Got a job and a chance to earn some money. Hope the DWP doesn’t wreck it… More interviews from the jobcentre

Was back at Stockport jobcentre on Friday with Stockport United Against Austerity. We spent a couple of hours talking with people who were signing on for jobseekers’ allowance, employment and support allowance and Universal Credit.

A lot of people were keen to talk on Friday – about benefit problems, that is. People didn’t talk much about the local elections which had taken place the day before (elections which left the Lib Dems and Labour tied at 26-26 on Stockport council, I believe, and already fighting like rampant weasels. Can’t wait to see how that pans out).

Anyway. While the political class disappears down the Brexit hole that it won’t or can’t stop digging, people in need are left to get on however they can.

That generally means trying to make sense of the haywire public sector systems that millennium politics has created (if “created” is the word), trashed and abandoned. Pity that there’s so little sense to be made. I keep meeting people who can’t get answers. They certainly can’t get the answers that they need.

Here are two examples from Friday.

The first story came from Dave*, 57.

We see Dave regularly at the jobcentre. He’s a friendly bloke and always keen to talk. He’s been looking for work for a while.

On Friday, Dave said he was in the running for a permanent job as a carer. There was probation to do and then he should be underway.

This news of a job would be reason to celebrate in a world which made sense.

Unfortunately, we’re not in such a world.

Dave was worried. He was pleased about the job and eager to start – but he’d been told that taking the job and working certain hours would stop his jobseekers’ allowance and trigger a Universal Credit claim.

The mere mention of Universal Credit is enough to crush any excitement about a job offer.

As Dave understood it (and he wasn’t sure that he understood it at all), a move to Universal Credit would mean that he’d have to:

– move his housing benefit claim to Universal Credit and wait 5 weeks and more for his rent payments to start (he’d still be several weeks’ short in rent if he did get an extra fortnight’s housing benefit). Nobody in the real world believes that migration to Universal Credit will go well

– trust the DWP to accurately record Dave’s varying weekly zero-hours-contract wages as a carer and pay him whatever Universal Credit money he was owed each month on time. This is a skill which the DWP famously does not have. I’ve interviewed part-time workers and self-employed people at Stockport jobcentre who were tearing their hair out because the DWP had literally never paid them the right amount of Universal Credit, or on time.

Big DWP cheese Neil Couling told me on twitter that Universal Credit systems for people in these situations work beautifully. People who actually use these systems tell me that Neil et al are talking shit.

Point is – the potential for disaster was weighing on Dave’s mind, with good reason.

Dave couldn’t get reassurances from the DWP that he’d have money for rent and food if he moved from JSA to work and Universal Credit.

He said he’d been told that the best he could hope for if he ran short was an advance loan on his Universal Credit (which, of course, he would have to pay back when his Universal Credit began).

You see my point. Logic is missing in all of this.

The world that we’re talking about here is terminally arse-about. People do the so-called “right thing” and find work – but instead of being free to get stuck into that, they must keep their minds on their other full-time job, which is trying to make sure that the notoriously dysfunctional Universal Credit system doesn’t land them in terminal poverty.

People must check that they are paid their rent and income topups – and chase the DWP when it all turns to tripe. They must try to understand why their existing benefits suddenly stopped and navigate long gaps without income.

People can’t find out easily if they must migrate to Universal Credit at all. Dave wasn’t that he should have to move to Universal Credit if he took the job and started on a small number of hours. He only knew he’d been told that he must move to Universal Credit and that he would face income and housing costs delays:

Said Dave:

“I’ve got a chance of a job – health and social care, care assistant… and what it is… unfortunately, they’ve been trying to tell me about zero contract hours. [I’ve had] no word [from the DWP] about transition. Even if I do ten hours, I have to come off jobseekers’ allowance and go on that Universal Credit. Then I get an advance… whatever that is… I don’t know…

“Whoever introduced it needs flogging…It’s American, I think.

“She [the jobcentre adviser] said [even] under 16 hours [of work a week]… soon as I get the job, then you go straight on to Universal Credit, no matter if it’s under 16 hours.

