You’re on benefits. How dare you enjoy a hamburger, a cigarette, a drink or a life?

This is the sort of story that really gets my back up – it’s a story about the state looking to catch benefit claimants out and making sure to utilise every one of the petty ways open to it to do this. Why aren’t bailed-out bankers hauled out for the sort of probing described below?

A few days ago, I spoke again to this young woman. She is 22 years old and has a four-year-old daughter. She’s been trying to sort out her Universal Credit claim for ages.

She told me about an argument she’d had at a London jobcentre she’d recently signed on with. It’s the sort of story I hear a lot – it’s about a jobcentre adviser and a benefits claimant arguing the toss over a small expenditure that appeared on a bank statement. This story may not sound like a big deal to some, but it is. I think that this nit-picky reading of bank statements by officials is one reason why people don’t apply for state help to which they may well be entitled.


At one of this young woman’s jobcentre meetings, a jobcentre adviser who was reading through the young woman’s bank statements happened upon a small payment to a fast food establishment. This immediately turned into a drama – doubtless heard by many the jobcentre, given the total lack of privacy in these places. The adviser demanded to know how and why the young woman was spending money on burgers and blah blah blah.

The young woman told me that a friend gave her some of the money afterwards to pay for the food, but that they had used her card at the time, because the friend didn’t have the cash with her to pay then and there. It was the sort of on-the-spot arrangement that takes place between friends around the world about a million times an hour, etc. Or should I say – it was the sort of on-the-spot arrangement that some people are permitted to make and others are not. Those who earn their “own” money are allowed to make those sorts of agreements with friends. People who receive benefits are not. They must make sure that they are in a position to justify every penny and know that they will be dealt to if they can’t, or if some official somewhere doesn’t like their explanation, etc. A bank statement does not, of course, offer any sort of back story. It simply lists financial transactions. The jobcentre adviser in this case assumed, of course, that the young woman was lying when she said somebody else paid towards the food. The subtext was and always is, of course, that the young woman was a) wildly irresponsible financially, b) a pisstaking benefits claimant and c) flush with cash.

I’ve seen this sort of thing a number of times, across several benefit processes. You see it a lot when people get so-called “debt advice” as part of a benefits or supporting payment process and must describe their outgoings. I usually think Oh For God’s sake. A couple of burgers. A TV licence. Who cares. The whole scene is unbelievably petty and grubby. The amounts of money are small and the items neither here nor there. Why shouldn’t people have a few small things to get through life from time to time. Bailed-out bankers do. To say the least. Of course – none of these Why Are You Spending Money On Burgers/A Telly/Cigarettes/Whatever conversations are ever really about money. Nor are they about helping people find work, or to earn more money, or whatever it is this part of the system is supposed to do. These conversations are about something else. They’re about punitive state departments backing people into a wall because they can. They’re about a wretched abuse of power. They’re about bureaucracies which feel utterly enabled by widespread political contempt for certain groups of people (those groups of people being benefit claimants and immigrants if you’re wondering). Bureaucracies can accuse, quibble and query, and so they do. They always have done, of course, but they’re really going for it these days. Contempt for benefit claimants allows that. We’ve reached a point in history where even an occasional expenditure by a benefit claimant on a small pleasure like a hamburger is practically considered a hanging offence. As I said at the start, it’s just a pity that political worthies don’t take the same view of members of a banking sector who’ve spent the last near-decade cruising about on public bailouts.

Any sense of proportion or humanity that might have existed in this system has gone. You see that everywhere – in the details people must give when claiming benefits, in the long-winded forms they must complete, in the endless assessments they must attend and in the utterly dysfunctional process that is thought acceptable for people who need to claim benefits or assistance of some kind. There are officials lined up all over the place who can pick through and question every penny of your income and outgoings if you’re receiving a benefit. Same generally goes if you’re applying to your council for, say, rent help with a discretionary housing payment. I’ve worked through that often-torturous and detailed application process with a number of people. Councils want to know it all. Here’s an example – Birmingham council wanting to know about your spending on TV rental, Sky or Cable TV, internet, entertainment (whatever that is), and travel costs and all the rest.

