Rinse and Repeat


This handful of cases from a recent stall perfectly illustrates once again the horrors of the UK benefit system, and why we need to keep pushing. We are determined to keep going until real change is made.

Ernie is a young man who has, for some time, been claiming the Limited Capability for Work element of Universal Credit. He approached us in a state of some anxiety. An administrative cock-up had left him facing a loss of his Universal Credit income.

His case was undergoing reassessment. He had duly turned up for his medical assessment, but they were running behind and could not see him on the day of his appointment. An alternative date and time were arranged. When Ernie turned up for the rearranged appointment, he was told he had missed it. He went straight to the Jobcentre and explained the situation. He was told to put a note on his Universal Credit journal explaining. He had also sent a letter to the DWP explaining. We suggested he re-send the letter recorded delivery, and keep a copy for his records, so that the DWP could not claim it was ‘lost in the post’.

We offered to go into the Jobcentre with him, but he declined. He emerged twenty minutes later looking relieved. A new advisor had been unusually helpful. A date for an assessment will be re-arranged. In the meantime, he will remain on his full benefit.

Bertha had also been claiming the Limited Capability for Work element of Universal Credit. But hers is a classic case of being found ‘fit to work’ when she is clearly unable to do so. She has appealed the decision and was waiting on the result. The Citizens’ Advice Bureau are helping her with her case, so there was little else we could say. We reiterated advice she had previously been given that it was worth applying for Personal Independence Payment in addition to Universal Credit.

Fred’s wife Fiona is at college full time. This means Fred is the full-time carer for a young child and a baby (what we used to call a Dad). He is being pressured by the Jobcentre into looking for full-time work. But Universal Credit makes no allowance for people to study. If Fred is the carer, then the DWP would expect Fiona to look for work. If she isn’t looking for work, then they would expect her to be caring for the children so Fred could work. Despite all the rhetoric, and the pushing of training schemes of dubious usefulness, you will get no support if you want to do a full time course that might really improve your prospects of future work.

Charlie talked to us about his son Chris. Chris is on a zero-hour contract stocktaking at a supermarket. He is working twelve hour shifts, often at night, and often at short notice. This hectic schedule means that he has missed a number of Universal Credit appointments. Chris has not been sanctioned yet, but his father is worried that he might be.

We are so resigned to the system being awful, that we can lose sight of the bigger picture. It is a picture that would be farcical if it was not so horrifying. Chris is working hard in a difficult job. He is doing everything that is demanded of him, yet he is still in need of state support. Not only that: the state is constantly threatening to turn that support off through the threat of sanctions. Fiona is trying to improve her life through education, and yet her husband is at risk of being sanctioned for taking care of the children. Ernie and Bertha are both clearly ill, and yet instead of compassion, they are faced with being forced to look for work they have little chance of being able to do, even if, by some miracle, they were hired. These are not the actions of a welfare system designed to support people in their time of need. We continue to call for change.

No to homelessness in Freedom Square

glasgow protest

On the 2 November, there was another rally in Glasgow’s George Square for Scottish Independence. However, in the same place two days prior, there was a smaller, but no less important, protest against Glasgow City Council’s housing policy.

Shelter Scotland are currently taking legal action against Glasgow City Council. Shelter Scotland claim Glasgow City Council have illegally denied temporary accommodation to thousands of homeless applicants over the last two years. Shelter are seeking a review of the situation. The Guardian has a good article explaining the situation in more depth.

The SUWN were invited to speak at this event which took place on the 31 October. The text of the speech is reproduced below.

Article 25 of the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights states: ‘Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care.’

Psychologists have long asked a simple question: What are the essential needs for human well-being? Food is pretty crucial, as is clean water, and a safe environment. A place to live, a shelter from the weather, is also pretty fundamental.

This is why the United Nations Declaration is so important. In one short document, it defines our needs as human beings and lays them out as human rights for each and every one of us. Human Rights are not a gift from on high, they are a collective responsibility. I cannot just look out for myself and think that is enough. Where we see other people’s rights abused or attacked, we must act.

