfare ‘reform’ is a case in point. (See ‘Government welfare cuts blamed for 50% surge in mental health issues among unemployed’, Independent 16 July 2017.)

The sort of severe rationing that we are currently looking at is not necessary because we can access the money to do something about it. We can start by recognising welfare for the priority it is, but we know that with the cuts to the block grant that will not be enough. However the Scottish Government is now able to make changes to the tax system to raise more money from those with the highest incomes. And it could also introduce more progressive local taxation through introducing a Land Value Tax. There is growing recognition of the need for the Scottish Government to back up its caring social rhetoric with more progressive action. This has been demonstrated by the 38Degrees petition in response to the First Minister’s proposal for an ‘open conversation’ on tax increases, and has been repeatedly raised in the Scottish Parliament by the Scottish Greens. Even with the limited devolution that we have, and without full welfare powers or full tax powers, we do have the ability to make more of a difference, and we have the moral duty to use it.

 

Getting the right bit of paper

cat on papers

A report from this weeks stall:

Jen had come to the jobcentre to find out what was happening with her Work Capability Assessment – but of course that is the last place that might be able to help. She has numerous health problems, including two sorts of epilepsy, but she is still waiting for her assessment, and having to organise regular doctor’s notes, because the day that she was due to be seen Maximus didn’t have enough assessors available. They told her that they would arrange another appointment, but that was April and she has heard nothing since.  We contacted Welfare Rights for her and they promised to chase Maximus on her behalf. However that only addressed a part of her problems. Although she gets PIP as well as her basic assessment phase ESA, she currently has nothing in her bank account as a (now former) friend had helped themselves to her card. This is the sort of emergency that can be helped by a Scottish Welfare Fund grant, but before asking for that she needed evidence of the theft in the form of a crime number. Jen also has anxiety problems so one of our activists accompanied her to the police station to get a crime report before going onto the council offices.

Meanwhile, beside the usual ESA queries (as discussed last week) we arranged a food parcel for a man with just £5 in his pocket to see him through the week, and we talked with John, a former oil worker who had had to give up his job for mental health reasons and was just out of hospital. We gave him the link to the Scottish Government’s fund for ex oil workers. We hope they can help, though it was set up for people who were made redundant rather than those with health problems.

We also met a frustrated young man who had been told to get a letter from his GP as proof of identity before his claim could be processed. With lack of accepted documentation proving a frequent cause of benefit delay, getting the right papers can be very important. But for the many people who don’t have a passport or a driving license because they have never needed or been able to afford them, there is very little guidance about what can count. We have discussed this with our friends at the Child Poverty Action Group, who explain that there is no official list and that you can use a range of different things such as a birth certificate, paid utility bills going back a period of time, a tenancy agreement, or the GP letter stating they have known you for so many years. The DWP can’t make you provide evidence that you don’t have or that would be difficult for you to get. It simply needs to be enough to establish your identity on the ‘balance of probability’ – and if they are being difficult you can appeal.

(So many problems, and the full Universal Credit roll-out hasn’t even hit us yet. D-Day for Universal Credit in Dundee is 8 November, so a further reminder for anyone local that we will be protesting outside the jobcentre that day from 12-2.)

Thanks for help on the stall to Jonathan, Tony, Norma, Dave and Gary

 

 

Christopher Neill R.I.P.

IMG_2019

We are shocked to hear of the death of our friend and comrade Chris Neill. ‘Father Chris’ was a stalwart champion for justice, both on our stalls outside the buroo and when accompanying people into the dreaded health assessments. He joined our band of eccentrics after we met him assisting his son, Duncan, sign on, when he quickly told the troublesome ‘advisor’ what was what. Besides helping the SUWN he was an active advocate for Indy, describing himself as Scottish by Choice, and probably confusing a few onlookers by marching for Scottish Independence bearing a St George’s cross. But conformity never bothered Chris. As a Greek Orthodox priest he kept up his good humour in the face of a stream of banter from his atheist comrades, for whom he was a real friend as well as a co-campaigner. He died on his houseboat in Manchester, which he had been getting ready to move up to the Forth and Clyde Canal. In a short time he had become a loved and valued member of our group, and he will be badly missed. Our sympathies to Duncan (who was responsible for bringing Chris to us in Dundee).

‘Welcome to the wonderful world of the DWP, David’

17-10-17

Whilst there is mounting trepidation at the prospect of the full roll out of Universal Credit (expected to hit us in Dundee on 8 November), we are already experiencing a rise in the number of cases and inquiries we are fielding at Dundee buroo, and this week was no exception. Many of the cases we dealt with at our stall or on the phone  – eight out of 14-15 – had a familiar ring to them, involving  people who had been refused entitlement to ESA, or who had ESA terminated a  following re-appraisal.