You’re expected to grovel at all times, of course. If you don’t, you’ll be told off by anyone who thinks that they’re entitled to a view on the way that you spend your money. Which is just about everyone these days. If you’re claiming state help in any form, you’re glared at for having a telly, a pet, a cigarette, a drink, or even a reasonable change of clothes. The world has very strong views on the sort of appearance and behaviour that constitute poverty (witness the homeless bloke in this interview who said that people sometimes said they doubted he had financial problems because his clothes were okay).

Certainly, the world likes to think that people who claim benefits are suffering. Increasingly, the world wants to inflict further suffering. Any suggestion that someone who claims a benefit might have enjoyed a treat is pounced on. No matter that the whole point of state assistance is (or was) to keep everybody above a certain line, rather than below one. And as I say – and I’m going to keep saying this – it’s a pity that members of the bailed-out banking sector who continue to profit and enjoy aren’t regularly hauled out in public for the same sort of deeply personal probing. One rule for all, etc. I’d pay a raised tax to see that.

And then there are the bank statements. I personally view this officious combing of bank statements as the digital equivalent of rummaging through trash for evidence of unapproved income, expenditure and enjoyment. As income and spending move online and a cashless society looms, the scene gets uglier. The equation is unfair in the extreme. So what if somebody buys a hamburger? Nobody knows the back story and anyway, buying a hamburger hardly busts an economy. So what if someone’s auntie slings a few quid into a bank account to help a woman and her kids through a difficult time? Ironically enough, the first thing that jobcentre advisers say to someone who is sanctioned, or who is in hardship for whatever reason is “ask your friends and family if you can borrow some money.” I’ve sat at jobcentre meetings where advisers have said that. Any extra money people are given can appear in a bank account. I fail to see how telling someone off for a small purchase out of that improves their chances of finding a job or earning more either, but, as I say, that sort of thing is not the point of these exercises. The point is to make sure that people who get assistance know that a punitive state owns every part of their lives.

28 thoughts on “You’re on benefits. How dare you enjoy a hamburger, a cigarette, a drink or a life?

  1. I’ve witnessed similar experiences, particularly with disputed benefit claims, whereby the DWP or the local authority refuse to pay someone their proper entitlements for a number of weeks due to them disbelieving some minor detail related to the claim.

    Once we’ve then resolved that in favour of the person claiming, they turn around and refuse to pay because they ask “Well how have you been surviving whilst we haven’t been paying you? You must have undisclosed income you haven’t told us about”.

    People who don’t see this kind of thing refuse to believe that it goes on but it does every day and its simply designed to humiliate and frustrate.

  2. Pingback: You’re on benefits. How dare you enjoy a hamburger, a cigarette, a drink or a life? | Benefit tales

  3. Hi, Kate

    I have just e-mailed think tank ReformUK commending that their researchers and associates browse this blog post for a more balanced viewpoint. (According to them, the future of public services is apparently all-digital; I suppose that’s a convenient way for corporations to privatise public services, not just the welfare state.)

    Here, I shall just touch upon one aspect of what you raise here, and that is the pettiness of council benefits officials. In my experience, the most petty ‘fine toothcomb’ stuff I’ve been subjected to was — as I recall — just over 10 years ago when Jsa had erroneously claimed that my part-time earnings forms revealed I was not entitled to Jsa, and I eventually had no alternative but to claim Housing Benefit on the basis of a nil income.

    It was not about my bank statements but my savings. (I keep my plastic transactions as limited as possible to streamline my own checking of my bank statements to help me identify any potentially fraudulent transactions.) A Camden Benefits staff member told me that the Council would prefer that I cash in the £6 Premium Bonds savings I had from the 1970’s — before the minimum Premium Bonds purchase became hundreds of pounds!

    Maybe it was the Council’s intention that I place all my hopes and energies on getting paid work? Give us a break!