This is why we can support the legal case Shelter Scotland has recently bought against Glasgow City Council. In denying the homeless that crucial first step of temporary accommodation, Glasgow council have failed in their duty to help the most vulnerable.

The legal case is not a decision that Shelter Scotland will have taken lightly. They are a widely respected professional organisation, not given to political or legal stunts. The Scottish Unemployed Workers’ Network have often referred clients with housing issues onto them. I would like to put on public record my thanks for Shelter’s help during my own housing-related difficulties eighteen months ago. I will be following the case with great interest.

The Scottish Unemployed Workers’ Network has, always been in favour of an independent Scotland. And not passively either. During and since the 2014 referendum we were out on the streets actively pushing for that goal. We still are.

In two days’ time, there will be a rally for Independence in this very Square. Rumour has it that Nichola Sturgeon will be speaking. We will no doubt hear the call for another referendum. But, what good is a referendum on independence, if we do not address the failings in the system using the powers that we have now? It pains us that we have to criticize an SNP-led council, but we are fond of quoting Alasdair Gray / Dennis Lee: ‘Work as if you live in the early days of a better nation.’ It is no good just saying that independence will solve all our problems, if we fail to look at the problems we can address now.

These are issues that run much deeper. The SUWN’s main work continues to be working with benefit claimants. During our stalls outside Jobcentres we have seen the direct impact on the most vulnerable of UK Tory welfare ‘reforms’. In particular, the introduction of Universal Credit has been a disaster.

Under the old system Housing Benefit was paid separately. It was also paid direct to the landlord. Tenants could be sure that whatever happened, at least the rent was being paid. It gave tenants security of accommodation, and landlords security of income.

Under the new system claiming Housing Benefit means doing so under the Universal Credit system. Payments are made not to the landlord, but to the claimant’s bank account. Claimants are forced to budget for rent.

Shockingly, because it falls under Universal Credit Housing Benefit is sanctionable. And then, what next? Being forced to choose between feeding yourself or paying the rent? What happens if another crisis emerges? If the washing machine or boiler breaks down – what then? The temptation is to dip into to the rent money. This is why both landlords AND tenants have criticized Universal Credit. It takes away the security of knowing the rent will be paid. Another concern is that tenants may be forced to take out high interest loans in order to pay the rent.

These are not ‘just’ the views of some easily dismissible radical leftist organisations, but they have been repeatedly raised by establishment politicians in both the Scottish and Westminster parliaments. These issues have been raised by housing associations, and even Shelter themselves.

The system needs changed. Universal Credit needs fighting, not just because it is flawed, but because it is actively working against the wellbeing of claimants.  In both the welfare system and the accommodation system, housing policy must be looked at again. That is what we are demanding. Fairer treatment of the most vulnerable, means a better society for all.

A load o’ shite


At our advice stalls we always try to ask people leaving the jobcentre if they need any help. “Any bother?” we asked one guy. “Nah. It’s a load o’ shite!” he said, rapidly retreating.

The interaction was brief. The man’s comment illustrates the general level of frustration at the system. It also demonstrates a more worrying phenomenon: claimants expect bad service from the DWP. It is a short step from expectation to acceptance. When you are routinely faced with bad service, it is easy to accept it as normal. That is of course what the UK Conservative government want. Their belief is that if they make the system as obstructive as possible, people will either give up complaining, or simply not apply for benefits in the first place. The SUWN is a voice for these people.

Jimmy is was also at this week’s stall. He is an older man, close to state pension age. He is on Universal Credit and had the standard grumbles, including the meagre allowance and the initial five-week wait. He contrasted it with when he’d last been unemployed. Unemployment benefits have never been generous, but Jimmy seemed almost nostalgic about the old welfare system. Listening to him was a bit like chatting to a veteran telling his old war stories. He thanked us for our work.

