All you need to force the DWP to talk civilly to benefit claimants is a plague. Who knew?

I have to point this out:

Last week, the DWP issued a press release for Universal Credit claimants that made me wonder if I was dreaming, still high, or even dead.

Instead of the usual vile, threatening and judgmental dross, this statement went somewhere new. The tone of the release was vaguely respectful and the content – this lightning surely won’t strike twice – a shade better than useless. Talk about novelty value. Who thought we’d see the day?

In this release, it appeared that the DWP was attempting to reassure Universal Credit’s million-plus new covid-era claimants that the department was working to make its famously useless and nine-tenths moribund Universal Credit claims process easier to use. People would no longer have to phone-queue for hours on the ironically-named Helpline to speak to a Universal Credit adviser. The DWP even said that it was putting on more staff to help people get their claims going and their benefit money paid. I’d put my last fiver on this proving to be the usual bollocks in reality – but who knew the department even had the words? The DWP actually used the phrase “you can rest assured” in this dispatch. There was no way that head honcho minister/front-of-house sociopath Therese Coffey had previous acquaintance with these words. She must have had help finding them.

It was the tone of this statement that really got me. I’ve been attending jobcentre meetings and benefit assessments with people in need for nigh on 10 years. I can confirm that before last week, “Fuck Off, Scrounger” was the DWP’s one and only message for sick, disabled or unemployed people. You do get slight variations on that theme, such as Computer Says No (a Universal Credit greatest hit), or We’ve Lost Your Sick Note/Don’t Believe You Had One, or We Didn’t Get Your Message About Your Hospital Appointment, So We’re Sanctioning You For A Month, or (my personal favourite) Tough Shit – There’s The Foodbank.

It’s been quite a decade, really. Such a time we’ve had. I’ve seen jobcentres close benefit claims for people with learning difficulties because they missed a couple of meetings when they were seriously ill (here’s a video from that event if you can stand it). I watched government close the all-important Independent Living Fund that disabled people who required 24-7 care relied on to live. I sat with people in jobcentres as advisers searched for – and found, as they do – weird excuses not to pay out Universal Credit housing costs and to leave people without rent. How I could go on. I really could go on, and on. I’ve seen little else for years.

Like many (ie everyone) in the field, I could hardly imagine the seismic event that might put the brakes on the DWP’s contempt for its clientele. It seemed pointless to set time aside to try. Still – get this. We’ve arrived. All we needed to force the DWP to realise that it was feeding real people through the grinder was a planet-wide killer virus and thousands of people – probably millions – dead, or thrown out of work. I own to some surprise that even these disasters have given the DWP pause and I wouldn’t bank on that pause lasting, but we take what we can where it falls.

Nobody would deny people who’ve just lost their jobs either money or half-decent treatment by public sector bureaucracies. A member of my own family is now out of work. I’m just trying to say that a lot of us have already seen people die, or crash into poverty while being driven mad by a torturous and unnavigable benefits system. That all went down because of the DWP, not the coronavirus. I wonder if the DWP is working up a press release for them.

84 thoughts on “All you need to force the DWP to talk civilly to benefit claimants is a plague. Who knew?

  1. I’m hoping that this situation with the virus emergency will result in changes in the way Government and Society does things. People might re-evaluate their priorities, and Government could actually do things to help people and improve lives. I might be wrong, we may end up paying for this with another decade of Austerity, but somehow I don’t think the people would stand for it. Universal Credit and the Benefits system as a whole could develop into a fairer form of Basic Income if the Political will is there, they’d have to tell IDS to fuck off though, and who knows maybe they will.
    For now though, the foodbank here has never been so busy, here’s the latest figures;

    “Monday through Wednesday we have:

    •taken 190 referrals (an average of 63 per day)
    •packed and delivered 331 packs (an average of 110 per day)
    •supported 310 people in total (an average of 103 per day)
    To put these numbers in perspective, compared to January we’ve seen a:
    •75% increase in referrals per day
    •44% increase in packs distributed per day
    •75% increase in people helped per day

    On the other hand, I applied online for a JSA Budgeting Loan and the approval form (that you have to sign and return) arrived within a few days rather than the usual three weeks, so maybe the DWP have stepped up a gear.