  4. ReformUK just seems like yet another nasty right-wing think tank staffed by people who don’t have the first clue about what it’s like to claim a benefit, or to rely on benefits. I read a piece on the site about Welfare Reform, and the intentions were clear – cut benefits! Sure, there were a few tentative suggestions that the welfare system should be fair to all, but basically that just means everyone gets the same rubbish service. The writer even had the gall to suggest that the introduction of the benefit cap actually boosted the numbers in work. Whilst I’m sure that is true statistically, people to me are not statistics, and I doubt for a moment any thought was given to the kind of jobs people go for, such as the zero hour stuff and part-time, insecure work that pays the minimum wage, which is by no means a living wage, but then, neither is the so called Living Wage, as that itself is calculated with Tax Credits in mind. A true living wage would be around the £13 an hour mark.

    The piece also discussed the reluctance of people to move off benefits, suggesting that sanctions and reducing the level of benefit is a good idea in that it motivates people! People are not stupid, if work was paid decently, was plentiful and easily available there would be a correspondingly huge decrease in the levels of unemployment. It is really that simple, and these overpaid tossers who spend their days pontificating on how to increase the pain of poor people need to get out and learn about life more – indeed, they should start to point out to the government the stark bleedingly obvious, that people need decently paying jobs, and that to achieve full employment, (a stated, but not desired aim of this government) the working week needs to be radically reduced, (i.e. full-time = 20 hours a week, for no loss in pay) and substantial sums need to be invested in decent skills training in centres run by the public sector, and not the mickey-mouse crap that passes for training at the moment.

    Of course, think tanks like this exist to reflect government policy, to give academic credence to the regime. So it would probably be too much to expect organisations such as ReformUK to come up with any ideas that genuinely promoted a social security system, (I detest the word ‘welfare’) that is fair, and in place to ensure that people are not allowed to sink below a certain level, and not, as Kate mentions in this post, to keep people below it.

    • A problem with keeping benefits low is that it denies people adequate nutrition and stresses us out wondering how we will have money to survive the week. That compromised my immune system when I was in part-time work as a care worker in 2005/2006, caring much more for my service users than the State ever cared for me.

      Keeping benefits low and computer access minimal also discourages learning and instils fear of computing. I was blessed with very good keyboard training on an Audio-Typing & Office Skills Course in 1980 and had continual maintenance of those skills via second hand office manual typewriter gifted to me after that; the keys were very difficult to press compared to Windows operated manual keyboards, but I was much more prepared in that sense for Microsoft Office training in 1997 despite my learning difficulty.

      Then my mum asked how she could help as state-funded training period proved inadequate, and my original instructor at Camden ITeC advised that she buy me a PC, which she did and my abilities came on in leaps and bounds compared to the rubbishy training I got after Camden ITeC and my continued attendance there in my own time for basic NVQ. (The local Training & Enterprise Council denied me opportunity of continuing at Camden ITeC, for fear that I would become ‘institutionalised’; whatever happened to ‘the customer’/trainee having opportunity to choose?)

      And perhaps ReformUK’s attitude of ‘digitise public services to help privatise them’ leads to more stereotyping as in the Prevent Strategy?

      In any case, whatever consultation papers government departments come out with for transforming public services will be informed far more by the designs of such think tanks than by the people who have to put up with the results.

    • So true. I spent 5 years on benefits due to chronic back pain (after an injury), and depression/anxiety (which I’ve had since my teens, but it got a lot worse when I became disabled). Before my injury, I’d been doing a PhD at Cambridge, was an up-and-coming research scientist with 13 published papers, loved my job (which was decently paid), and had a great long-term relationship, a decent amount of savings, and hefty retirement savings. I was extremely physically active – yoga 3 times a week, weight-lifting 3 times a week, cycling every day, hiking, canoe-tripping, and fieldwork for my job on a regular basis. Then I hurt my back. A disc slowly protruded, and then one day I coughed really hard and it ruptured, directly into my spinal nerves. I had never experienced anything even close to that level of pain. I literally fell to the floor in my bedroom and was unable to even roll over. My flatmate came home several hours later to find me still lying there, gasping. I had to have spinal surgery, which failed. I grew massive amounts of scar tissue, which wrapped around my spinal nerves and both sciatic nerves. My right leg wouldn’t straighten beyond about 100 degrees, so I couldn’t walk, and the pain was just… astounding. I was drugged to the nines 24/7.