The case of Margaret, an older woman from Stonehaven, was one notable example. David, her nephew, had phoned us on her behalf, and, with no prior experience of the wonderful world of the DWP, was clearly shocked at the way she was being treated. Margaret, who recently lost her husband, suffers from mental health problems. She had been on ESA for seven months, but had very recently attended a work capability assessment  where she had been informed that she should expect to lose her ESA entitlement.  David was puzzled as to how privately employed ATOS assessors have the legal authority to over-ride GP’s when they decide that their patient  is unfit for work – to which our volunteer replied, ‘welcome to the wonderful world of the DWP, David.’

Margaret is now struggling to cope, both financially and mentally, to the extent that she is finding it difficult to function. David is clearly very worried about her, and our volunteer advised that Margaret’s worsening condition should be assessed by her doctor, that a mandatory reconsideration (MR) should be phoned in asap, and that Margaret should then make a claim for JSA. Our volunteer explained that, for those living in an area where Universal Credit full service is yet to be rolled out, it was important that the MR is phoned in BEFORE the claim for JSA is made, because making an immediate claim could result in Margaret, as a single person, being signed up to Universal Credit instead. It is also the case that a decision on ESA entitlement will take much longer to be made if the MR is posted, and that the vast majority of ESA MR’s fail because they are dealt with by an ‘in-house’ ‘decision maker’ with a 80% fail quota. By phoning, rather than writing, folk can proceed more quickly to the tribunal, the second stage of the appeal process. Once you are on the appeal stage you can go back on basic rate ESA again. Because the tribunal is made up of independent representatives, claimants have a better chance of their appeal being properly considered, with almost 70% of ESA appeals being successful.

Many folk who have been bumped from ESA cannot figure out how they are expected to claim for JSA. They quite reasonably point out, they are not ‘fit for work’, leaving some feeling like frauds for claiming JSA, to which we invariably reply, ‘welcome to the wonderful world of the DWP’.

The only way in which those affected can receive social security payments whilst waiting on the Mandatory Reconsideration process to conclude is by applying for JSA, despite not being fit for work. Once folk are signed up to JSA and receiving payments, then they can ask for an ‘extended period of sickness’ note from their GP, which lasts thirteen weeks, and which should take them through the period required before the appeal stage. This may not take the pressure off completely, but the GP can explain that the stresses of the jobcentre routine are affecting your health. It is also the case that because many Job Centres (JC’s) are being inundated with such cases, JC ‘work coaches’, or whatever their title is this week, are increasingly aware that many claimants, despite being on JSA, are not really capable of work. For this reason, some ‘work coaches’ take quite a sympathetic approach to such claimants. Where they do not, and where the claimant is vulnerable, as is the case with Margaret, we would advise that they are accompanied in to the JC by a family member or friend or welfare rights worker, to discuss and negotiate their claimant commitment with the ‘work coach’, and to ensure that any special needs or problems that the claimant has are taken into account.  Family members and friends should be aware that they have the right both to attend meetings with the claimant and to speak on their behalf, with the claimant’s consent  – do not allow bolshy ‘work coaches’ to tell you otherwise.

We also met Peter, who had gone five months without any payment, and we went into the jobcentre with him to ensure this was sorted out. He had been on ESA and had been informed by the jobcentre that if he came off this he would go back on JSA. His health proved better than he feared, so he came off ESA, and waited – but no JSA payments. He assumed this was par for the course because when he had been made redundant and claimed JSA last year, it took the DWP five months to sort his payments out. This time, as he waited, he lost his car and his TV and was threatened with eviction. He got assistance to fight the eviction and arrange Housing Benefit, but no-one seems to have mentioned the need to put in an application for JSA. Unsurprisingly, his health deteriorated and he is now back on ESA, but he had talked with Citizens Advice and been told to put in a claim for JSA for the missing period. I have to say that the advisor was helpful, and he was given a form to explain in detail what had happened. Now he must wait for the ‘decision maker’. We made sure that he asked for a photocopy of his completed form – a point he appreciated as he observed that, of the four doctor’s notes he had had to hand in for his ESA, the jobcentre had lost two, requiring him to get duplicates.

Mark had received no money since his ESA claim had been closed down for failure to come to a Work Capability Assessment. The problem was that he had never received a letter telling him about the appointment. He told us that he had been five minutes late for a previous appointment and been told to go away and wait to be given another time, but had not heard from them after that. He also told us that he had been earlier informed that he would not need to go to an assessment as his medical evidence would be sufficient. His list of health (and other) issues included PTSD following multiple stab wounds – he insisted on showing us the scars, accompanied by graphic description – and he was currently homeless and staying on a friend’s sofa. We made an appointment for him with Welfare Rights, and left him hurrying to the council to put in for a Scottish Welfare Fund emergency grant before they closed for the day.