  2. It seems almost inappropriate to say that that is a brilliant piece of writing Kate. When we are mired in the shite of a plague, to praise a cynical and of course true, appraisal of the ‘new you beaut’ DWP seems to be crowing. But what the hell, this is the former brutal, bullying DWP.

    I’m inclined to agree with Trev. What is happening, is, in modern history, unprecedented. It’s a global plague. I cannot believe that after this, we can possibly return to ‘business as usual’. I cannot believe that even these Tory thugs could go back to calculatingly stripping welfare back to the bone again, without a huge backlash. But that backlash HAS to come from us. It will be for us to stop them from doing what they did.
    It is unfortunate that many thousands now applying for UC will not experience what the DWP Regime did to people. I only hope that such people don’t come out of UC after this, believing that earlier UC applicants were complaining unnecessarily, because THEY found the process reasonably easy.

    God! Let these appalling casualties of C19 count for making a society fairer and more compassionate, when this is over. Let the deaths of these poor sods count for something.

    Those figures Trev, are so sadly predictable. TG for all of you involved with foodbanks, the spawn of Tory cruelty. I have found that it is the small outfits That have swung into action; the large companies/supermarkets have, in my view simply increased their marketing, telling us how they are delivering more, and doing this and that. Very many of us have been posting how they are experiencing the opposite with them.
    My supplies have just started by a small shop that is just adjacent to our railway station! I used to go there to buy a drink and snack for the train.
    Also; you may al know this, but it is just sharing resource: Age YUK (as I now so fondly call them after a nasty little clash a while back), have a designated number 030 300 30003 for assistance. Someone takes basic details, then you are called back, and your details are fully taken, and must agree to the usual legal process of data sharing type stuff. It IS standard fare.
    They can then pick up scripts or do shopping. They apparently shop, and you don’t pay on delivery, but get get your receipt and payment instruction card; they then contact you, and vitally have a security code, and the cost of that shopping, to eliminate any possible fraud.

    You, Kate/Trev, are at the absolute coal face, but if you know someone who can afford shopping, give them this number. You may of course know all this.
    Being a ‘vulnerable person’/getting large supermarket priority, is a crock of shit. This works. I have to have life saving meds; -they delivered them promptly and will do again.

    OK. Stay safe (what else can anyone say?). Hope your cat is a little better Trev.

    • Cheers Linda!

      I really hope we don’t go backwards. I can actually picture Therese Coffey putting out another press release in 6 months’ time saying – right. Fun’s over. Back to saying eff off scroungers.

    • My older sis is getting food delivered by small local shops, grocers and butchers, no internet involved just ring them. She’s 73 and registered disabled and her husband is 80 with emphysema, they have to stay indoors and they don’t have internet or even know how to use a mobile phone! But they’re managing, and both I and my nephew are keeping in touch with them by phone (they do have a landline). To be fair to the supermarkets though, Morrisons are making big donations to the foodbank, and Aldi reserve their first hour for key workers.

      (PS. the cat is still clinging on…)

  3. I am sorry to burst your optimism, but the DWP are operatong as usual with me. I recently had a letter for my annual verification check for JSA (IB) In March 2020 which I returned on the 19th March, then low and behold I received another today 11th April on the bank holiday weekend asking me to return It by the 20th April giving me 9 days to return It with Easter Sunday and Bank Holiday Monda with no postal colections or deliveries.

    I am calling them on Tuesday to try to get them to do It over the phone as I have no changes In my circumstances and need the money to live on, to eat, pay bills etc.

    • Hey that’s a point Antony, now you mention it I usually get one of those every year but I don’t think I ve had one yet but I can’t remember what time of year it usually comes. But yeah, it seems a bit daft under the circumstances.

      • The problem Is Trev that If It odesn’t arrive on time, or gets lost In the Wolverhampton sorting centre your benefits get suspended. What has happened Is not my fault, the annual verification letter was sent on 19th March 20, when the first one was sent, and now I have another saying I didn’t complete the 1st, which arrived Saturday 11th April givng me only 5 working days for It to return and to be processed.