“I thought because they said you’re on the 12 week probation period for the job… and I said, “it’s so complicated…”it benefits them more than the worker

“… I get housing benefit at the moment, so the whole lot [would have to move on Universal Credit] that will… They said that there are ways of getting past the zero contract hours… the more clients you have, the more hours, so you won’t need that [benefits or Universal Credit] but I have to come in [start off] with the Universal Credit and that with me wage slips. But for the first month and that, I’ll be without money unless they do the advance payment…

“[I don’t know] where government expect somebody unemployed to get the money for the rent for a month…

“They got Offerton with the most clients and that it’s up there where I’ll be working. I’ll be going to the clients’ houses. Probably on this (bike) Reddish is not too far from me. The commute between Reddish and Offerton, it’s about 20 mins on the bike. I can go. I think for the first couple of weeks, I’ll get a lift with somebody. There will be somebody shadowing me to make sure I’m capable and all that. [Also] when you’re using the hoist [to lift people when working as a carer], you need two person.”

“I haven’t done the work before, no…at first for the week it’s £9.20 and at weekends it’s £9.40, but it’s compulsory that you go in for your grades….I want to try and make about a 48-hour week.”

So, there was that.


The second story:

I spoke with Miranda*, who was 21.

Miranda had been in and out of homelessness since she was 16. She’d lived in a domestic violence hostel. Her boyfriend at the time had broken her ribs and smacked her teeth out – her front teeth were missing. She was living with another boyfriend at the moment. She relied on him for housing.

Miranda’s problem was getting the mental health assessment that she needed to be prescribed the medication for the complex psychosis that was one of the reasons for her homelessness. The problem was securing an appointment with an oversubscribed mental health service.

With the meds, she’d be in a better position to secure training and work:

“I can’t get any meds for [this psychosis] until I’ve been through counselling and therapy, because they have to determine what it actually is.”

Miranda said:

“I’m already on Universal Credit… because I’m on and off the streets, they don’t really pressure me to find work. They just want me to sort out training courses and stuff like that, because I’ve not really been able to do much training… while mental health and homelessness and stuff like that, so I’m restarting [laughs]. I feel like I’m starting up again as a 16-year-old…

“I’m 21 now.

“I’m staying with my partner at the minute… it’s just a bit complicated not having any experience to get a job and then them saying, “you need experience to get a job!” [laughs] I wanted to work with kids, but at the moment, I can’t because of my mental health. I want to just work in retail until I can get some help with my mental health problems…

“I haven’t got mental health help at the moment, but I’m looking into it. I’m looking into Healthy Minds and stuff, but you’ve got to wait until they ring you up and that. My partner is still waiting for his appointment. He rang up and had his over-the-phone appointment over two months ago and they said they would call him back after six weeks. He’s still waiting for the phone call. He’s 30…

“The meds [I take at the moment] help with the depression and anxiety. I can’t get any meds for my [complex psychosis] until I’ve been through counselling and therapy, because they have to determine what it actually is…Because I was on an antipsychotic for a while…because one of them were a bit of a crazy person… but now they’re a bit more chilled out. For a while it was about trying to stop them being so angry and now it’s more about trying to stop them coming out and taking over my life, so a lot of them – I’ll be walking down the street and see someone completely different than what I see…”

“That’s life, innit. I’ve got [to get] a proper diagnosis. They say – “well, if it was really that important, you would have got help three years ago.” I’m like, “well, you can’t get help three years ago if you’re living with your bastard of an ex and he won’t let you leave the house can ya?” Yeah, he was abusive [points to the space where her front teeth were] broken ribs…

“I was in a DV hostel, but I got moved from out of there, because someone was after me. I moved to down here and back in with my partner that was down here in the first place. He wanted to wait until it died down, because he wanted me to visit again. When I visited again, he realised that the person I was staying with was someone that I was dating at the time – before I got back with him…”

I did ask Miranda about the previous night’s local elections:

“I’ve never voted or anything. I don’t really follow it. It’s censorship. There’s no winning. No matter what I decided, we’re still in the shit, so I’ll just let everyone else decide… if there was ever a chance of being a good option [I might vote], but neither one of them are good options, so fuck it. Deal with it yourselves.”

*names changed


33 thoughts on “Got a job and a chance to earn some money. Hope the DWP doesn’t wreck it… More interviews from the jobcentre

  1. I don’t know who the fuck Neil Couling is or what rock he crawled out from under, and I don’t really care, I just want to know how much more evidence do we need before the entire Tory government can be put behind bars for crimes against humanity, or endangering public health, or causing unnecessary suffering, even Treason would do. Jail the bastards.

    • Agreed. The great man needs mothballing. He spends his time and our money either talking horseshit on twitter or collecting a large pile for enforcing the large pile that is universal credit. Haven’t seen him at a jobcentre.