George was fuming when we met him. He explained that he had recently underwent an assessment for PIP, and had received full PIP, for both mobility and daily living, but two days after receiving the letter confirming the decision he had attended a ESA appeal tribunal where he was stunned into furious silence when his appeal was rejected – he had failed his Work Capability Assessment by one point. Welcome to DWP world, George.

Next up was Louise, a vulnerable young woman with a number of conditions who, due to lack of money, was back living with her mother. She had been bumped from ESA, and placed on JSA. However, weeks after making her application, she had still not received any money, and we urged her to contact Welfare Rights asap for an appointment so they can take up this case of administrative failure on the part of the DWP, and also to apply for a Scottish Welfare Fund grant. Although Louise’s situation is quite desperate, the fact that she is living with her mother may well affect her entitlement to a grant, and we asked her mother to keep in contact with us so that we might offer further assistance, if required.  This may well not be the last time we hear from Louise and her mother.

It is important to remember that claimants who are facing delayed benefit payments are expected to apply for and have exhausted a Short Term Benefit Advance (STBA) before they can apply for the Welfare Fund Grant. Giving loans to folk with next to nothing and then expecting them to pay such loans back from the miserable pittance of JSA or Universal Credit only serves to further underline the warped reality created by the so-called ‘welfare reforms’ – where the disabled are forced into seeking work that may well harm them because employment is actually seen by the DWP as a ‘clinical outcome’.

In addition to the heavy workload on the issue of ESA, we also met John. He had just been sanctioned for failing to complete his job search, due to having to make arrangements following the death of a family member; and, in addition, he had been refused hardship payments. We strongly urged him to apply for a Welfare Fund Grant, and to ensure that he gets his Mandatory Reconsideration appealing his sanction in as quickly as possible.

Mark, a young man, had, in his own words, ‘bailed fae the buroo, cis it wisna worth the bother.’ This is a refrain we are hearing fairly regularly, particularly from younger folk, who, like Mark, are staying with parents. We are sure that the DWP would approve of Mark’s decision, as their entire strategy seems designed to make the experience of unemployment as unpleasant as possible. But, what of those young folk, as well as their older counterparts, who don’t have understanding and relatively well-off parents to rely on?

[For folk in Dundee – we will be marking the arrival of Universal Credit full service with a protest outside Dundee buroo, alongside our usual advice stall, from 12-2 Wednesday 8 November.]

Thanks to Norma, Davey, Gary, Sarah and Tony for their help at this week’s stall.

 

 

If you designed a system specifically to inflict pain, you couldn’t do much better than this: a report from last week’s stall

trimmed

Frank used to work as a driver, but since having a major operation seven years ago he has to get to the toilet at least once an hour, so driving, and many other jobs, are off the agenda. He does want to work, but not to be forced to apply for any job however unsuitable, as his ‘job coach’ is pressing him to do. He is in constant pain too, and the stress of the pressure from the jobcentre is making this worse. As if this was not bad enough, he has been deprived of any effective painkiller. He had been prescribed opiates, but these were knocking him sideways, so he decided to self-medicate with home-grown cannabis. However a neighbour reported him to the police, and although he only had a couple of plants, they took these away along with his growing tent and other equipment. So now he has no pain relief and is having trouble sleeping, even before the pressures from the jobcentre that are making it all worse. We advised him to go to his doctor and get a note for an Extended Period of Sickness, in order to lift the pressure and give him time to get a bit better. We also offered to go into the jobcentre with him if he needed help persuading them to treat him more reasonably and with more understanding.

Arun had just started in work, but was concerned that he was in line for a second sanction from his work programmer provider, Triage. He was already challenging an earlier sanction and had been warned he could be sanctioned again for missing an appointment, even though he had previously told them why he wouldn’t be able to come. We had to warn him that if he was sanctioned again he should still challenge it even though he now has a job, because if the job fell through the sanction would be held over to when he was on benefits again.

We also met with an older man who we had helped in the past and who was now having problems with his benefits being stopped when he had only been given a few hours’ work. His situation is very complicated and we pressed him to go back to the welfare advisor who had helped him before. And a man who was personally delivering proof of his wife’s student bursary because, although he had sent this twice before, the DWP claimed not to have received it, and without it they couldn’t pay him. And another man who had been told he was being made redundant from a job he had been in over two years, only to see his old job advertised two weeks later – which doesn’t sound like redundancy to us. (If you have similar problems you can contact ACAS for advice.)