      Physiotherapy, osteopathy, medical massage, medications, injections of various things into my spine (you have to be awake for those)… My pre-existing depression went from bad to suicidal (if I’d been able to get up off the floor and go to the kitchen to get a knife, I’d be dead). 6 weeks, said the consultant. Hmmm. 10 weeks… 3 months… 8 months… a year… I didn’t want to apply for benefits, so I used up my savings, and then my retirement savings, and then I ran up credit card debt. And then one day the consultant said, “We’ve tried everything. You’re going to have to learn to live with this.” ?!

      My boss hired someone to replace me. I went bankrupt, and my credit score dropped to rock bottom. My partner of 6.5 years left me, because he didn’t want to be with someone so disabled, and because I couldn’t have kids anymore. I still couldn’t walk, the medication side effects were horrible, and the pain, the pain the pain. I had to move in with my Dad, in Canada. Luckily, he had money at the time, and although he had just retired and was in his late 60’s, he spent it liberally on at least 3 hours a day of intensive treatment of every possible kind for a year, which included having several of the pain nerves in my spine destroyed by sticking needles in there and cooking them with an electrical current (again, while awake). Those thousands and thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours are the only reason I can walk, now (thank you so much, Dad).

      After a year my pain was reduced by a third, and I could walk about half the time. I came back to the UK, keen to get my life back on track. My PhD programme gave me 3 weeks to finish the project I’d been working on years before. Impossible. I got extensions, I worked harder than I’ve ever worked (overstressing my back, and badly screwing up my mental health), but I couldn’t make the deadline. They kicked me out. I don’t remember much about the next few months.

      5 years later, I’d accepted that I was disabled for life. I was fairly mentally stable, my back pain was still bad, but I’d learned ways to cope with it a bit better (and had better meds), and I desperately wanted to reclaim some tiny part of my life. I wanted to work, even if only part-time. My consultant said I could give it a try, so I got a part-time job.

      It didn’t pay enough to live on, but then, no job I was capable of doing paid enough to live on. I needed flexible hours, home-working almost all the time, and would regularly have a back spasm and disappear into a morphine fog for hours or days. I lost my benefits of course, but also my free prescriptions (9 every month), glasses, dental, etc. I lost my Housing Benefit. I had to pay Council Tax. I had to take the bus in twice a week for a meeting, and all my clothes were so old that I had to buy some nicer ones, even if only from charity shops. It took me 3 months to find out about Access to Work, during which time I lost 2 stone because I couldn’t afford enough food. It would have been worse, but “the food fairy” would drop off bags of shopping outside my door every so often. I became more and more depressed and anxious, and by the time Access to Work kicked in, my pain and mental health were much worse. Even with Access to Work, I was earning 70GBP less per month than I was on benefits, which was beyond absolute rock bottom. I only made ends meet because friends would bring dinner over, and sometimes they’d “lose” a 20GBP note in my room. My parents sent me “birthday money” a few times a year, as did my younger brother (I was 38 – humiliating). I made it a year and a half, at which point the job, the finances, the pain, the depression, the anxiety… It was far too much stress, anxiety, embarrassment, worry, and time (it takes a lot of extra time, as well as travel, to find the cheapest food or clothes or toiletries).

      My mental and physical health declined, until one day I had a back spasm so bad that the only way to treat it was with 5 days of inpatient IV morphine. My mental health, which had been getting worse, crashed. The Pain Clinic consultant told me that if I didn’t leave work, I was liable to do more permanent damage. I had to quit, despite the fact that I loved the job and I desperately wanted to stay in work. 2 years of terrible mental health and working my body back to the state it had been when I started work, and I’m still not able to go back.