  2. I completed my online Universal Credit application yesterday. Didn’t find it hard, but I’m computer literate, as well as literate in general. I don’t know what the process is like in English, as I did it in Welsh. I’ve still got to go and see an advisor, (I will not use that horrible Americanism ‘coach’) and sign a CC – should be fun…
    Why is it that DWP spokespeople always come out with utter crap about UC? Even they know that it’s utter crap, and yet still they refuse to acknowledge that it just doesn’t work, that the whole idea of expecting people to do 35 hours of work related activity a week is barmy and that sanctions are inhumane, and probably in breach the UN Declaration on Human Rights which the UK ratified in 1976, so it’s law of the land.

    And then there are situations like those that Dave in this piece finds themselves in. It’s a Kafkaesque dystopia that’s becoming ever more absurd as each new extreme is reached.

    • Advisor or Adviser? They are bloody Dole Clerks when all’s said and done. And yes, 35 hours jobsearch is a ridiculous and unrealistic/unreasonable requirement. One such JCP clerk ‘advised’ me that when I go on to UC I’ll be expected to do 5 hours jobsearch 7 days a week, I said you’d better just sanction me now then because I won’t do it.

      • The spelliing of advisor is optional – though the Guarudan’s preference is evidently adviser.

        The dole clerk is an idiot, but that’s not actually saying much, as I suspect that it’s probably an asset for someone doing the job. 35 hours a week could be seen as 5 hours a day, but also could be seen as 7 hours a day over five days. I suspect that a mandatory reconsideration or independent tribunal would sort that out, and confirm that the 35 hour figure is just advisory, and that how it is reached is up to the individual claimant. However, it remains a ridiculous demand, and there is a growing fund of knowledge on how to circumvent those demands – using, of all things, a very careful reading of the DWP’s own advice on work related activity. There is still a reasonablness rule in place too, though JCP dole clerks and reasonableness don’t really go together.

        And yet more UC woes:

        • Just rung up UC to arrange an appointment to sort out the ID as the Verify system didn’t work, and to sort out the Claimant Commitment etc, and the earliest appointment is 21st May at a JCP+ the other side of the city. The earliest appointment at the nearest JCP+ is May 29th – that is if I want to have my interview in Welsh. If I wanted it in English, it’d have been the 13th of May. Will now be contacting MP as it’s unacceptable that I’m being treated differently.

          • Thanks Trev, I’m probably going to need it as I think I may have also fallen foul of the rule that under UC one loses out on tax rebates from HMRC, as they are counted as income for UC purposes. I applied for the tax rebate in January, and the confirmation e-mail said it took around 15 days… Both a month and six weeks later I chased it up only to discover that as I’d opted to use the Welsh language service, (which I thought had been closed down, though I later discovered that it had received a reprieve) they’d sent the cheque (!) and letter for translation to the Welsh office in Porthmadog, who’d evidently sent it out, but it got lost in the post. So, I contacted them again, and they said they’d cancel that cheque and issue another, but as it was now after 5th April, it wouldn’t go out until after the 22nd of April, and would likely be early May. It seems that HMRC is even more dysfunctional than the DWP – I mean, who on earth uses cheques these days? No wonder people who work and claim UC are having so many problems when HMRC are still using what is essentially an ancient system, (literally, as cheques were being used in ancient Rome). .

            I sent an e-mail of complaint to the local MP, and also copied in the Welsh Language Commissioner, from whom I’ve received a response informing me that they’ve forwarded it to the relevant department that deals with the DWP.

        • Well, I don’t know what happened, but I received an e-mail from the Welsh Language Commissioner’s office earlier this afternoon informing me that that the DWP had got back to them asking if they could have details of my complaint, and I’ve just had a phone call from a JCP+ advisor changing the appointment to this Friday at the JCP+ nearest to me!

          I guess that’s a bit of a result, and I just hope that it is all such plain sailing.

          • Shame about the Tax cock-up though, “lost in the post”, I don’t know how they manage it. Years ago my giro got lost on more than one occasion, and my Student Loan deferral form went missing never to be seen again after being sent from Glasgow to Bradford to Leeds to Belfast to Bradford to Leeds… 😢

          • Yeah, I often wonder how they manage it. Before I started to insist on the housing association e-mail me, a)because it’s cheaper and b) it’s less likely to get lost in the post, which seems to have happened on numerous occasions in the past. It once took six months to get a satisfactory reply to one letter I sent them, but this was pre-internet era.