Aidan is somewhat younger. He also told us he was signing onto Universal Credit. He is handing in sick lines, and waiting on a Limited Capability for Work Assessment. He has been told he has to use a computer to look for work, despite being dyslexic and not knowing how. With regards to his health issues, we told him he was probably also eligible for PIP.

Brenda is an older woman who must be in her eighties. Her daughter, Anne, is herself coming up to retirement, having missed out when the retirement age for women was increased. (The WASPI generation). Anne has specific health issues and is unable to work, but because of a moderate amount of savings she is not able to claim Universal Credit. We advised that she may be eligible for PIP, which is not means tested.

Thanks to Jock, Tony, and Garry for helping at this week’s stall

DWP’s mistake – your problem

19-10-06 Sorry - DWP

Daryl had been given incorrect advice from an inexperienced advisor. He’d presented a ‘fit note’ saying he was too ill to look for work. His advisor had told him he did not have to take any further action. Two days before he was due to be paid, he discovered his Universal Credit claim had been shut down, as he had not been completing his work-search activities. He has had to open a new claim, and take a £300 Advance Payment, despite his advisor admitting his mistake. We advised Daryl to put in an appeal and make a formal complaint, as you can’t live on an apology. If you are ill and on UC (either ill temporarily, or long term and waiting for an assessment) you can still be expected to look for work and carry out other activities. You can, however, argue – with the help of your GP – that there would be substantial risk to your health if you were treated as fit to look for work or made to do certain things, and it is not ‘reasonable’ to expect you to do these. This should be agreed with your ‘advisor’ and recorded, so they can’t go back on what they have said!

Altogether, the first day of October was another busy day for the stall. There was a nip in the air that suggested winter was definitely on the way, and the chill seemed to have set into the DWP. Business was brisk. We had a number of the usual questions and complaints about Universal Credit. There were also a few cases, such as Daryl’s, that were more complicated.

Graham had been made redundant earlier in the year, and wanted to talk about the stupidities of the system. His contribution-based (or New Style) JSA was coming to an end, and he was now faced with the five-week (plus) wait for his first Universal Credit payment. He’d also had difficulties when making the UC claim, as the DWP had judged him as having savings over the £16,000 allowed limit. These were long term savings for his retirement that he couldn’t easily redeem and use. He’d managed to sort the situation out, but he was rightly angry that he’d taken the old-fashioned approach of saving for a rainy day only to find he was ‘too rich’ to be given help when he needed it most.

Alice is a young mother who spoke to us about a couple of problems. Her Universal Credit had been subject to a sanction for a missed appointment. The sanction was imposed despite the fact she’d informed the jobcentre well ahead of time, and she’d had a good reason. Alice’s other problem was in some ways more serious. She had black mould growing in her flat which was irritating her asthma and making her ill. She rents from a private landlord, who has refused to deal with the problem. We told her to seek help from Shelter, who would be able to advise on her housing issue. They would also be able to give her help challenging the UC sanction.

Martin was with his son. He suffers from mental health problems, and is suicidal. He recently had to leave work due to stress and anxiety. His son is very concerned about the suicidal tendencies that Martin has exhibited. The good news is that he has a good doctor who is on their side. While there was little we could do for Martin’s health, we could advise him on benefits. The jobcentre had told to him apply for the Limited Capability for Work element under Universal Credit. This was almost certainly incorrect advice. It looks as though Martin has enough National Insurance contributions to be able to apply for contribution-based (New Style) ESA, which is generally better and takes the pressure off right away – avoiding the issues that Daryl was going through. We suggested that Martin also apply for Personal Independence Payment.

Shellie was in a similar situation. She been bumped from ESA onto UC. With her health problems increasing, we advised her to approach Dundee City’s Welfare Rights team, who would be able to help her with her Limited Capacity for work and PIP claims. As with Martin we gave our well-worn advice: Get help filling in the form, and go into the assessment with a witness.

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

Erratum: During a recent blog post we made reference to Brandy the King Charles Spaniel. Apparently, Brandy is a Cavalier King Charles, a related but separate breed. We apologise to Brandy for the error, and are now happy to set the record straight.

