Apologies for being a Remainer – more stories from the jobcentre

Back to Stockport jobcentre for more leafleting with Stockport United Against Austerity:

I spoke with Stephen*, a man in his 50s who was signing on for Universal Credit some months after a job redundancy.

We talked about the coming election and Brexit. Stephen was shy: “normally, I’m not political.” Stephen was a Remainer. He seemed to feel he had to apologise for it – that his answer was the wrong one.

Stephen said he wanted England to stay in Europe, because his daughter and her children lived in France:

“…I’ve got different circumstances… I’ve got a daughter [who] is actually French and grandchildren who are French. She’s born and bred in France…I’ve got slightly different circumstances. My opinion revolves around my circumstances. If I didn’t have my family abroad, I might have another opinion…”

The day’s strong opinions were reserved, as they always are, for the wrecked public sector that people must rely on while Westminster frenzies over Brexit elections and drones the long route round its graveyard spiral.

There was Pam*, in her 60s, who’d made about 6 trips to the jobcentre and Fred Perry house, Stockport council’s nerve centre, to try and sort out her disabled son’s Universal Credit claim.

She said her son, who had learning difficulties, had moved into a flat several months back, but had only received about £300 in benefits, “with no housing benefit included.” Pam couldn’t use a computer, so couldn’t manage her son’s claim online:

“…I’ve been about flipping 6 times…it just started [her son’s Universal Credit claim] last week… he’s moved into a flat and he has learning difficulties, so that’s how he went onto Universal Credit… he works 16 hours…He only got £317 last week and no housing benefit included. I spoke to his work coach. He said you only get paid from when you apply – but my daughter went into Fred Perry house and they said I should come here [to the jobcentre].”

Pam also wanted to fill in an appointee form – to sign up as her son’s formal representative so that she could manage his benefit claim on his behalf. This had been no hayride. The application form that she’d filled had gone missing. Another copy had been sent electronically – not much use for someone who didn’t use a computer.

Pam was at the jobcentre, because an adviser had left a paper copy for her to collect:

“..they’ve left it for me. Everything is on the computer, but some people can’t read, or write. How can they use a computer? I’m not computer literate. They sent me an [appointee] form to fill in, so that I can speak for him. I did that. I signed it. They’ve said they can’t find it.”

Then – of course – there was the parking ticket Pam had found on her car windscreen when she’d parked in the lot next door to Stockport jobcentre. As per standard, the pay and display machine had been broken that day. Needless to say, Pam found herself paying for that:

“…the machine was out. I took a photograph of it and I went into [the jobcentre]. There was loads of people took a photograph of [the broken pay and display machine]. They still sent me a parking fine. My daughter wrote saying it was broken. They said you should go to another parking meter. I said there’s only one there. They’ve said you shouldn’t have parked there if there wasn’t a meter…”

We didn’t quite get round to talking elections. Maybe next time. I’m sure there’ll be one.

———————-

*names changed

Blogging will be light until the end of the year as am finishing a transcription project of interviews, and homelessness and jobcentre meeting recordings. Still available for contact here.

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34 thoughts on “Apologies for being a Remainer – more stories from the jobcentre

  1. I was informed very recently by an Interserve course tutor that myself and the rest of the group on the course will be transferred from JSA to Universal Credit in January. She was very adamant about this, saying that she works closely with the Jobcentre and has inside information, so we were understandably quite concerned and worried. It turned out to be total bollocks, managed migration from legacy Benefits doesn’t even begin until November 2020 and takes place over a three year period until December 2023.
    Meanwhile, back at the Jobcentre, my Adviser/Work Coach person advised me not to waste money on printing out my jobsearch evidence at the library saying that I could print it in the jobcentre for free. So I went there this afternoon, walked there and back in pouring rain, about a mile & half each way, only to find that yes they do now have some fancy new computers in the jobcentre BUT the printer isn’t currently working. I will just show her the emails on my phone instead from now on as the two quid I would normally spend on library prints would come in handy for bread/milk etc. It’s just that I always felt more secure having it in print, safe in the knowledge that a possible Sanction would be avoided. I’ll see how I get on in the morning at my signing appointment, should be ok but all the same I wish they would just fuck off as I’m sick of dealing with this shit every fortnight for the sake of 70 poxy quid a week.