        What would you do?, and will they do It with me over the phone. I’m currently having kittens about It, and It’s ruined my weekend.

        • I don’t think there’s any post until Tuesday 14th. Get it signed and sent off as soon as you can but also ring them on Tuesday morning, try any numbers you have for your own Jobcentre as there may be someone taking calls, and/or any relevant numbers you have for the DWP in general. I very much doubt that they will stop anyone’s Benefits at the moment under the current circumstances, but you never know. I don’t know what else to suggest you do. If you have a computer, scanner and broadband, you could also scan the signed documents and email them to the DWP before posting them. CC the email to Therese Coffey whilst you’re at it. Back in the days of the Work Programme I used to email all my jobsearch evidence to Lord Freud every week! Never got a reply though, so I then started emailing it to the admin of Universal Jobmatch, saying that the JCP Work Coaches don’t look at it, and seeing as I went to all the trouble of doing jobsearch I was very adamant that some fucker should read it.

    • Ring them Antony. It happened with me once, phoned them and told them I had returned it the first time. Turned out they had received it (I had sent mine recorded delivery) but they’d sent out another letter anyway, because they are inept.

  4. Just heard the Archbishop of Canterbury (on Andrew Marr) refer to Coronavirus as “pestilence”, that’s a start, is the Church about to acknowledge that this is the Apocalypse?

  5. I helped someone in my shared house make a new claim to UC. As English isn’t her 1st language. It wouldn’t or couldn’t verify her identity and we couldn’t get thru on the phone. A message in her journal said they would call her which they did…on Saturday! However the worker couldn’t tell her how much she’d get or when and didn’t mention advance payment ( which I’d already explained ) . As I said this person had probably been drafted from another DWP section and genuinely didn’t know ( I gave my housemate a rough guesstimate ). The person my housemate spoke to was however polite and friendly

    • I am currently on the old legacy benefit Income Based Jobseekers Allowance, and received my annuall verification check In March which I am expected to complete and return In a pre-paid envelope, with a slip with the address It’s returned to, I did this on 20/03/20

      I subsequently on Saturday 12/04/20 received another Annual Verification letter stating they had not received the original posted 3 weeks ago, stating my JSA would be suspended on 20/04/20 If not returned. I have lost two days from the Bank holiday weekend, two more days this weekend and 5 working days for the current letter to arrive In affect giving me 4 working days to reply.

      The best will In the world will not see my returned letter actioned In a day therefore my JSA IB Is likely to be suspended. I wanted to know whether they could do this over the phone as I have no change of circumstances. Does anybody know If this Is possible?

      • If you get someone vaguely co-operative they should be able to sort it out over the phone. I’ve done this before.

        • Thanks for the advice I phoned the JSA helpline and did the annual verification over the phone, and everything has been updated. It was just a matter of waiting half an hour, but that was the biggest Inconvenience. Thanks again

          • That’s good news Antony, glad to hear you got it sorted 😊 Try not to let these things get you down (easier said than done!). I suppose I’ll be getting one of those forms soon, you’d think they would have dispensed with such bullshit under the current circumstances. You were just unlucky that a) they lost the first one and b) it coincided with Easter Bank holiday.

  6. Antony Webber

    If you can spare a fiver then here’s what I would do in your position.

    Fill in this DWP letter, get to the post office first thing tomorrow and ask for it to be sent registered post + guaranteed next day delivery. That will cost £5 something. That means your letter will turn up at the DWP office on Wednesday 15th April.

    Keep the receipt the post office give you as that has the website, and your special number on it, for tracking your letter.
    Go online Weds morning, bring up website, type in your number and lo & behold you’ll know exactly when the letter was delivered and who signed for it. If not received in morning, try in afternoon; post might be a bit slow after a bank holiday.
    Take a screen shot.
    If the bastards try to sanction you then you’ll have proof you sent the letter and who signed for it!
    But the very fact your letter was sent registered post, and had to be signed for, means they won’t even bother trying.
    If you can’t afford £5, then just ask for it to be sent by registered post; that costs about £1.70 and is the important one, with the tracking and signing. The other £3+ is for next day delivery. But do you need that? 20th April is next Monday.