A September Afternoon


Scottish weather can be unpredictable. Sometimes it feels as though all four seasons have passed in just a single two hour stall. As it happens, this week’s stall took place on a quite pleasant September afternoon. We were joined this week by a comrade from Glasgow who has moved into the area to do a postgraduate degree. It was good to see him again and have his help on the stall. We were also graced with the presence of Brandy, the King Charles Spaniel, who got huge amounts of attention.

It was reasonably busy again, and we spoke to a number of people. These cases were all standard questions about Universal Credit, which we have covered in previous SUWN blogs ad nauseam. That said, a few quick observations can be made.

If you are struggling to make ends meet, it is always worth checking to see what help is available. Eddie provides case in point. He works part time, and has disabilities. Until he was told otherwise, he was unaware he was eligible for benefits such as PIP. He is now better off, and, importantly, less stressed about money. Eddie’s case illustrates two things. 1. If you are struggling, it can be useful to get a benefits check from a qualified welfare advisor. 2. If you are eligible for a benefit, apply for it.

Roddy told us he was coming to the end of a four month sanction. His original ‘misdemeanour’ was missing a Jobcentre appointment for medical reasons. He had also been refused a Scottish Welfare Fund Crisis Grant, despite not having had one before. We’ve taken up his case, and won’t say much more, as it is still live. But it does underline our advice that if you have been sanctioned, you should put in a Mandatory Reconsideration as soon as possible, and then appeal the decision if this fails.

As its name suggests, the Scottish Welfare Fund Crisis Grant is only available in Scotland, though some English councils have similar Welfare Schemes. To apply for a Crisis Grant you must go through your local council, who make the decisions. If you are refused, you can challenge the decision. You should do so in writing to your local council within 20 working days of the decision, explaining clearly why you think it was unfair. They will arrange for someone new to look at it again. Shelter Scotland’s website has some useful information about Crisis Grants here. They can provide a vital lifeline – and could be even more important if the Scottish Government increased the money available, as we and others have repeatedly called for.

Picture Credit: September Afternoon, Eastern Townships. John Arthur Fraser, (1838 – 1898). National Gallery of Canada

Computers and Washing Machines: A Stall Report


It’s impossible to know how busy an SUWN stall will be. Recently they have been either very quiet or very busy. There has been no middle ground.

This week we debated holding the stall somewhere else in the city. In the end we chose to set up shop outside the Jobcentre once again. This is, after all, where people expect us to be. They know that we will be there, come rain, shine, hail or heat. This week’s stall was busy. As well as speaking to a number of people, we also got through about twice the usual number of leaflets. Thanks to Jock and Gary for lending a hand this week.

As well as the stalls, we also continue to accompany people into Work Capability Assessments, PIP assessments, and Compliance hearings. (One of each this week). These are coming thick and fast at the moment. We are glad to say that we have a good success rate.

We often refer claimants onwards to other organisations. This way they can talk to someone who is best placed to help them. For example, we send people to the council’s Welfare Rights team for benefits advice. We also send them to Shelter if they have specific housing issues. Sometimes, we tell people to go to their elected representatives.

This week, Lucy told us the saga of her washing machine. She is a council tenant, and her washing machine broke down over a month ago. Consequently, she had to do her and her children’s washing by hand. Repeated calls to the Housing Department have proved fruitless. We advised her to see an elected councillor, who would have the authority to investigate. This useful link from Shelter Scotland makes clear what Scottish council and housing association tenants should be able expect their landlord to repair.

Flora also had a saga to tell us. She has been on Universal Credit, and has been left without money. Her case is being dealt with by a local law firm, and so there was little extra we could do for her. We offered to get her a referral to a food bank. She said she was “OK for this week”, but that she may need to use them soon.

Some people just want reassurance. We are always happy to give a listening ear. After taking one of our leaflets, one girl let off steam about being unable to find suitable work. One man was worried about the constant threat of sanctions. Another man had just started signing on, and had a rant about the wait for his first payment. For these people it can actually be a help just knowing they are not alone in thinking the situation is awful. They also know there are people out there who they can turn to if needed.