      If only they’d helped me out that 70GBP per month more, I suspect I’d still be working, and in much better health. Sigh. Next time, if it doesn’t pay as much as benefits, I’m not taking the job. Learned stuck-on-benefits-itis.

  5. According to the National Audit Office, the UK Banking Bailout cost 850 billion pounds ! !
    And then the DWP complain about benefit claimants having a takeaway meal.
    Jesus H Christ. What kind of society are we living in ?
    This is all part of the poisonous jigsaw of so-called ‘welfare reforms’, that one by one have been pieced together until we finally see the wretched picture of cruelty and repression that has resulted. Or, to quote that well-known philosopher Mr. Duncan -Smith, ‘ social justice’.

  6. ” Why aren’t bailed-out bankers hauled out for the sort of probing described below?” Banks are protected by the financial services and markets act 2000 which suggests prosecution of senior (ie important) bankers has to be considered against the potential adverse effects of any such prosecution on the national economy. Blair, Brown and Darling apparently have much to answer for. You may care to note that all three now work for banks, Mandelson too.

  7. Not only do I think claimants should be pulled up about their benefit expenditure, but I think they should be sanctioned for it too! I was on benefits years ago and I was also dependent on drugs and alcohol. It nearly all went on that. They probably would have done me a favour. I haven’t had a drink for 7 years now.

    Let me get one thing clear. You claim benefits you have ZERO right to spend it on cigarrettes. E-cigs are a completely different story. They show you are making steps to improve yourself and make yourself healthier.

    Let me get another thing clear. You claim benefits you have ZERO right to spend it on booze.

    And one last thing, you walk into a jobcentre carrying a recent iphone you should be heavily sanctioned. Smartphones are critical these days but a Vodafone smart ultra 6 costs £80.

    As a benefit claimant myself who claimed benefits for years it would make your hair curl how badly many benefit claimants handle their money. They are their own worst enemy. I think they should completely change the reasons for sanctioning people and change it to irresponsible use of benefits rather than the reasons they sanction people now.

    • I think you’ll find yourself in a minority of one with the kind of viewpoint you have. Basically you are condoning the state controlling the lives of the poor, and your views are actually contrary to the point of the post. You won’t find many friends here, you’d be better off on a UKIP supporting blog, or one sympathetic to the BNP cause.

      It’s never good to be addicted to anything, and your comment about recent iphones is nothing short of preposterous – how would anyone know that the phone wasn’t bought prior to becoming a benefit claimant? Or that maybe it was a gift? I don not understand you at all with your comment about e-cigarettes, as they are as habit forming as the tobacco variety, and research is increasingly suggesting that the chemicals used in e-cigarettes is potentially harmful. Why not just give up cold turkey as I did, after having smoked for 37 years? I wouldn’t claim it as easy, and I understand why people both smoke and drink. For poorer people, they are one of the few ‘pleasures’ that can be indulged in that are easily accessible.

      What claimants spend their benefits on is their business. Are you suddenly going to tell all of the UK’s state pensioners that they must now spend the money they get in a state approved manner, or forgo their pensions? Do pensioners have the right to spend money on fags and booze? Pensioners, despite what many think, are benefit claimants, claiming a benefit called the State Pension. Many would say that they’ve paid for it, but the truth is, they haven’t and, it is today’s generation of tax payers who are paying for their pensions.

      I can’t make my mind up as to whether you’re a troll, an Uncle Tom, or just someone who thinks that authoritarian rule is the answer to everything.

      Oh, and let’s just get one thing straight NO ONE should have their benefits sanctioned, for any reason. In fact I’d say that it’s high time that the current system of various benefits, including the State Pension, were abolished entirely and the system replaced with an unconditional basic income that is paid as of right to all, and as such is immune from being removed as a sanction. People will still find ways of slowly killing themselves, and that’s tragic, but education and harm reduction strategies are far more effective and certainly more humane than what you suggest.