    I ALWAYS, BUT ALWAYS, post stuff to the DWP via registered post; cuts out all that “We never received it” bullshit.
    I would advise anyone else to do likewise.

    • I am currently self-Isolating because of Covid-19 for the next 5 days as advised by the government, and the local post office has shut, and the royal mail are not currently doing 1st class special delivery. I will ring them this morning and do It over the phone, as every other assessment I s being done over the phone at present.

      I might just let myself die as I I have had enough of this shit.

  7. P.P.S
    Make sure you ask for the ‘signed for’ registered delivery; the post office have several types.. it can get confusing!

  8. Something to cheer you up in these terrible times;

    Smiling is Infectious
    by Spike Milligan

    ​​Smiling is infectious,
    ​you catch it like the flu,​
    When someone smiled at me today,
    ​I started smiling too.​

    I passed around the corner​
    And someone saw my grin.​
    When he smiled I realised
    ​I’d passed it on to him.

    ​I thought about that smile,
    ​then I realised its worth.
    ​A single smile, just like mine
    ​could travel round the earth.

    ​So, if you feel a smile begin,​
    don’t leave it undetected.
    ​Let’s start an epidemic quick,
    ​and get the world infected!

  9. Here’s a link to a Benefits survey where you can tell the Work and Pensions Select Committee about your experiences and opinions of claiming State Benefits. Much of it relates to Universal Credit and ESA, but you can still answer some of it as a JSA claimant and put your two-penneth in!

    https://bit.ly/2RGiNC4

    I said that JSA should be increased to £94 per week, and that £73 is insufficient to live on. I suggested scrapping Universal Credit and replacing it with a Unconditional Basic Income to provide people with the flexibility they need to do temporary or part time jobs without fear of being punished or having to spend every waking hour doing pointless jobsearch just for the sake of avoiding Sanctions.

  10. And now they’re flying in Romanians to pick fruit & veg on British farms. Perhaps Brexit wasn’t such a good idea after all, who knew?

    https://news.sky.com/story/coronavirus-jobs-row-as-romanian-fruit-pickers-arrive-for-harvest-11974364

    https://www.marketplace.org/2020/04/08/jobless-brits-urged-to-pick-for-britain-as-covid-19-blocks-foreign-farmworkers/

    https://theconversation.com/the-real-reasons-why-british-workers-wont-pick-fruit-80152

    This typifies Tory thinking, people like IDS, they just look at figures on paper and jump to conclusions. There’s X number of unemployed Brits so they can do that work. Fine if you’ve got no commitments or responsibilities and are free to work away from home, or you happen to live close enough to agricultural areas, but for most of us that’s not the case. We live in rented urban accommodation in towns & cities hundreds of miles away from places like Lincolnshire, Norfolk and Kent. We can’t just up-sticks and leave our flats to go off picking hops or spuds or whatever it is. Besides which, if you’re on JSA it isn’t worth breaking your claim to do temporary work that would mean having to claim Universal Credit afterwards.

    • It’s brilliant, isn’t it. Tell a whole group of workers to fuck off because they’re “foreign” and not welcome, and then find that you have to go grovelling back to beg them to return. This stuff just writes itself.

      • “This stuff just writes itself”

        Yep, both Aeschylus and Shakespeare could have saved their time. It’s oft been said that there’s a fine line between Comedy and Tragedy but at the moment I swear life is becoming like the latest episode in the great tradition of British Farce. All we need now is Brian Rix dropping his trousers just as the vicar walks in…

  11. Universal Credit is unfit for purpose, as Joe Public are finding out:

    “Coronavirus benefit claimants could be ‘surprised’ by low payments, DWP warns

    Universal Credit claimants could be ‘confused’ by the low total of their first payment, according to the Director General of the DWP”

    https://www.telegraph.co.uk/politics/2020/04/15/coronavirus-benefit-claimants-could-surprised-low-payments-dwp/

    https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2020/04/18/propaganda-dwp-sweet-talks-mainstream-news-media-about-low-universal-credit-pay/