One complaint we hear at nearly every stall is the requirement under Universal Credit to complete job searching activities online. This week’s complaint on the subject came from Jack. Jack is a smart guy, but he simply cannot use a computer. Jack comes from a generation where computers were simply not used. UC claimants are expected to search for jobs online, and log their activities in their online journal. Communication between claimants and the DWP is also supposed to be through the UC online journal. This is fine for claimants who are digitally literate, but many find using even a basic desktop computer can be nigh on impossible.

When UC was set up, anywhere with public computers was overwhelmed. Then local councils were given money to provide assistance for those struggling with computers. In Dundee there are a number of Job Shops run by the City Council, and Dundee Central Library relies on a number of enthusiastic volunteers to provide computing help. We keep a stack of information leaflets on our stall which outline the services available in Dundee. We frequently need to replenish these, which demonstrates these services continue to be in high demand.  These leaflets are provided by the council, but the Jobcentre do not seem to give them out. (An online version of the leaflet is available here. )

Claimants like Jack, who are inexperienced, have to rely on others to guide them thorough the process of logging on, searching job sites, and using their Universal Credit account. As it happens, this author is a weekly patron of a local job club and has seen numerous new computer users get frustrated, as a patient member of staff assists them. This help is often of the level of “move the mouse, click here, and type there”. It takes time to learn any new life skill, and people need to go at their own pace.

It is an inescapable fact of life these days that most job adverts are posted online, even for jobs that themselves require no computing knowledge. It must be quite frightening to be suddenly expected to be competent in something with which you have little experience. It adds another layer of difficulty to the search for work. This is the root of Jack’s complaint, and what causes him stress. It’s not just that he has had to learn how to use a computer, but that he is expected to be proficient from the start in order to receive his benefits.

A wasted opportunity – with big knock-on costs

wheelchair man on beach

Our simplest and most basic demand of the Scottish Government has been for more help for people to get the benefits they are due, but by focusing their efforts on the promotion of devolved benefits, they are missing the opportunity to help vulnerable lives both now and in the future.

Most at risk – as so often – are the sick and disabled. The DWP makes no attempt to estimate the take up rate of DLA and PIP. Of course it is not easy to estimate how many people who have not applied for these would be eligible, but it is a crucial part of providing a social security service.  Although the Scottish Social Security Committee is discussing these issues, this is happening too late – and not just for those missing out now. When Scotland takes over the running of disability benefits in 2020/21, the funds they will have to do this will depend to a large extent on the money claimed in Scotland for DLA and PIP this year. A big drive to encourage and help people to apply is needed NOW.

(Thanks to Ian Davidson for drawing our attention to this.)

Liberty Equality Solidarity! – SUWN goes to Aberdeen


The Indy marches and rallies achieve three things. They rally campaigners with a shared, uplifting, and enjoyable day out; they ensure the Indy cause remains firmly and visibly on the map; and they provide an opportunity for the grassroots Indy movement to make clear that Indy must be more than a change of flag. Yesterday’s speakers all talked about the opportunity to create a better, fairer Scotland – including a powerful anti-establishment speech from Veterans for Scottish Independence. There were speakers from CND, Extinction Rebellion, and Catalonia. Sarah gave a message of international solidarity, and Duncan gave his first public speech for the SUWN, which you can watch below (introduced by Tony who was compering the rally).

We took through a minibus of marchers aged under 6 to over 60, and we handed out 500 leaflets with our message for radical change and solidarity. For those who didn’t get one, this is what they said:

The SUWN has supported independence since before the 2014 referendum. We have always argued for the need to look after our own affairs through a totally independent Scottish parliament; but this is only part of the story. We also have to make sure that our independent Scotland is run by and for ALL its people, and isn’t just a smaller echo of the elite politics that we are escaping from. We don’t want Edinburgh aspiring to compete with the City of London, while a whole section of the population is priced out of a decent life. We don’t want an economy that sacrifices the common good and the future of our planet for the sake of private profit.

