For about a month now, I’ve been spending time outside London jobcentres with the Kilburn Unemployed Workers Group talking to people who are signing on about their experiences with JSA, sanctions and jobcentres. Last week, we went back to Kilburn. Recently at the jobcentre, we heard from one man who said he’d been sanctioned for several months. He was furious and screamed that he was “going to come back with a fucking hammer.”
I asked him if he wanted to talk about the sanction and he told me to fuck off. “Why the fuck would I want to talk about it?” he yelled as he disappeared towards the high street. Which was fair enough. I wouldn’t want to discuss a months-long sanction with some old blogger with a notebook. I’d want someone to fix the sanction. Who wouldn’t. I give you this as an example of the sort of fury and desperation that this vicious JSA sanctions regime generates and to put it to you that there’ll be more of it when conditions for JSA become even more demanding.
Doubtless, that’s the government’s plan – to push people on JSA and jobcentre staff to breaking point and then to sit back and enjoy the fallout. Personally, I can’t believe that people who are out of work are being targeted so viciously. It is not actually a crime to be unemployed. It can happen to anybody. The system ought to stop you from falling – not shove you until you do.
I hope some worthy or other out there is taking note of all of this. People are under serious stress here and someone needs to move on it. Stop cutting people’s money off. Stop it now.
At the most recent session, I spoke with:
Bruce*, a support workers in his 40s. He was furious because he’d actually found himself a job (not through the jobcentre), but had been signed off by the jobcentre a couple of months before he was due his first paycheck. He was still trying to sort out problems with fares and travel costs.
“[At my signing on appointment], they said “are you looking for work?” and I said “No, I’ve just got a job. They said “okay, we’ll sign you off then.” So they signed me off a couple of weeks before I was supposed to start work. This was at Christmas time. So I had no money for weeks and then I tried to explain to them that I was not going to get paid until the end of the month either. So I tried for a welfare assistance payment, but they said – “you’re not getting that, because you’re not signing on.” Then they stopped my housing benefit, because I wasn’t signing on and everything, so it was like – fantastic. They were giving me no help with my fares or nothing.
“Because I’ve been waiting for this job to sort out and waiting for my CRB checks to come through, they sent me on this stupid course at Wembley. It was just a two week thing – a waste of time. They teach you how to stick a piece of paper back together as a teamwork thing. I paid the fares myself. They said they’d reimburse me, but they lost the form and everything so I had to pay for it. It was a waste of my time going there. They said I’d get certificates for it. Waste of time. I said there’s no way I’m putting that on my CV. You’re having a laugh.
“I signed on for six months was made redundant. I moved up here [to London] thinking I’d get more work up here. It’s just been a nightmare really.
“Over that time, I borrowed with loans. Paying that back – it’s going to take another year or so to get out of it. They just like screwing you in to the wall. They don’t do anything when you get a job.
“They sent me on that stupid course and then promised me the work programme after it. You pay into this [system for help if you lose your job]. Some of the people in the jobcentre are all right, but as soon as you question them… they did threaten me with sanctions, because one of them couldn’t read my writing. They said – “that’s not good enough. If you do that again, we’ll sanction you.”
“I’m working and I still struggle. I had to ask if I could get paid in advance as soon as I started work.”
Next, I spoke to a woman who was in her 40s. We’ve met a number of times now. She used to be a factory worker and has signed on for several years. Last week, she was concerned about a letter that she had received which said that she must attend a meeting at the jobcentre in a week. The letter didn’t say what the meeting was about – just that she must attend and bring bank statements, and evidence of savings and earnings. She also had a letter which called her to training sessions with work programme provider Seetac. The sessions were for assertiveness training and things like that. It was a little difficult to see how she or anybody would fit a meaningful job search around all of that. She had folder stuffed full of paper.
“At the moment, I have to sign on every two weeks. If I wants to see my disability adviser, I have to come in for that as well. One time, I had an appointment with my disability adviser and one time I had to sign on two or three times in a couple of weeks. Now, I have to go to this work programme and this meeting.” She seemed bewildered.
*Name changed. I’m not putting names up at the moment in case people are sanctioned.