  12. I’ve heard the Gov. are supposed to be deciding today on whether (or when) to reopen the Jobcentres, but haven’t heard anything about a decision yet. They could be reopening in July, or an extension of closure for another 3 months, lets hope it’s the latter. It said in my local paper yesterday that public libraries are to remain closed for the foreseeable future, and with an extra 2 million Benefits claimants there won’t be enough computers in the Jobcentre so how are people going to do their jobsearch bearing in mind that not everyone has internet access?

    • I certaily hope so to for all the reasons you have mentioned, as I am on the Work and Health Programme and do not want to return to Maximus who are the biggest fraudsters known to mankind expecting people to look for work during a pandemic, regardless of the risk of Infection or death.

      They also make fraudulent employment applications on the clients behalf, lying to a potential employer and expect you to be complicit In It. This Is the contracted out help Into Work companies which have been widely reported on over the years.

      • You have my greatest sympathy Antony, I remember only too well what the original Work Programme was like at Interserve in my case.
        They haven’t made any announcement re Jobcentres reopening to my knowledge, probably just get a text out of the blue saying you have a Jobcentre appointment tomorrow and bring all your jobsearch evidence. Having that place shut for the last 3 months has been one of the few good things about Corona lockdown.

  13. Massive amounts of poverty, unprecedented foodbank usage, isn’t it marvellous that when it comes to forcing and bullying the poor and vulnerable, largely unemployable, people to apply for non-existent jobs there’s no limit on how much dosh can be made available….

    DWP gets ministerial direction to breach spending limits in ‘extraordinary circumstances’ of Covid-19

    https://www.civilserviceworld.com/articles/news/dwp-gets-ministerial-direction-breach-spending-limits-extraordinary-circumstances

    But JSA claimants can’t have the extra £20 p/w.

  14. Coronavirus: DWP ‘must not ignore’ people claiming legacy benefits after Universal Credit boost

    https://www.politicshome.com/news/article/coronavirus-dwp-must-not-ignore-people-claiming-legacy-benefits-after-universal-credit-boost

    If they do have to pay the extra £20 p/w to JSA claimants too then they’ll have to back-pay it and we’ll get a very welcome and much needed lump sum. I currently have a week to go to next JSA payment, got no money, little food, now run out of bread, milk, coffee, veg, cheese, peanut butter, marmalade, marmite, tobacco, low on cat food apart from some out-of-date tuna, it’s going to be a long week.

  15. Universal Credit appeals against sanctions almost doubled at start of 2020

    Ministry of Justice figures show that in the period between January and March, the number of appeals to tribunal soared by 96 per cent.

    The number of Universal Credit appeals almost doubled in the first three months of this year as MPs attacked the “uncaring” benefits system, official figures reveal

    It highlights the ongoing issue with the Government’s benefits system, which critics warn can lead to sanctions against the most vulnerable in society, leaving them with their payments being cut or stopped entirely.

    https://inews.co.uk/news/politics/universal-credit-appeals-against-sanctions-almost-doubled-at-start-of-2020-483511

    • On a different topic, has anybody yet returned to the their local Jobcentre yet, since the reintroduction of the sanctions regime? I was due to sign yesterday and when I contacted the Jobcentre there wasn’t any answer and the JSA helpline keeps saying we will be Informed when we need to go back toour Jobcentres to sign on.

      Does anybody know?

      • I’ve heard nothing myself Antony, only what other people are saying online. I have no idea if my Jobcentre has reopened, or when I am expected to attend. There’s been nothing sent in writing, we’re just left to assume they will contact us when the time comes. I expect we will receive either a text message or a phone call at some point out of the blue saying you’ve got a signing appointment next Tuesday or whatever. From what I can gather the Jobcentres are reopening sporadically across the country, a few at a time, rather than all at once en masse, and once they’re open they’ll probably be sending for people a few at a time rather than all at once, but I’ve had nothing official to that effect. I’ve been doing some job search to be on the safe side, just in case.

