Mental health, sanctions and a whole bunch of nothing. More stories from the jobcentre.

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:

letter on UC sanctions

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?

16 thoughts on “Mental health, sanctions and a whole bunch of nothing. More stories from the jobcentre.

  1. My WRAG programme has just finished so I’m now told I have to go to appointments at the job centre and stories like this really scare me. I’ve suffered from severe anxiety and depression for years and have failed most of my initial assessments but won on appeal. I rarely leave my house and can only do so if my daughter’s with me. Whilst waiting for my last tribunal I was told I’d have to go to job centre to sign on until my appeal was accepted or get no money. I went with my daughter, who was told she couldn’t come in with me (I’ve since found out they were wrong to tell me that). When I got into the appointment room with my “job coach” she told me I’d have to come back every day for a few days and that it was time to pull myself together. I broke down in tears and ran out of the job centre. I didn’t go back again so went without any money for 4 weeks until my appeal was accepted. I’m so scared about what this coming appointment will bring. The court advised that I should remain on ESA for at least 2 years but have no idea what the job centre will be expecting from me this time. It’s all so frightening and wrong

  2. I got a 3 month sanction from oldham jobcentre,because a woman staff member failed to copy several work sheets,which has caused depression,I’ve made several appeals,and I’ve got nowhere,I’ve had to apply for hardship,and on several occasions,I was ejected,even after I was discharged from the hospital suffering from pneumonia,and a lung and kidney infection also.these sanctions force people to take there own lives,the staff at oldham centre are not bothered how these sanctions affect the genuine people,I worked for the same company for 12 years bringing my epileptic son up on my own,then the company shut down,and now I’m recovering,taking medication,the last payment I received was on the 14th of September which was a total of 55 pound,to pay my bills and buy food for a period of a do people from the dwp expect an I’ll man to survive on 55 pound,this hole issue needs to be addressed soon as possible.

  3. I have worked from leaving school at sixteen until five years ago when I was made redundant.being without a job left me spiraling into a period of depression which ended up with me attempting to end my life on a few occasions. I was sectioned and spent six months in a mental health unit over a two year period.with the help of medication I now function in a way which allows me to get through each day. I was on ESA but recently have had my claim suspended and now have to claim JSA and attend the job centre and face two weekly questioning which I find difficult and upsetting .I haven’t shot a chance of getting a job,a because of my mental health issues and my reliance on medication and b because of my age. I can feel myself slipping back mentally and think it’s only a matter of time before I end up back in hospital.the people who examined me for my ESA have no idea how a person who is reliant on medication to get through a day functions and came to their conclusion on the fact that I could walk and talk without being Abusive and have no idea about the struggle everyday is for me and plenty of other people in this world.

    • Did you go for Mandatory Reconsideration and Appeal Tribunal? If not and you’re still within the time limit I recommend that you do. it’s a bit of a stressful process but judging by your story you’re quite likely to win at Tribunal as they’re independent and generally fairer. Mandatory Reconsiderations rarely win but are a necessary step to Appeal Tribunal. Good luck

  4. Hi Kate,
    The DWP doesn’t just set things up so the vulnerable fail to make the grade it deliberately targets them too. Take a look at my web site.
    I shall be emailing Debbie Abrahams shortly and cc ing in all and sundry for someone to do something about this. I shall include you if you want me to.

  5. The photographed threat message seems to me to be ‘standard content’ for ‘form letters’ from officialdom.

    Wikipedia reports re ‘form letter’:

    “A form letter is a letter written from a template, rather than being specially composed for a specific recipient. The most general kind of form letter consists of one or more regions of boilerplate text interspersed with one or more substitution placeholders….”

    Yet the standard content photographed shows glaring typos that also hint of a contemptuous attitude on the part of the template authors/proofreaders toward the recipients.

    Truly effective jobsearch courses emphasise the importance of job applicants checking their application documentation for spelling errors. Bloggers may make typos in content that is essentially online and easily rectifiable; authors and proofreaders of ultimately printed content are required to be much more careful.

    It seems to me that the intended recipient is regarded as ‘a captive audience’ and the authors are ‘hell bent’ upon removing the safety net from people ASAP without checking facts first.

    • agreed. as soon as I saw that letter I thought – who the hell wrote that? Or is this just typical of the sort of stuff complete with keywords that automated systems guff out. I’ve seen this sort of written stuff before – total garbage.

  6. Who has the right to life? Not everyone it seems and it seems the government are ok with this, do the voting public really agree or do they nor realise that this is what they are voting for?