      Why is it that people who choose to kill themselves with drugs or alcohol should be treated any different to those who kill themselves through indulging in unnecessary activities such as paragliding or motorcycling? I don’t distinguish, and whilst I may think people are crazy it indulge in any of the listed activities and many more, (with the potential exception of motorcycling) I would never seek to try and prevent people from engaging in those things, but would seek to ensure that they were at least making an informed judgment. The only grounds for witholding treatment for the consequences of such activities is in situations where it would clearly be a waste of both time and money in that they would be rendered ineffective through the individual continuing in their harmful behaviour, but that still respects that they should be able to access palliative care, should they need it.

      • @ Padi Philips
        ” unnecessary activities such as paragliding or motorcycling? I don’t distinguish, and whilst I may think people are crazy it indulge in any of the listed activities and many more, (with the potential exception of motorcycling)” sounds like you are an hypocrite just as authoritarian as the person your are claiming to be criticising.

        Motorcycles are used by many for bread-and-butter transport for work and shopping, as I did. I passed my motorcycle test in 1968 and up to 2011 when I had a stroke, accident free and no endorsements/points. That’s over more than 1,000,000 miles.

        • I was expressing an opinion, and which, if you had read and comprehended properly you would have seen that no matter what my opinion, or that of anyone else, no one should be denied treatment, or indeed be dictated to by anyone else, so your commenta about me being “authoritarian” is a little strange to say the least – and, as it happens, I spent a good few years of my life riding, and enjoying motorcylces, though I still regard them as largely unceccesary, but the same could be said of a lot of other things too – uneccessary, but nonetheless enjoyable.

          Quite where you get the idea that I’m somehow hypoctitical, I don’t know, but the general thrust of your response seems to suggest that you have construed my comment about motorcycling, seen red and flown to the defence of the two wheeled fraternity.

          For the sake of clarity, my point was, and is, that no-one should be denied treatment for anything they do, no matter how ridiculous anyone else thinks those activities are, or how “undeserving” of treatment, in the eyes of some, that makes them. I suggest carefully reading it again.

          • “I was expressing an opinion” as was I. I am perfectly capable of comprehending written English but the meaning of your post is ambiguous. Your claim that the State pension to be a “benefit” is fallacious. National Insurance is just that, an insurance policy we all have to pay into, the only difference is that it is operated by the State. Should the “insured” reach pension age the insurer (the State) pays out. Given your statement I doubt you have any real knowledge of the mechanism of the State pension, however it is NOT a benefit, it is paid out at the maturation of a (State) insurance policy. Current taxpayers are not paying toward my pension – the National Insurance fund is ringfenced and currently fully topped-up (unless Osborne mortgaged it). In other words the State pension isn’t some form of Ponzi scheme, it’s fully funded – my pension is MY money. Pension Guarantee Credit is a means-tested benefit, I receive both State pension and Pension Credit. However should I wish to take up any form of employment neither I nor any prospective employer will have to pay any further NI contributions. I could probably lose my PGC but I would still receive my pension irrespective of any other income.

    • When I was on Jsa I was addicted to self-help books and false hope.

      It is the imbalance of bargaining power and lack of real support that weakens people into addictions. One of the major reasons I became addicted to the false hope of getting a job was that my mum had an extremely strong work ethic that was instilled in me; others have drug pushers and the influence of the crowd, etc.

      I also lived without a TV in my one-roomed flats and lodgings from September 1976 until I was a full-time undergrad in Autumn 1994. Whereas many got influenced by TV ads into becoming more materialistic, I walked to save money and go places, as an extension of my having walked 5 miles back home from Edgbaston cricket round in my teens after I had spent my bus fare home on a match programme. I also walked to get in touch with my new area when I lived in Plymouth in my second year of unemployment. My B&B landlord and landlady nicknamed me ‘Safari Bill’ for going everywhere with A-Z street map.

      My reason for getting a TV was mainly so that I could watch guitar instruction videos. But I am not so ready to pass judgement on those who take to alcohol and/or tobacco. A Native American maxim says that before passing judgement on others, you should walk a mile in their moccasins. I also lacked a social life as I spent more on books etc than on going out to events, the pub, etc; moreover, being a jobseeker did not engender socio-economic parity with the people I associated with at group level.