            The last time I ever received a Giro from the dole was in the late 90s, probably 96 or 97. I remember it distinctly as I was accused by a fraud officer of having stolen my own Giro! I checked up on it, and evidently it had been cashed at the correct post office, but using an electricity token payment book, which wasn’t supposed to be eligible ID, and the person cashing the Giro had just written my name, and though the fraud officer was convinced it looked a lot like my signature, (it didn’t, for one thing it was very neatly written, and my signature is a scrawl) I ‘resolved’ it the very next day by going in to see the fraud officer again and throwing down a gauntlet, challenging him to either charge me with something, or give me another Giro. Ten minutes later I left Jobcentre with new Giro, and ensured that I was signed up to BACS payements from that point on..

            Never had to deal with the student loan stuff as I was fortunate enough to be a student when they still got tuition and subsistence grants. I was even eligible to claim dole for all the holidays for most of my time as a student, and even in the later years I was able to claim it for the long summer break – though I usually managed to get paid work for that, or at least for most of it.

  3. Hi, Kate

    Even while I was a jobseeker, I was still ‘political’.
    Benefit claimants require firmer safeguards, not tougher sanctions.

    I wish Dave every success in his prospective work as a care worker, but note that
    if care workers are undersupported and harassed by the State to the point that the support they are able to give in an environment where in-service training went out with public service cuts that pre-existed 2010 General Election, the care worker might be penalised professionally; whereas
    the DWP now regards treating benefit claimants — whether in work or out of it — as ‘par for the course’.

    DWP admits destroying report on safety failings in jobcentres

    • Hi, how are you going? Personally think that careworkers have a very difficult job, not least because of the poor wages and lack of support… some agencies are appalling. I’ve done the work myself over the years and while it’s a rewarding and important job, it isn’t paid like one.

      • It seems to me that if anything, the rates of pay for social care work have gone down since the introduction of ideological austerity in 2010. I used to work in homelessness, and whilst I had a casual contract with a local authority, in 2010 I started to lose increasing amounts of work, so by time 2011 came along I was getting very few offers of shifts. I was a while later that I discovered that the council had started taking on people using their own temp agency on hourly rates that substantially undercut the rate I was on, and didn’t offer the enhancements that I got for working, for example, nights or weekends, as it only paid a flat rate. Having said that, even though the rate was quite a lot less than I was getting, especially when taking the enhancements into consideration, it was still quite a bit higher a rate than that offered by Third Sector providers, who seem to have really got on board of Fat Dave’s Big Society aka Screw the Workers, as the rates paid by the Third Sector are abysmally low, and too often working conditions are really bad.

        On the whole I couldn’t complain about the job I was doing, as even though it was casual, I usually got enough hours to make ends meet, and I had a really great work life balance, and wasn’t forced to take work if I didn’t want or need it. But I also realised that I was amongst a very fortunate minority, and chattiing to others who I worked with who were agency staff I realised that they were being paid less per hour, though of course the agencies were charging a lot more – even so, the agency rates offered at the time were in excess of what is often being paid nowadays, which often hardly exceeds minimum wage rates. .

        What is so disgusting it that the system takes advantage of the good nature of those who work in social care, as they are always under a spotlight that would condemn them if they went on strike or took industrial action. I find that kind of exploitation utterly disgusting.

        • That’s my issue. It needs to be a well paid job and understood as such. There’s an enormous amount of skill and responsibility involved. You really do have someone’s life in your hands and certainly their comfort and health. It ought to be very well paid indeed.

          • Back in 2008 when I started, full-time night staff were paid around £22k p.a. and daytime caseworkers somewhat more, as it involved quite a bit more work, so it wasn’t a bad gig overall, and even as a casual, my rate was the same basic rate as the f/t staff. And as shifts were 12.5 hours for night staff, and 12 hours for day staff, it provided a wonderful work/life balance, and though those shifts seem punishing, in reality it soon becomes normal. Three nights and the week’s work is done!

            How on earth the council got past the legislation that dictates that work of equal value requires equal pay for the new casual staff employed by the council’s own agency I don’t know.

          • My metaphor for what was expected of me as a domiciliary care worker who was also classed insultingly as ‘casual labour’ was ‘an all-terrain vehicle’. A reason I ruled myself out of a large number of shifts was that it seemed to me from the ‘Essential Information’ sheets about prospective shifts, that I did not have what was required in terms of experience, knowhow or skills.