    I am running out of time. I am 45 and have had mental illness all my life since someone started the ball rolling by starting to abuse me before I was 2.

    I’ve struggled to survive independantly all my adult life, I’ve been in and out of work, attended college and university, raised a child (who got a first degree and is now doing a masters) but it’s fair to say I have definitely cost the state more than I have put in. I have worked hard in NHS therapy for 13 years, trying to mend deep routed and lifelong issues, but it is likely that this work may never be completed, it is likely that I will continue to improve and relapse for the rest of my life, I will always need benefits to help me when I am ill. Do I deserve life? Do I deserve life at the taxpayers expense? Or does the state have the right to tally up the cost of ‘ME’ and cut their losses?

    I can’t live under this system, I won’t live under it – I will be cutting my own losses as I am not now afforded any more time to heal. They can’t wait for me anymore and I can’t live with their ultimatum. My essential NHS therapy service is being cut, I am alone with this now. I have PIP till 2019 but ESA till only next July. I want to keep a roof over my daughter’s head till September so she can complete her masters, then my time is probably up. Do the voters know that they are voting to drive people into insanity and death? This is not about choosing to tighten our belts, it’s about having a life worth living.

  7. My letter of appointment at the Job Centre now that my WRAG programme has finished was basically 3 pages explaining all the ways I can be sanctioned. I remember the days when the Job Centre actually used to provide help to get back into work, these days they seem to just be looking for ways to remove your money and make your life hell

  8. Pingback: Mental health, sanctions and a whole bunch of nothing. More stories from the jobcentre. | Kate Belgrave | Britain Isn't Eating

  9. Yet another inhuman treatment of a vulnerable guy trying his very best to survive in this harsh and cruel Tory environment.
    What gets me after reading his Appointment (Threat) letter is they have the fking audacity to sign off “Sincerely”!

  10. Feel so sorry for this guy, it seems like a really bad system they have set up, I’ve recently just found out that i suffer with anxiety, and have done for a while and can’t really remember what it was like not to have it, i just thought it was how i was and had to deal with it, but now it explains alot, of why i had so much trouble with little things that other people take as second nature, seems like such a struggle for me to do,

    But all the way throughout my time on the jobcentre, i’ve gone through the same struggles of going to interviews, and even appointments, its that bad that i don’t even like going outside alone, even if its something as “easy” as going to the shop,
    But recently i’ve been santioned more months then ive been paid money, and then the other months im getting so much deducted for repayments of hardship payments, i can’t even remember the last time i got a proper payment off them, must have been before christmas now anyways, the sanctions was mostly because i missed appointments as i find it hard to remember days and dates and things, even what day it actually is sometimes its weird, thats the reasons i give on my appeals and they all got denied,

    There was a time i went into the jobcentre about a hardship payment because of a sanction, they told me that my sicknote had ran out a few days before so they can’t do anythin for me until i get that sorted or show proof of my “job search”, i told the woman that i’ve been trying to get a doctors appointment for weeks now, but the one doctor who i finally found who im confortable talking with, and to stick with because i don’t like switching around doctors having to go through everything everytime, but she was only in the doctors surgery thursdays/fridays of the week, so it was hard to catch her for an appointment, alls the woman had to say about this was that there is still nothing she can do, and that i can either go away and try get an appointment (again, even though i’ve already been trying every morning when they open to try book one,) or that i have to show job search, i told her that i haven’t been looking for work because im not actually able to work at the moment, she didn;t care, she just handed me a pen and peice of paper and said basically there my only choices, So ofc i feel abit confused about this as she knows i haven’t been looking for work, didnt offer me a computer and stuff, just said go over and write it down and come back when your done, So… her being a member of the jobcentre.. i did it, later that day i got a phone call saying my hardship payment has actually been denied, and that the reason for this was due to “insufficient jobsearch” which i could already see coming to be honest,but this all just added to my stress and stuff, meaning i need to go to the jobcentre again, and again, and then eventually ithink it was like.. a week or two after i was actually due any payment, i got granted ithink it was around £80, but i live with my parents and i pay them more then that alone every month,

    I don’t know if everyone is getting treated like this, wether they are able to look for work or not, but it doesn’t seem right to me that we get passed back and forth, getting told different things by everyone, and its basically just a whole lot of confusion,

    As peter said, there are nice people, who do their best to try and help you out, which i really appreciate, and thank them for, but then there are others who at times don’t even seem like they know what they are doing, no offence, but i’ve had to talk people through things about sanctions, and other stuff like that before on the phone because it seems i’ve had more experience with them then the actual people working for the DWP,

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