There has been a post going round social media about a person who was deemed not to have mobility problems because they could manage to struggle to the foodbank and didn’t just stay at home and starve. In a similar vein, we were told about someone who has been informed that she doesn’t have problems going out and meeting people because she manages to get to her AA meetings. Surely that must be enough social life for anyone…

As we head into the big Universal Credit rollout, it has been amazing to watch the media, and even a few Tory MPs, wake up to the scale of the crisis this will cause. Whether this is enough to make Teresa May blink, we don’t yet know, but the appalling extent of the culpable mismanagement of this benefit has been exposed by a DWP whistle-blower in the Independent. The theory behind the staged rollout was that the DWP would learn from the experiences of their first poor guineapigs, but they seem quite determined not to do so. The stories recounted in online support groups are absolutely terrifying, but even worse are the comments by some other group members that demonstrate an acceptance of the idea that you should have to sell off your possessions and live off the cheapest foods and expect no quality of life. No wonder many posters question the point of living at all. We need to ensure that the media don’t forget these issues as quickly as they have taken them up, and that this helps generate the outraged resistance required to bring about change.

Thanks for help at the stall to Tony, Norma, Gary, Dave and Jonathan

More sanctions, longer sanctions – Universal Credit strikes again

Dundee foodbank

David Webster’s latest meticulous analysis of the sanctions statistics makes for grim reading. We had thought that sanctions were on the wane and that the DWP were mainly relying on the pernicious impact of the fear that they had induced – as well as turning their attacks onto the sick and disabled; but Universal Credit appears to opening the doors to a new and nasty return. Sanction numbers are not nearly as high as their peak in 2013-14, but they are rising. Worse, they are significantly higher for people on Universal Credit than those on JSA, so as Universal Credit is rolled out to more and more people in more and more areas, we can expect to see sanction numbers increasing. This difference is true for people of all age groups. As if that were not bad enough, the impact of a UC sanction can be much more prolonged than that of a JSA one. Under UC, hardship payments are loans that have to be repaid off future benefits, effectively stretching the period of reduced rations to two and a half times the nominal sanction length. And any further sanctions received during the sanction period no longer run concurrently but are added onto the end. UC also allows sanctions to be applied for the first time to low paid or part time workers earning less than the equivalent of 35 hours a week on the minimum wage. So far a much lower proportion of UC sanctions have been successfully challenged – but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try.

ESA sanctions (overwhelmingly for not doing work related activities) are much less common, but there is a disproportionate number of long sanctions. While the most recent figures suggest that the DWP has learnt not to keep discriminating especially hard against people with mental health and behavioural problems, the proportion of sanctions for pregnant women is particularly worrying.

The statistics also show a significant fall in the proportion of eligible people applying for JSA, from an estimated 69% in 2009/10 to 56% in 2015/16. This is only to be expected, as people struggle to survive on next to nothing rather than face the worries and humiliations of the jobcentre. The problem is particularly bad among young people.

David Webster also points out that:

The UK Government response to the Public Accounts Committee Inquiry on benefit sanctions has still not been published, despite being due in April.

A new research paper has provided hard evidence that poor quality work can be worse for you than being unemployed. This was reported on by the Financial Times, which added that this would likely also worsen productivity [and thus the employers’ bottom lines!].

A recent study has exposed the huge decline in local welfare schemes in England. It includes the observation that this will not save money as the costs of the necessary later interventions will be much higher.

You can read David Webster’s full report here: 17-08 Sanctions Stats Briefing – D.Webster As he notes, the DWP’s statistics collection and publication still falls far short of the requirements of the United Kingdom Statistics Authority

The picture shows Dundee’s Trussel Trust Foodbank

If you thought you’d seen the last of these ’employability’ businesses…

A little mole has sent us the list of the organisations who have won the contracts for Scotland’s new training schemes that will start next April – and it’s horribly familiar. Not really a surprise because we knew who the Scottish Government have been talking to, but here it is in black and white. Of course the very fact that the Scottish Government continues to use the term ‘employability’, with its implication that people are unemployed not because of lack of jobs but because they are unemployable, is hardly encouraging. It is difficult to imagine that companies that moulded themselves to the box-ticking sanction-generating regime of the Tory Work Programme will have much useful to offer in the way of the genuine person-centred training we had been promised. The only – but very important – compensation is that this time these schemes won’t be mandatory or sanctionable. We must make sure that this is made clear to everyone involved so they know that they are free to leave if the training isn’t helping them.

The following is a direct quote from our anonymous mole’s email, as sent to us and other activists. The comments are theirs:

Full list of Fair Start Scotland providers is:

Edinburgh – Working Links (calling themselves Start Scotland and masquerading as a charity with the Lennox Partnership who have form for sanctioning)

Glasgow – People Plus (A4E)

Lanarkshire – Remploy (maximus)

Tayside – Remploy!!

Aberdeen – Momentum 

Reserved lot for ‘supported business’ – Wise Group who are NOT a supported business

South West – Working Links!!

Highlands Islands – People Plus!!

Forth Valley – Falkirk Council

[At least we’re spared our old friends at Triage! – SUWN]