            Further, I was a disabled employee. My Acting Line Manager who had been a domiciliary care worker with the same agency attempted to get me support from Scope’s Employment Services (SES) under Access 2 Work. SES said that as the amount of in-service training available to staff as a whole for working with VULNERABLE ADULTS, she could not support my being taken on under Access 2 Work. Pay differentials within the organisation were one factor, another was public service cuts even then.

            That was in 2005, when I didn’t even have a mobile phone.

            Now, the barriers between the ‘key decision makers’ and those who are robbed of public services is even greater. Those ‘key decision makers’ are setting a bad example.

            Euripides/Jean-Paul Sartre wrote in ‘The Trojan Women’, “Those who give the order seldom see the mess it makes.”

            Similarly I have heard that agencies that received council money to help the hardest hit wavered about helping gather stories of how those hardest hit had been affected by ‘austerity’, so that they did not upset those Tory cllrs who held the purse strings. Maybe with different complexions of council, such organisations might be more willing and able to help their service users ‘speak out’?

            What data will the councils collect, any way?

          • I wish I could be more optimistic that Labour councils will be willing to collate more data that shows the crumbling state of social care as it really is. But to be honest, the cynic in me tells me that social care is just as much a political football for Labour as it is the Tories. The council I worked for was Labour controlled, and what makes it even worse is that the changes introduced must have happened with union collusion. Even though I wasn’t a union member at the time, I would have thought that notions of solidarity would have come into play, but there was complete silence over it all. In fact that’s what hurt the most, the total lack of solidarity from fellow workers.

            When it comes to things like social care, it should be beyond party politics and notions such as humanity and civilisation should come into play. When you think about it, the UK breaches major clauses of the UN Declaration on Human Rights every day as default behaviour.

            The point you make about training is extremely valid. As you no doubt know, training in the UK is seen as a cost rather than as an investment. Consequently training is a joke and something that must be done on a shoestring. There are increasing pressures to have all basic training of workers take place in our schools, which has resulted in many arts subjects taking a hit. Everyone should be entitled to decent training of a high standard, and high standards need to be the order of the day, and people supported adequately to achieve those standards, and paid accordingly.

            Nonetheless, I still live in hope that we’ll eventually get a set of politicians in government who actually really do give a damn about the lived everyday experiences of those with the least in society. It’s not that I don’t care about those with more, they are important too, but they usually have enough awareness and ability to fight their own corner, so are less of a concern.

    • Yep. I genuinely wonder what it is like trying to coordinate a UC tax credit claim with varying working hours between the DWP and that lot. Be interested to hear.

  4. The DWP know full well the financial problems faced by someone transferring to Universal Credit. Particularly the long-term unemployed. These are people often without any savings, no credit cards or well-paid friends they can borrow from.
    This is why you hear the Work Coaches constantly trying to divert attention from the actual poverty, to a supposed future of wonderful full-time work. As for Neil Couling (£200K bonus for UC work), what can you say ? Except perhaps that it is an ill wind that blows nobody any good.

  5. Padi Phillips wrote in earlier response to me: “The point you make about training is extremely valid. As you no doubt know, training in the UK is seen as a cost rather than as an investment. Consequently training is a joke and something that must be done on a shoestring.”

    Training as ‘a joke’ was epitomised for me when I spoke to Disability Employment Adviser attached to my then jobcentre in 2005, when I said that I needed basic First Aid treatment. She referred me to A4E Holloway for a ‘Health & Social Care’ NVQ training place, for which there was no ‘signposting information’ I could read up ahead of interview.

    I attended interview on a very hot day in T-shirt and shorts for my comfort, and the interviewer was/wore ‘a suit’. I told him that the lack of signposting information on their website was off-putting and not likely to help prospective trainees, but that I was curious to know a little more.

    He told me that it would involve my going on a placement working with small children or older people, and I told him politely that I’d rather take my chances with my then part-time employer. It was clear that A4e’s lack of ‘signposting information’ owed much to the way they got referrals from jobcentre staff or prisons; theirs was a ‘captive audience’.

    Before that interview, I was ordered to complete forms giving them info about myself that had no questions about disability other than stuff about tendency to epileptic seizures as I recall; though there was a question like, “Why do you think you have had difficulties getting waged work?”

    Three years later, I was sentenced to attend New Deal Intensive Activities Programme at A4e Holloway Road as an ‘overstayer’ on Jsa.

    And of course, another joke was to follow after 2010 General Election saw David Cameron as Prime Minister with the collusion of Liberal Democrats. a4e emma harrison david cameron single parents

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