    • I know how you feel Trev. I’ve been presenting my evidence for worksearch for my UC claim on a tablet since I started claiming UC. I make kind of notes that are recommended, and the advisor briefly scrolls through them, but doesn’t really appear to take much interest. I also have a new advisor, as the number of Welsh speakers working in the JCP has doubled, and there are now two. As a result of my most recent appointment I’m now going to attend a information and appraisal session for social care work… That should be informative, but from the job outline description it seems that the work will involve manual handling, which I can’t do due to a congential condition, and also ‘personal care’ i.e. wiping arses. I know that it’s work that needs to be done, and I take my hat off to those who do that kind of work, but I think it takes a special kind of person – who deserve far more than the insulting pittance and work pressure they get.

      I’ll see if there is any kind of less demanding work with this company, but I suspect they are just another one of these private social care agencies that can’t get their heads around that the reason they struggle to find and retain staff is because they pay them so effing badly and treat them like dirt expecting them to fulfill roles that would have been at least two people’s job ten years ago. In my opinion this kind of vital work should be properly professionalised and paid acccordingly, at least £20 to £25 an hour. That might sound like a lot, but social care workers are far more valuable, and far more vital to society than any banker or Tory parasite.

      • For sure, the Care sector is grossly underpaid, and I too have the greatest respect for people who do that work but I don’t think I could do it. I used to do part time casual work for a business man I knew who owned three nursing homes, picking up litter, mowing the lawns etc. and not only was that hard work but it was a depressing environment to be in. The people there were very unhappy, some visibly distressed, and not looked after properly. Some were elderly, others had mental health issues, I found it upsetting. Some would be constantly asking me for fags, or repeatedly asking what day it was, “is it pay day?”, “do we get paid today?”, they were just given a bit of pocket money each Friday and would trot off to the local shop to buy a packet of cigarettes. One woman had wet herself when I arrived at about 9.00am and was still in the same clothes, unseen to, when I left at 3.30pm. It was awful. Another old guy used to throw shit out of the window. All of those homes are closed now as they didn’t pass inspections and the Council forcibly shut them down. I could go on. The buildings fell into dereliction and were squatted and ransacked by junkies, but that’s another story.

        • It’s probably time that the whole care sector was ‘nationalised’ and run by local authorities. It’s not a sinecure, as we know from Kate’s often critical coverage of the local authority run hostels for homeless families. Also, there was the scandal a few years ago of the horrible conditions and abuse found in council run children’s homes.

          Hand in hand with the setting up of these institutions, there should also be the setting up of a citizens’s inspectorate comprising of interested, concerned and trained citizen volunteers who have immediate 24/7 access to all such places, including prisons to ensure that the high standards set by society are maintained.

          I know, probably pie in the sky, but I find it appalling that so many of our ‘out of sight, out of mind’ are allowed to be run in a bad way.

    • There’s also that character Trev who interjects and diverts the conversation along the lines of literary criticism, philosophy, metaphysics and probably manages to create complete brainfuddle in the heads of the more hard of thinking who commented on that thread. Nice one Trev!

      It’s amazing how many complete fuckwits, morons, cretins or whatever you want to call them come out with the most absurd trash.

      There was one person who commented on an article in the Guardian yesterday claiming that they voted UKIP because she wanted a vacuum cleaner that sucked better – because they’d believed some crap about an EU conspiracy to put a cap on the power of vacuum cleaners. Like most of these things, there is a basis in fact, but there are very good reasons why this rule was introduced; it would save trillions of megawatts of electricity Europe wide. And, if that person had done a Google search as simple as ‘vacuum cleaner eu’ they’d have immediately come across Which? tests dealing exactly with the issue that showed that the vast majority of the reduced power vacuum cleaners worked just as well as the older, less efficient ones as they had been designed better.

      I despair sometimes that people can choose to be so fucking ignorant. They’re prepared to makes themselves look utterly stupid making unsubstantiated comments on the internet but yet won’t spend a couple of minutes reading so they actually know something about what they’re talking about, or whether they should actually venture that opinion in the first place, as they’d (hopefully) realise that they’d been lied to.

      And don’t get me started on those utter morons who won’t vote Labour because they don’t like Corbyn. I would guess that we could all level some criticism at him, but he still stands head and shoulders above Johnson, and surely they realise that it’s the policies that matter, not the personality. However, it would seem that kissing babies heads, or the equivalent is a heavy influencer of the way people vote. As you pointed out, if Corbyn becomes PM (and pray he does…) he’s not likely to stick around that long as he’s 70 and will be wanting to kick back a little and spend more time on his allotment before too long.

      It really pisses me off that cretins can diss Labour’s policies are ‘Marxist’ or that they’ll bankrupt the economy when they are only advocating that the UK has parity with Germany and France in terms of social conditions. Do these fuckwits realise that even a conservative government in Norway is more radically ‘left-wing’ in terms of social policy and welfare? They probably wouldn’t be able to find Norway on a map, let alone know about social welfare there.

