“They threatened sanctions because they couldn’t read my handwriting”

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.

He said:

“[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.

She said:

“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.

Previous transcripts:

First story from outside the jobcentre: Kilburn
Second story from outside the jobcentre: Neasden
Third story from outside the jobcentre: Marylebone

17 thoughts on ““They threatened sanctions because they couldn’t read my handwriting”

  1. My threatened sanction was for not putting reference numbers against 2 of the 10 jobs I had applied for in a week. I pointed out there were no reference numbers for these (just small employers – they don’t use reference numbers) and whilst telling the adviser this, I pointed to an example joblog page sellotaped to his booth divider, where some of the examples there did not have reference numbers! He said, “I’m not talking to you Mr X.”

    He referred me for a sanction, which I got overturned, but it meant two weeks waiting for money and I also got no formal notification of the intended sanction.

  2. And to add insult to injury, the media – including the BBC – publish stories about falls in unemployment with little or often no mention of the impact unjustified and vindictive sanctions are having on those figures.

    • That is a really interesting point Dave and I’ve thought about that a lot. Do those figures catch the people who must return and return to the jobcentre and JSA between low-paid, insecure jobs and the people who have to try and factor zero hours employment into all of this? I’m guessing the guy I spoke to for this story was off the unemployment figures because he would have been counted as having a job, even though signing him off so early was cruel. They should have signed him off when he got his first paycheck. “Punishment for being honest,” he called it.

  3. Southpawpunch,
    Terrible. This country is declining fast.
    I’m on ESA, so am not currently subjected to such treatment, but if I was I honestly think I would find it very difficult not to resort to a loud tirade of verbal abuse, despite that making things even worse.

    • Thanks, Dave, and funny you should say that about ‘abuse’.

      My view has always been that workers in Jobcentre are that – and are so deserving of basic solidarity even when they seem to be going out of their way to be unpleasant (forced by their bosses) but I am being forced to rethink a bit.

      Things change – I have always thought cops are beyond the pale (wouldn’t want them in trade unions, for example) – but many now do jobs cops once did e.g. prison escorting, are done by others. Are they ‘new cops’? Some JCP staff are heading that way.

      I strictly never swear at any worker and whilst I am politely assertive when necessary, I am very careful to not act in anyway that could be taken as threatening, rude, an aggressive etc but when I was reading from FOI printouts (incredibly) to tell them in the JCP last year, that, no, being called on Jury Service DOES NOT mean I lose my benefits, this adviser called me a “jerk” and a “loser.” I firmly (and politely) asked him to cease.

      A few days later I get a formal warning letter from the Regional Office about my “abusive conduct”. I immediately replied denying I did anything whatsoever and demanded to know what they allege. A reply to that was that I will be ‘told no more’ and, in short, watch my step. And now that Adviser tells me that I am flagged and I should, indeed, watch my step or ‘next time’ (no details are given – a bluff? Who knows?) but this other Adviser got quite concerned when she was reading this (I presume) and went quickly away from me to consult whether I was ‘safe’ (I’m guessing this from her reaction and what I could overhear).

      Even when I worked for a hard Tory council, such concerns about e,g. tenants had to be shared with them (unless e.g. properly confidential e.g. Social Services referral); they had a right to add their version, tenants were clearly told they would be treated in exactly the same way as before except minor points like it might always be 2 officers to visit them and the record would be deleted after a year (if no further ‘alleged’ – and we were careful to stress the word ‘alleged’ – incidents happened.)

      I’m now feeling a little sorry that I did not ask for the video to be viewed of the incident which would have shown me clearly sitting throughout and politely offering various FOI printouts whilst the Adviser eventually storms out of his chair and he will be seen mouthing off at me from behind my chair as he storms over the room. I did not raise the video because I did not want to cause him grief with his bosses. I do wonder now whether JCP staff deserve such consideration.

  4. Kate, is there any possibility you might be covering Dalston/Hackney any time soon? It’s been two years since I signed off but I pass by my erstwhile Work Programme provider on a daily basis and it’s fascinating how every other week or so the police are being called out. I remember my first day turning up for the Work Programme and it was within minutes of the police leaving – as it transpired, someone had attacked my advisor. Mind you, after the first week, I completely understood how this could happen….

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  13. Oh my god, im sure the jobcentre staff are just mindless robots. today they had a go at me for not applying for 3 jobs that just come up recently….. um well 2 u need full driving licence ( i cant drive ) n the other you need to be a Qualified Helicopter Instructor ( which strangely i dont have ) Those were the only jobs that were showing on there stupid website in my area. The woman had the ordasity to actually threaten me with a sanction.

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