A little more about mental health conditions and unemployment as described by people who are experiencing those things in our hardbitten day and age:
I was at Oldham jobcentre last week. Outside, I spoke for some time with Peter*, a man in his 40s who struck up a conversation because he was nervous about going into the jobcentre for a meeting he’d been called to.
In the course of our discussion, Peter said he had depression so severe that he was hospitalised earlier this year for it. (It seemed that his jobcentre adviser knew about this depression. When Peter came out of the meeting later on, he showed me a leaflet about counselling sessions with numbers to call. His jobcentre adviser had given him the leaflet). Peter was unkempt on the day we met. He was dressed in sweatpants, a faded top and the soft pull-on shoes that some people wear as slippers. He said that he lived in a council house with his brother and mum. He was articulate, although I found him hard to follow at times, because we jumped between topics. I’ve transcribed the conversation below. I’m writing this to give you an idea of the way that people speak.
I’m also writing this to give you an idea of the DWP’s pettiness and threats. Such a lot of government communication with the unemployed takes this petty, but threatening, tone. We’ve seen that many, many times before, of course, but another look won’t go amiss. Peter showed me the letter that he’d received which called him to that day’s jobcentre meeting. He let me take a photo of it. I’ve posted a copy below. You’ll see this letter says that Peter’s Universal Credit will be docked if he missed his meeting without good reason (whatever that is these days) – he’ll lose £10.40 per day. It was a crappy threat on a crappy piece of paper – contempt written all over the thing. This is the sort of letter that the DWP sends to people with serious mental health conditions:
The threat certainly had its intended effect.
“It’s a good job I come down today, because that’s what would have happened to me, you know,” Peter said. “Sanctions, that’s what happened [to me] last year. Like it’s a long time – 91 days.”
The rest of the conversation followed the usual lines: another story of the endless march between the flat, the hospital, the doctor and the compulsory meetings at the jobcentre. This conversation is just so typical of the discussions I have at these places. The letter is typical too. I do sometimes wonder how many people are stuck in this recursive nothingness and why recursive nothingness is thought an acceptable service for people who are out of work. I know the answer to this, of course. So do you. People who attend jobcentres are considered inconsequential dropouts who must be abused into changing their feckless ways. I would say the same and more for bankers, but there we go. Government doesn’t throw bankers into these sorts of places and threaten them in exchange for taxpayer bailout money. Etc.
Peter, last week:
“She was all right in there. Nice person… she told me to I got to come in [for another meeting] in two weeks.
[We talked about disability benefits. Peter didn’t seem to think he was entitled to disability benefits, because that help was too hard to get] I don’t understand … if someone is really unwell, they [medical assessors for disability benefits] might knock you for six.
I got the feeling that they want people doing something, not sitting home – even if it is just coming here, so it’s not free money…
She [his jobcentre adviser] has given me this [Peter showed me a leaflet about a local organisation that offered counselling]. She said we can get through this together.
You have to be really bad [sick or disabled] to be on that [any disability benefits].
I got sanctioned last year, because I wasn’t doing enough work [search]. I was supposed to be doing 35 hours [of jobsearch activities] a week. That’s what they expected. That was just too much for me, of jobsearch, yeah. [Peter didn’t seem sure which jobcentre had sanctioned him. He said the sanction was imposed by the DWP].
I did it in different places, like the library. [It was too much for me]. I won an appeal, because I said I can’t do it, it’s too much. That’s what they expected of me if I was at work…
They sanctioned me for about two months. You have to pay back the hardship money. I lost about £600 for over two months, so I lost that. I was surprised I won, actually.
I was in hospital a couple of months. You know the reason why, don’t you – because I been that ill, so you know I was going to do.
It was really bad in hospital. I’ve got to fight. It’s really bad… for that one time, I give in. The doctor’s… I went into my doctor’s and I said I want to do it next Tuesday night and the police… so I was in hospital for a couple of hours and somebody talked to me and says then I felt like doing it.
I don’t know… that’s what we got to work out here… there is not psychiatry any more. Do you know what I mean… see somebody else…. saw somebody else.
It was a bit much, 35 hours [of jobsearch activities].
I can’t use a computer. Can’t concentrate enough. Not good chances of getting a job if I can’t use a computer.
I live with my mum in a council house, yeah.
I got to come back [to the jobcentre in a fortnight]. I don’t if she wants to know how many jobs [I need to search for each week], or if she just want to see us.
Some of them are good [in there]. Some of them are really bad.
I got sick notes and them… um, years ago, last year or something. I been in Manchester… it’s a good job I come down [to the jobcentre] today, because that’s what would have happened to me [he showed me the letter which said his benefit would be docked for non-attendance]. You know what I mean. Sanctions. That’s what happened last year. It’s a long time – 91 days.
I got to see the doctor tomorrow… if I hadn’t turned up for this meeting, how much would I have lost?