      Another five years of the Tories is going to be very grim indeed and I predict that things will happen that will make the Winter of Discontent look like a kindergarten outing.

  2. Been away for a week, just picked this topic up in my Mail.
    I’ll say it again: I cannot imagine what this system is doing to you all. Given that, my situation seems petty, but it isn’t of course to me. I have given as good as I’ve got, ‘they’ have nothing left to throw at me. But I’m slowly crumbling. I have no choice but to move. I feel scared and insecure. How then do you guys and the examples put up here cope? Talk about human spirit.

    Just before I went, I talked to someone official (I mindful of discretion here). That person was astonishingly candid and supportive, privately confiming my opinion; it was a fraught and tearful meeting. But that is not why I relate this. I relate this because I went in to h/benefits to assess what would be applicable if I made this or that move. When I arrived in this smallish area of Council, there was an anguished elderly man trying to make them understand that he did not have a computer to access a computerised application. It broke me, and I burst into tears and sobbed.

    The poor sod looked round, and as he left I wished him well; what else could do?
    In this situation all that we can do is support and sympathise. It was the bloody despair of this vile system, and undoubtedly my own situation that caused my making a twat of myself, -but that poor bugger was vastly worse of than I was.

    This past week I went to see the Loach film: ”Sorry We Missed You”. This one deals with the should be criminalised ‘zero hours’ contracts. I have ‘Daniel Blake’. This one is more subtle in how it shows the slow breakdown of a family unit because of this vile system. The woman next to me was upset; I told her that so very many will walk out of that cinema and vote Tory.

    I saw a post that said people will actually vote for those who keep them in poverty.
    They will.

    • Hi Linda. Thanks for sharing such heartfelt words with us. I too have been contemplating why people vote Tory completely contrary to their own interests. There is no simple answer, but at least partially they can be convinced to, say, not vote for Corbyn because they’ve been told, over and over, in the right-wing papers they read that socialism is bad, and that Corbyn is a socialist, so ergo Corbyn is bad. This is so obviously not thought through, as they mostly think the policies Corbyn is offering are just what they want to see implemented – they want a nationalised railway system, they want a secure and safe NHS that’s entirely in public ownership and they want a better country that offers a future to their children and grandchildren, all socialist policies, and yet they won’t vote for Corbyn, who despite anything else, would deliver them from the evil that is Tory government, because he’s a socialist – who happens to be offering a system of social welfare that would look lacking to a conservative Norwegian government! That’s how radical Corbyn really is, about as radical as a Norwegian conservative!

      You ask about how we cope. I guess that I’m fairly fortunate that up til now I’ve had a very professional JCP+ advisor who is very fair, and has always gone out of their way to inform me of what is available to claimants, to the extent that I could find some of the claims made about JCP+ advisors in other Jobcentres questionable – but for the fact that mine did mention, in an oblique way, that JCP+ advisors have a lot of discretion. To be fair, in the past I have challenged some of the things I’ve been told I had to do, my most effective was when I was initially signed up, without my consent or knowledge, to the Work Programme, aka Workfare. I rapidly read up on it and challenged it at the initial interview held with a JCP+ advisor, and I presented a Withdrawal of Consent letter. This halted the interview immediately and I was told to sign on as normal until the issue was resolved, which would take up to 28 days. I think I caused something of a massive shock to the system, as the next time I turned up at the JCP+ to sign on, I was met at the door by a Welsh speaking advisor. Up until this point I’d had trouble signing on in Welsh, as there seemed to be a shortage of Welsh speakers – but I was fine with that, and my jobsearch went through on the nod, because the advisors by and large didn’t read Welsh, and couldn’t challenge it even if they wanted to, as I have the right to deal with the DWP in Welsh, (at least in Wales). Long story short, the 28 days came and went, and even my new Welsh speaking advisor advised leaving sleeping dogs lie when two months had gone by and I’d still not heard anything. Eleven months later, my advisor almost apologetically informed me that his line manager insisted that it was time I was place on the Work Programme. They even showed me the e-mail. So, I was put on the Work Programme, and more or less instantly ‘parked’ as I’d insisted on my right to use the Welsh language, which the contracted out agencies were obliged to respect, but didn’t really have the capacity to deliver. However, an advisor who sort of spoke Welsh was found who was willing to take me on, who in the event used every meeting to give me the low down on how unfair and corrupt the system really was – safe in the knowledge that no-one else had the first clue what we were talking about. They eventually became so pissed off they found another job and the agency, Interserve, rather slyly tried to palm me off with an advisor who only spoke English. When I queried this, I was informed that they’d try and find me a Welsh speaking advisor. It was then that things started to get really farcical, and I was sent to another Interserve office in a different town a few stops along the railway line – with Interserve picking up the cost of the ticket, where there was someone who understood Welsh. It transpired that they had received their entire education through the medium of Welsh, but as is common in South East Wales, hadn’t used it in the 12 years since leaving school and so had lost the confidence to speak the language, though their understanding remained undiminished. soon my time on Workfare was over, a time, that unlike the vast majority of people, I had quite enjoyed simply because I had made demands that the system couldn’t cope with, even though it should have been able to. During that time I often used the knowledge I gained to oppose and subvert the system in aid of others, attending Workfare interviews with people and totally freaking these providers out as most people simply didn’t know about their rights to be accompanied, and indeed it often coming as an unwelcome shock to the interviewers that candidates had a right not only to be accompanied, but to being represented as well. I was also a union rep in the IWW at the time, and the last thing a Workfare exploiting slave driving organisation expects is a slave to be a member of a union with representation! I also have a habit of going to these meetings dressed to the nines in a suit with collar and tie and a briefcase. It’s all acting, with props, of course, but it does seem to work much of the time, but also exposes how many organisations are really so badly prepared when it comes to being robustly challenged.