      Being a member of Kilburn Unemployed Workers Group is somewhat liberating in terms of the feel of not being the only one cast out of the mainstream. We also bring our own refereshments to our weekly meetings and have attracted funds to pay for regular room hire, as well as passing the hat around at meetings.

      Being sanctioned would really piss me off, just as having Jsa screw up the top-up to my part-time earnings in 2005/6 did.

      Stephen, I am sorry to have to say this to you, but your attitude reminds me of the ‘Judas steer’: the bull that led cattle into the slaughter house time after time on Wild West cattle drives. Or am I being too judgemental?

      Dude Swheatie of Kwug

  8. I also recall a ‘customer facing’ 1991 jobcentre response to my laboured CV designed to impress prospective employers at first glance and thus save it from the shortlister’s bin:

    “This is highly impressive!

    Where did you get the money for that electronic typewriter of yours?”

    Was she jealous, just plain nasty, or what? Either way, after leaving the jobcentre-funded Pre-School Playgroup foundation course for helping under-5’s, she shunted me straight into jobclub where we were sentenced to recording at least ‘5 job leads per day’, I experienced overcrowding and lack of privacy, and I was still kept waiting 12 weeks for my Unemployment Benefit to come in.

    In such times, as well as landlord patience and money borrowed from relatives, it’s really great to have understanding greetings card from a friend who knew me well and affirmed how great it was to know me and that I deserved better treatment.

    • 12 weeks is a long time…why do they do that? Does my head in. Same thing with people having to wait weeks for Universal Credit. Total bollocks.

      • At that time it was a case of absolute cock-up when they were transferring admin from local DHSS offices to remote ones, and stuff got — allegedly — lost in the post.

        When I went to my local Archway Tower goulag toward the end of that 12 weeks, it was shut because of a heat wave overheating and overcrowding and the fact that they never opened the windows in that place for fear that someone might take the window as their exit point.

        The following day, I got there at the start of the day but had to return the following day to be seen, where the situation was explained to me. When I eventually got my emergency Giro, I also got the news that my dad whom I had not heard from since 1979 — 12 years earlier — was on his death bed in a Botswanan hospital with a tumour on his lung; fallout from his smoking. I suppose that one of the reasons I did not fall completely apart at that was the realisation by that time that I was a survivor.

        Meanwhile, our glorious news media was focused much more on Russian bread queues than its own backyard.

  9. Thanks for informing us about this abusive Jobcentre staff member, Kate. I think there are grounds for contacting the district manager & file an official complaint against this particular staff member.

    There simply are no grounds to query what claimants spend their benefits on.

  10. Good points until you had to bring immigrants into it, like they are all poor and picked on,,, guess politically correct brainwashing got to you

    • Many immigrants are poor and picked on – what’s your point? That you’re a not a closet racist?

      I would suggest that it is you that is brainwashed by the rhetoric of the extreme right and of that of UKIP and the support of the gutter press in the form of the Sun, The Daily Mail, the Express and the Telegraph. They don’t print the truth you know, but I guess you wouldn’t as the lies and distortions suit your particular set of prejudices.

      It’s time that the idiot element, (Kippers, BNP supporters, and Brexiters) in the UK realised that the all people in the UK are the descendents of ‘immigrants’ in that all modern humans are descended from a group of people who moved out of Africa. I’d for a moment thought of suggesting that perhaps you do have a point, and that you yourself might be descended from Neanderthals, but that would obviously be an insult to Neanderthals.

    • Recently at London Green Party AGM, Green Party Co-leader Jonathan Bartley who is also Work & Pensions Spokesperson pointed out that the times are getting meaner and more xenophobic.

      He also pointed out the heartlessness of bulldozing the ‘Calais Jungle’, leading to the loss of their ID papers at the same time.