We know that most people who support independence do want to see an independent Scotland that creates a fairer society, and we call on everyone to make this demand central to the independence campaign. It is no use claiming that we can think about what sort of Scotland we want later. History is full of examples of movements that have put aside demands for wider social change till after independence, only to find themselves dismissed and side-lined once independence was won.

We don’t just want a change of flag. We want to make a better society – where there is no need for an unemployed workers’ network.

We are also very aware that winning a majority for independence will only be part of the independence process. There are a lot of powerful institutions that don’t want this to succeed – we were only ‘allowed’ a referendum last time because they were sure we wouldn’t vote yes. We hope the Scottish solution is constitutional and peaceful, but we have seen how painful independence struggles can be.

As supporters of independence and the right to self determination we want to express our solidarity with others who have campaigned for the right to run their own lives and enjoy their own culture, only to be met with brutal suppression by bigger nations who deny them their separate identity and exploit their resources.

Palestinian flags have long been welcome on Indy marches. This last fortnight, the world became more aware of the situation of the people of Kashmir, as India formalised decades of violent repression by unilaterally ending Kashmir’s constitutional autonomy, arresting politicians and human rights activists, and cutting off all forms of communication. In the SUWN we have been active in supporting the Kurds, who have combined their struggle to express their cultural identity, with the struggle for a better form of society.

In Northern Syria, the Kurds used the political vacuum created by the civil war to establish an autonomous region based on a bottom-up democracy, which emphasises women’s rights and a multicultural society. Its grassroots politics and community values provide a model for everyone looking for an alternative to our greed-based system. Almost as soon as they had begun to get this established, they were attacked by ISIS. Now that they have successfully fought back, and liberated large areas of Syria at the expense of thousands of young lives, they are being threatened by the full force of the Turkish army, the second biggest army in NATO. Their fate depends on the political machinations of Turkey, the US, Russia and Iran – all of them in Syria for their own selfish interests.

By making more people aware of the Kurds’ position we can try and make it a little bit harder for these new imperialists to wipe the Kurds from the map.

You can check out what is happening on anfenglishmobile.com

Use www.writetothem.com to ask your MP to raise the issue of the Turkish threat in parliament, and to demand the Kurds be given a say in their own future.

And find out what is happening in Scotland on

www.sskonline.org.uk and www.facebook.com/ScottishSolidaritywithKurdistan


It’s a Dug’s life


We make no apology if these blogs are often grim reading. We write this record of our experiences to inform both those in similar situations and a wider public, and to serve as an archive for the future. Reports from the stalls are a record of what is happening as a result of UK Government policy. At this week’s stall we were joined by Brandy and Trudy, two affiliate canine members of the group.

Connor has a mobility disability and is being shifted from Disability Living Allowance to Personal Independence Payment. This is happening nationwide, and it seems to have struck our local area a lot recently. Connor is one of a number of people we have spoken to about their move from DLA to PIP. As ever, we gave the standard advice: get someone to help you fill in the form, and get someone to go into the assessment with you.

Alison is also moving onto PIP. She is being helped by Citizen’s Advice (CAB) to fill in her forms. Unfortunately, CAB is over-subscribed and her appointment with them falls two days after the form’s deadline. She will need to ask the DWP for an extension. (Unlike for Work Capability Assessment claims, two-week extensions can be given for PIP fairly routinely, but this is a worrying situation.) Alison took one of our leaflets, and may ask us to accompany her to the assessment, as CAB doesn’t do that bit.

We also advised Sean that he could be eligible for PIP. He’d left his driving job due to health problems. His former employers agreed that he couldn’t do his job. The DWP, however, had assessed him as ‘fit for work’. He took the case to a Mandatory Reconsideration, which failed. Sean is now getting help to appeal the decision. In the meantime, he has no savings, and will have to apply for Universal Credit. (You can only get contributions-based ‘New Style’ JSA for 6 months after you have left work) We also advised him to apply for PIP.