      Being on JSA was something of a picnic, and most trouble emanating from the DWP was over unlawful sanctions where the law was clearly being breached. So long as a claimant abided with the law, i.e. they took two or more steps towards gaining employment they were in compliance and no amount of creative interpretation on behalf of an advisor or the DWP could change the law. Universal Credit is something else, and I think it’s still stumping those organisations that managed to combat JSA so effectively on how to counter UC. I know that Boycott Workfare are still active and trying to devise ways of countering UC, but the fact is a rather nasty mind is behind how the UC regulations have been framed, and I don’t mean that imbecile IDS’s mind either. The mind behind UC is very cold, calculating and sociopathic.

      I really find it very hard to relate to someone who is not computer literate, as I am far from being such, but as far as I am concerned it is clearly a breach of human rights to make such a system vital to people’s lives inaccessible in any way. Anyone with even only an ounce of compassion would understand that people are very often poor because they struggle with literacy, and that it would follow that they’d struggle even more if they had to use IT to access benefits. I also see the problem from the point of view of the DWP JCP+ or council advisor, they simply do not have the time to sit down with service users to help them negotiate the system. This is totally wrong, of course, but we all know that this is what it has come to. The only thing we can do is help where we feel able, as and when. I spent some time chatting to a homeless person last night who was sat outside the supermarket where I’d just been shopping. I gave a small amount of money too, and felt somehow that it was totally inadequate. If it had been £100 it would still have been inadequate, as this person should have a right to a roof over their head – even those who commit the most heinous of crimes doesn’t end up homeless, cold and malnourished.

      I’m now on Universal Credit myself, and whilst I don’t have any real issues with the system, I am still bemused by the system that seems to be set up solely to catch people out. The monthly payment isn’t too bad, but I have noticed that I do struggle a bit as the length of months varies and amount doesn’t. I’m also paying back an advanced payment I took out to cover the initial 5 week period, and as a result of a mix up, (read total fuck up) by the housing association over my rent, I’m in arrears, so I’m paying £20 over the rent every month until the arrears are cleared, and also the monthly rent payment is higher than usual, as there are 53 weeks this year as far as the housing association are concerned, but only 52 as far as Universal Credit is concerned – the Welsh government are looking into a proposal to cough up the cash to pay for that for us, as they also cough up the cash to pay for our council tax in its entirety. It helps, of course, and I am grateful, but we all know that £73.10 a week isn’t a lot to start off with, and when that’s reduced because of paying off rent arrears and advance UC payments, it leaves even less. I still consider myself fortunate though, as things could be so much worse. Some months I have to forego gas for a week or ten days at the end, which might become a bit grim as the winter progresses, but I am fortunate that I have a fairly well insulated flat and two computers constantly running in the living room, which, apart from keeping my systems running, also provides a significant amount of background heat. All my lighting is LED or energy efficient and my computers are modern, so don’t consume too much electricity. Also towards the end of each month I find that my diet is increasingly porridge or baked beans on toast. I eat a lot of wholemeal toast, it’s cheap, and nourishing, even better when it’s reduced to half price in Aldi because the best before date is immanent! A loaf doesn’t last me long, so it’s not often I have to contend with green bits!.

      Emotionally I find that I tend to rage. Crying would be just as appropriate. I allow my rage to subside enough, (usually) before I make probably futile attempts to counter the comments made by the morons, cretins or others who present as hard of thinking with reasoned and polite counter arguments, though sometimes the polite bit would need to be somewhat broadly defined. It’s a coping system, I can channel my rage. One of my latest comments on one social media platform is still getting likes two days later, so maybe some out there are taking note?