        • Thanks for your response. This has put my mind at rest. I also have been undertaking Job search since the re-introduction of the sanctions regime, so when I eventually attend I will have something to show I have been actively seeking work and avoid a sanction.

  16. ‘Worst is still to come’ as Covid-19 foodbank demand continues to soar

    “Experts said this week’s announcements from the Chancellor “do not go anywhere near far enough to tackle the desperate crisis that is unfolding”

    “The lack of transport and in some cases no access to internet services isolates those in poverty even further. Food banks have been normalised and are becoming an acceptable part of how those experiencing poverty are supposed to survive. This shouldn’t be the case.”

    https://www.bigissue.com/latest/worst-is-still-to-come-as-covid-19-foodbank-demand-continues-to-soar/

    https://www.dailypost.co.uk/news/north-wales-news/food-bank-reveals-shocking-impact-18562022

      • So he’s finally admitted that the 5 (originally 6) weeks delay was never necessary, didn’t arise or was necessitated due to any systematic structural administration problem, was simply decided that it should be that way as a policy decision for no apparent reason other than to fuck peoples’ lives up. All the subsequent suffering, the arrears, debt, foodbanks, evictions, suicides, were deliberate just for the hell of it, to punish people and teach them not to be poor. WTF? That’s got to be literally Criminal. If anyone tries telling me we’re not fighting a Class War I swear I’ll fucking swing for them.

        • Agreed. It was all because Jesus appeared in front of IDS in Easterhouse and said Go Forth and treat people without money like shit. And also take out sick and disabled people. And so it was done. Fuck’s sake. How these wingnuts end up with so much power to do so much damage I do not know.

          • It Is because they shit and piss on people and are fucking wingnuts that they have power, and they rely on plebs who read shitty right wing tabloids who perpetuate the “striver”, “skiver” rhetoric because that’s “wot The Mail, Sun, Express, Torygraph” said, so It must be true.

          • Also if you force people into debt right from the start it gives you power over them. And debt has a monetary value that can be sold off to a Private finance company at some point in the future, if you can get away with it, like Banks do, hence the thriving Debt Recovery business. I don’t know how that would affect people in my position, if I get shifted to UC and then offered a loan in the form of an advance payment, am I breaking the terms of my Insolvency Order? I am not allowed to apply for loans or credit above £500 as far as I know.

      • Like I said, it’s downright criminal. If only we had someone in Opposition with a legal background who could challenge this….oh, wait…

    • ”What we really need is a smart virus that only takes out the Tories….”

      Love that! (And all the updates you put here Trev). I always read them, but am tied up with stuff as we all are, most of you worse than me.

      Christ! I wish there were such a virus! Never is it more deserved.

      • Hi Linda, glad you’re still ok, I was beginning to wonder! 😷 In my area we’re under tougher ‘semi-lockdown’ regulations that no one understands, can go for an half-priced meal in a restaurant or pub but not with anyone from another household, but can go to work (if you’re in employment), but can’t sit in your sister’s garden…i think. Facemasks obligatory in shops of course but I’ve been wearing them the whole way through. Not sure what else is different. Still no jobcentre in my life, which is good.

  17. An old article from Red Pepper that sums up the situation with Universal Credit:

    “But the disastrous roll-out of universal credit is not simply a crisis of implementation. Even if everything had gone according to plan, claimants would still be facing misery, hunger and eviction. Because this is, quite simply, what the scheme is designed to do: to re-draw the entire welfare benefits system in order to change unemployed people’s behaviour in ways amenable to the Tory party, using the need to ‘simplify’ the system as a smokescreen for attempts to discipline claimants.”

    https://www.redpepper.org.uk/universal-credit-isnt-about-saving-money-its-about-disciplining-unemployed-people/

    IDS belongs in jail for the wilful damage he has done, but instead he got a Knighthood.

    • There Is something very wrong, particularly the House Of Lords who receive as much as the Universal Credit monthly allowance for claimants over the age of 25

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