Michelle is on New-Style ESA. However, this does not cover her housing costs, and she had to apply for UC as well to pay her rent. Due to the delays in her UC, she had to get an initial loan. Repaying the loan has left her very little actually to live on. We suggested she apply to the Scottish Welfare Fund, as that might ease her financial situation.

It can get tedious giving out the same information again and again to different people. What is particularly frustrating is that this is often basic information that the Jobcentre/DWP is either not telling people, or getting wrong. It is gratifying therefore to hear the words of people like Harry. Harry is a new Universal Credit claimant. As he was going in, he took one of our leaflets and simply said, “It’s reassuring to know that there’s someone helping people.”

Mental illness, money, and survival

Mental health

We are constantly being told that mental illness is an epidemic. Indeed it is. Especially among men.

Last year the UK Government created the much-ridiculed position of ‘Minister for Suicide Prevention’. Since 2011 they have collected statistics on happiness and ‘wellbeing’. To those with real mental health issues these derisory public relations stunts are insulting and ultimately meaningless.

Back in the real world, we all know that economics is a major cause of the UK’s mental health crisis. The link between poverty and poor mental health is indisputable fact. We all know this link: money is survival. Money means shelter. Money means warmth. Money means food. Without these basic needs met, human beings cannot survive. If we cannot achieve these basic needs, we worry about them and we are anxious. Prolonged mental anguish leads to mental illness, chronic anxiety, depression and, if left unchecked, suicide.

This is why benefit sanctions are so scandalous. Sanctions take away the means of survival. People literally worry about where their next meal is coming from. In the deep past our hunter-gatherer ancestors had to contend with these worries on a daily basis. Eventually our species invented agriculture. Agriculture meant being able to store food so we had enough to eat during lean periods. In today’s world of plenty, it is appalling that anyone goes hungry. That it happens as a result of government policy in a rich country like the UK is nothing short of immoral.

The DWP accept that in certain circumstances poor mental health can mean you are unable to work or even that you are fully disabled. Actually proving this is incredibly hard work. It is stressful in itself, and they make the system even worse, to the point where it feels like torture.

Recovering from depression is a long and fragile process. Just about anything can trigger a relapse, including the DWP deciding to re-evaluate your case. One associate of the SUWN suffers chronic depression. His condition means that he is unable to work, and he claims Employment and Support Allowance. The DWP recently put his ESA case up for re-evaluation. The appointment letter for his assessment arrived, and he spent the following two weeks lying on the sofa unable to think about much else. He now has the agonising wait for the decision. If that decision goes against him, his income will disappear, and he will be unable to support himself. He will also face the stress of a Mandatory Reconsideration, and possibly an appeal. NONE of this is conducive to him recovering from a serious depressive illness, nor, indeed, will it help him get employed.

He’s far from the only one suffering from the stress of trying to survive. At this week’s SUWN stall another man picked up one of our leaflets and asked about renegotiating his Universal Credit loan repayment. Another asked about hardship payments. In the end both men were sent off in the direction of Dundee Council’s Welfare Rights team. Two separate women at the stall asked about the process of applying for PIP, both are getting help from other sources, so there was little more we could do to advise them. Away from the stalls, the SUWN helped another woman fill in her PIP form, as she is being transferred from DLA. It is always good to see that people are asking for help, and that they are not suffering alone.

But, these people should not have to suffer at all. The stress that people are under can only lead to a worsening of their mental and physical health, and add to the mental health crisis that the Government claims to be addressing. Take away someone’s money, and you take away their means of survival. Uncertainty about the next meal leads to anxiety. Chronic anxiety leads a mental health crisis. If the UK Government really wanted to address mental health, they could start with a serious look at the chaos they have created within the benefits system. It really is that simple.

If you are feeling down or stressed and need someone to talk to try:

Breathing Space (Scotland): 0800 83 85 87

Samaritans (UK): 08457 90 90 90 or from Mobiles: 116 123

Samaritans (Rep. Ireland): 1850 60 90 90