Yet another disabled JSA claimant is told that his jobcentre no longer has specialist support for disabled jobseekers:
Last week, I spoke at length with a 66-year-old woman who accompanies her son to his JSA signon sessions at a West Midlands jobcentre.
Her son has serious depression. His mental health condition can be so severe that he struggles to leave his flat and panics if anyone comes to his home. “That’s why I go to the jobcentre with him – because he just wouldn’t go. [If people don’t attend] then of course they get a sanction and they get no money.” This woman is her son’s appointee. He was receiving employment and support allowance, but was found fit for work after a work capability assessment. He is now on jobseekers’ allowance and is supposedly being “helped” to find work by his jobcentre and the DWP.
The problem is that this “help” is becoming very hard to find. At his most recent jobcentre meeting, this man and his mother were told that the disability employment adviser they’d been seeing for support was no longer working in that role at their West Midlands jobcentre. DEAs are/were jobcentre advisers who had extra training and time to support disabled claimants. DEAs are being removed from jobcentres. “She told me that she’s no longer the disability adviser, because they’ve stopped them. They’ve put her on the front desk with all the others. So basically, they’re disregarding disability now.” Her son has a sick note to excuse him from jobsearch activities for a set period of time. His mother said the adviser told her son that he might feel better and more able to look for work after the sick note expired. And there you have it: disability support at jobcentres for people who claim JSA and have serious mental health conditions.
There are two issues here.
One issue, as I say, is that disability employment advisers are being removed from jobcentres. DEAs weren’t all brilliant – I’ve had mixed experiences with them myself – but they were something, at least. You could argue the role was an acknowledgement that some disabled people who were looking for work required advisers with extra training in disability support.
The other very big issue is that the DWP claims it is replacing DEAs with “tailored support” for disabled people when it is not. I spend a lot of time in jobcentres. I really am not seeing this tailored service.
“Jobseekers now have access to dedicated work coaches, who are trained to provide tailored support specific to their individual needs,” the DWP told me when I asked the department how it planned to support disabled jobseekers as DEAs disappeared. (I asked the DWP for an updated statement on all of this last week and a comment on the West Midlands jobcentre situation. The DWP was supposed to send me a response by Friday. Tis Monday now. I still haven’t been sent a response). I continue to have serious doubts about the existence of this so-called tailored service. That’s because I’ve attended two jobcentre meetings with disabled claimants recently where advisers have made very clear that they can’t offer a tailored service for disabled people at their jobcentres. In both cases, the advisers told me and the people I was with that their jobcentres didn’t have the staff, or the time to give that support. Advisers couldn’t help people fill in job application forms (two of the people I attend with have learning and literacy difficulties), or provide extra assistance.
One adviser at a North London jobcentre said our best bet for help was to move a disabled man’s JSA claim to the Tottenham jobcentre, where two DEAs still worked (you can hear a recording of that conversation here). That adviser has since tried to send this man on yet another CV-writing employability course-thing at Reed (I believe this is the fifth such course that this man has been sent to. That should tell you all you need to know about the effectiveness of these courses). Then, an adviser at Kilburn jobcentre said that the disabled woman I was should attend a jobs-club morning at a local charity, because the charity might be able to offer the sort of support that the jobcentre couldn’t. That adviser said there was still a DEA working at Kilburn, but that the DEA was massively oversubscribed because she now worked across several offices.
“Basically, if someone has got support needs now [at this jobcentre], there is a problem,” I said.
“Big problem,” the adviser told us.
Meanwhile, the woman in the West Midlands wonders what will happen when her son’s sick note expires. This man requires considerable support in his day-to-day life. His mother feels that he’d find strict jobsearch requirements very difficult to meet without intensive support. “I do all his shopping,” his mother says. “Some days, he doesn’t even open the post, so it builds up. He opened it yesterday and discovered that someone was coming round to do a gas check. He went into a panic because somebody was coming to his home today and he couldn’t cope with that. He phoned me and I have had to make another appointment when I could be there.” As I say – she attends his jobcentre meetings with him.
Not all DEAs were or are brilliant, as I say, but they were probably better than nothing, which seems to be the alternative, in my experience at least. DEAs sometimes acted as a buffer against benefit sanctions for disabled people, too. This is important. I’ve attended meetings where a DEA said that she wouldn’t sanction the disabled person I was with, because she understood the reasons why that person struggled to meet jobsearch requirements. Other advisers may not understand, or care. This issue needs addressing, fast. Iain Duncan Smith plans to push more and more sick or disabled people off disability benefits and onto jobseekers’ allowance at jobcentres. I wouldn’t be getting too excited about the so-called “tailored support” that they’ll find when they get there.