      I quite agree with you about attitudes. How can someone watch films like ‘Sorry We Missed You” or ‘I, Daniel Blake’ and still vote Tory? However, with zero hour contracts I do think the opposition needs to be more nuanced. Of course the zero hour contracts that are exploitative need to be outlawed, but there are some zero hour contracts that allow worker flexibility where the worker is as much in control as they ever could be in that they are free to turn down the offer of a shift because maybe they have something else to do, or maybe have already agreed to work a shift with a different employer.l Having worked such a contract, where I wasn’t obliged to take a shift if it was inconvenient, and which also wasn’t exclusive meaning I could also accept work from other sources meant that I felt liberated from the normal work treadmill, where I had a lot of flexibility and choice about where and when I worked .That kind of zero hour contract can be very positive and empowering. So let’s be careful not to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

      You didn’t make a twat of yourself, you merely expressed normal human emotions, something those who devised the hateful systems oppressing us clearly don’t have. No one with any kind of humanity would devise such a system. They are the kind who thought up the system of oppression and ultimately of eradication in 1930s and 1940s Germany, with equal dispassion. You are head and shoulders above them, and you know it Linda. Take pride that you ‘made a twat of yourself’!

      Yes, people who are in poverty will vote for those who keep them in it. We could refer them to quotes like this one from George Orwell:

      “A people that elect corrupt politicians, imposters, thieves and traitors are not victims, but accomplices.”

      Or we could live in hope that this, one of my favourite American sayings, comes true:

      “Stupid should hurt”

      It probably will, but I suspect they’ll still vote Tory.

      • That is a very good article Trev. Sadly very few seem to be using the technology available at their fingertips to fact check any of this stuff.

        If they did, they would indeed discover that a fair amount of the support Corbyn receives in terms of press or online articles is from writers who are Jews themselves, and they are hyper critical of the whole business. The truth is that the establishment are terrified that Corbyn could be PM as he has the integrity and humanity, as well as the uncorruptability to call out the wrongs of those who would seek the UK government’s connivance in inhumane acts.

        Last week I found this monstrous article in Haartez, an Israeli newspaper that often publishes articles critical of the Israeli government policies towards the Palestinians. I read the article with increasing incredulity as the article went on to distort the situation more and more. We have to remember that this newspaper is targeted at an audience perhaps not familiar with the UK. I am unfamiliar with the picture painted of the UK in that article.

        You can find the article here, but it’s more than likely that you’ll need to register to be able to read it:

        https://www.haaretz.com/world-news/.premium-anyone-but-corbyn-for-uk-jews-fear-of-a-labour-government-is-now-overwhelming-1.8185321

        As I finished reading the article I noticed the writer’s bio. Noted there was that they wrote for the Daily Mail, The Spectator and the Sun, amongst others – quelle surprise!

        • Good grief, that’s a sickeningly terrible article, riddled with untruths. I don’t think the writer has any grasp of the situation, or is being deliberately obtuse, either that or not very bright. An astute analysis it isn’t! She describes Corbyn as “extreme Left”, no he isn’t he’s moderately Left, none of his policies are all that Radical, just Socialist policies that the Labour party are supposed to stand for before they were infiltrated by neoliberals like Blair. She says he (Corbyn) has allowed antisemitism to”flourish”, not true, it has declined under his leadership. It’s a very confused and badly written piece. If I’d have submitted an essay like that as an Undergraduate the Tutors would have torn it apart.

          • Well, she does write for the Daily Mail Trev, so what do you expect? But, yeah, it’s even worse than the kind of bilge that’s been churned out recently by the mainstream media in the UK. For some reason this mild mannered, caring septuagenarian has them all terrified.

            However, I’ve just finished watching something that everyone should see – it explains a lot why they’re all shit scared of Corbyn, as he threatens to upset their whole applecart:

            https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kwlvLe-X27o&fbclid=IwAR3J3su7YamVXs1ZqjWyMG-LDF24dKv0K88SZYmNRokgX-FfoLVgyrrUL6s

            It’s two hours long, but it demolishes all the Tory pretence that the NHS is safe in their hands.

          • No Trev, it’s not that one, I haven’t seen that one, but as it starts with Fellow Worker Chomsky speaking it looks as if it could be a riveting watch. If you’re having trouble watching it I could do what we’ve done before. I’ll message Kate. It’s a bugger not being able to watch things.
            Another video that’s a must watch, a lot shorter this time, but it gets right to the point!

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