  11. Pingback: “Towards Work” activities to get a DHP and stayed housed. How big is conditionality going to get? | Kate Belgrave

  12. Pingback: Q: Should there be limits on the number of times people can use foodbanks, or generally get help? Answer: No. | Kate Belgrave

  13. A few years ago I started driving lessons as at the time my ‘work advisor’ had said that getting a full licence would help me with my job search as I wouldn’t then be reliant on public transport to get to work . I mentioned this to someone in passing online and had 3 or 4 people saying that benefits must be too high if I could afford to learn to drive, no amount of explanation would convince these idiots otherwise. I was having 2 lessons a month, that’s all, in the end I gave up the idea as it was to expensive to learn to drive and try to save towards my theory/practical tests. So now I’m still out of work and can’t apply for jobs that have early starts or late finishes otherwise I wouldn’t be able to get there or get home. Why is it that people view the unemployed as a separate species, when with one bad month they could end up out of work and struggling themselves.

    • For many I think there is some kind of cognitive disconnect where they seem to have disabled any vestigal critical faculty they may have. The Daily Mail and Channel 5 ‘documentaries’ that present claimants as universally feckless and lazy as well as fecund and as something congenital. Of course, the fact that this is a gross exaggeration, a caricature doesn’t occur to them.

      The joke is on them, as very soon the penny will drop and they will realise, too late, that they’ve been royally had, when they are forced to sign up for Universal Credit, as many millions of them will moved from Tax Credits and/or Housing Benefit. It’s not just the unemployed who are struggling financially, and those extremely low paid and struggling who look down on the unemployed always appear to me to be somewhat ironic and comical figures, though I doubt they would see the humour in it.

      Time was when unemployed people could avail themselves of a whole range of opportunities to equip themselves with the skill needed for a career change, and there was a whole network of government rum centres that provided excellent training in new skills to those who qualified. This was as recently as the 1970d when the UK could still be called a civilised country. It wasn’t perfect, but there was a widespread sense of hope that life was getting better. Neo-liberal historians are very quick to point out the deep flaws in that society, but at least there was something called society. People were aware of the shortcomings, and the challenges.

      Back then, and even at some later points, up until 2010 it would have been possible to have learned to drive on a scheme aimed at upskilling the unemployed. Using similar training techiques to the military it was done very efficiently and cost effectively..

      Oh, and how many of those making the criticisms ensure that they buy products made in the UK, thus ensuring that they support the demand for jobs in the UK?

  14. A hand up or a slap down? Criminalising benefit claimants in Britain via strategies of surveillance, sanctions and deterrence

    SAGE Journals


    “British policy-makers have increasingly sought to intensify and extend welfare conditionality. A distinctly more punitive turn was taken in 2012 to re-orientate the whole social security and employment services system to combine harsh sanctions with minimal mandatory support in order to prioritise moving individuals ‘off benefit and into work’ with the primary aim of reducing costs. This article questions the extent to which these changes can be explained by Wacquant’s (2009) theory of the ‘centaur state’ (a neoliberal head on an authoritarian body), which sees poverty criminalised via the advance of workfare.”

    Punitive benefit sanctions, welfare conditionality, and the social abuse of unemployed people in Britain: Transforming claimants into offenders?


    A defining feature of U.K. welfare reform since 2010 has been the concerted move towards greater compulsion and sanctioning, which has been interpreted by some social policy scholars as punitive and cruel. In this article, we borrow concepts from criminology and sociology to develop new interpretations of welfare conditionality. Based on data from a major Economic and Social Research Council‐funded qualitative longitudinal study (2014–2019), we document the suffering that unemployed claimants experienced because of harsh conditionality. We find that punitive welfare conditionality often caused symbolic and material suffering and sometimes had life‐threatening effects. We argue that a wide range of suffering induced by welfare conditionality can be understood as ‘social abuse’, including the demoralisation of the futile job‐search treadwheel and the self‐administered surveillance of the Universal Jobmatch panopticon. We identify a range of active claimant responses to state perpetrated harm, including acquiescence, adaptation, resistance, and disengagement. We conclude that punitive post‐2010 unemployment correction can be seen as a reinvention of failed historic forms of punishment for offenders.

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