Found a job – but can’t afford childcare. Universal Credit won’t help up front. This is ridiculous

Update Monday 13 May:

I rang the Universal Credit helpline (0800 328 5644) to ask if the Flexible Support Fund could be used to help people on Universal Credit with childcare costs when they found work.

After 20 minutes (yep) on hold, the person who answered the phone said that the Flexible Support Fund couldn’t be used for childcare costs. That was interesting. You’ll see in the tweet copied below that Universal Credit CE Neil Couling said that it could.

I asked the helpline specifically if the fund could be used for childcare costs and the officer said No. I explained the upfront and first-month childcare costs of about £300 that the woman in the original post below faces. The helpline said that advance loans and budgeting loans could be used for childcare costs, but must be paid back.

So, I tweeted Couling and asked him to tell me what the right answer is. Can people use the Flexible Support Fund for childcare costs or not? If they can, why does the Universal Credit helpline say they can’t?

People in poverty can’t afford upfront childcare costs when they get work. If Couling says the Flexible Support Fund can be used for those costs, then people should be told about it and how to apply for it.

What a circus. I swear to god.

Update Saturday 11 May:

Universal Credit grandee Neil Couling tells me on twitter that the Flexible Support Fund can indeed be used to fund childcare if people who claim Universal Credit can’t meet childcare costs.

It’s an absolute travesty that jobcentre advisers don’t tell people that. I’m finding this unreal.

As I replied to Neil – he needs to fill the airwaves with news of this fund and instruct his jobcentre advisers to damn well tell people that they can apply to the FSF to pay for childcare when they start work. It’s disgusting that people aren’t told about this fund.

The woman in the original post below tells me that she’s actually lost the carer job she was due to start on Monday, because of the childcare funding problem. Her employer “got funny” about things when the woman asked if she could work 8-2.30pm for the first week while she sorted out childcare and payments.

She has another interview next week for another job.

Here’s Couling on twitter on the subject. He needs to spend less time on twitter and more time making sure Universal Credit claimants get the money they’re entitled to:

Original post from yesterday:

To Essex now – where a young woman whose problems with Universal Credit I’ve previously written about gets in touch to say that her new job is at risk because of problems funding childcare.

The woman has found work and starts on Monday.

She has a little girl, so needs a childminder to pick the child up from school and to look after her until her mother gets home from work.

The woman found a childminder (after school club was already booked out).

Universal Credit said they’d fund 85% of the costs.

The problem is that the woman has to pay this in advance (it’ll be about £300 a month) and have the money repaid.

This will be a real stretch – for the first month in particular.

Like so many people who are starting in work, this young woman doesn’t have £300 lying around:

“Universal credit said they can pay 85% of childcare… but I have to add the amount to my account each month. The first month, I’d have to pay in advance and be refunded for it. I can’t get an advance payment, because I had one last October.”

It looks like this woman will have to borrow from family, or friends (assuming someone has £300), or take out a loan elsewhere.

She’ll end up in (more) debt. That’s inevitable. As the woman says in the quote above, Universal Credit won’t give an advance loan for the childcare costs, because she had another loan recently. That loan was to cover debt brought about by deductions that the DWP was taking from her Universal Credit payments. Chief among these were deductions for tax credit overpayments which the woman insists she didn’t owe.

So – “I have to find £300 just to start work.”

Needless to say, the government says it pays childcare costs in arrears to prevent fraud. I just love that. This government’s obsession with appearing tough on people in poverty literally knows no bounds. Government is so damn hung up about fraud that’ll actually shove low-paid parents into debt when they do the “right” thing and find work.

Why the DWP can’t accept a letter from a registered childminder stating charges in advance and pay costs up front I do not know.

In my less charitable moments, of which I have many, I find myself thinking that government wants to keep single mothers in poverty, rather than in work that might let them get ahead.

Suggestions and input welcome.

Update Friday 9 May:

Gail Ward on facebook has alerted me to the Flexible Support Fund, which should be available to people in exactly these situations.

The problem is, as usual, that Universal Credit and jobcentres don’t tell people that these funds exist. This is criminal.

The Turn2Us site actually centres its Flexible Support Fund information around a criticism of the DWP for withholding information about the fund (a fund I’d never heard of).

Says Turn2Us:

“A number of organisations are concerned at how little is known about the FSF.

One Jobcentre adviser in Bolton likened the FSF to the illegal boxing clubs in the film Fight Club, in that they don’t talk about it.

This is highlighted by the fact that the budget set aside for FSF has been underspent in every year since it was introduced.”

Isn’t that just great.

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We know you’re homeless and dangerously depressed and anxious. Let’s push you over the edge

Readers of this site will know that I’ve been interviewing homeless Newham woman Marsha, 30, this year.

Marsha is living in temporary accommodation in a one-room hostel with her little daughter. The two have lived in this cramped space together more than two years.

Marsha has severe depression and anxiety. She sometimes cries when we talk. She is stuck in dreadful poverty in a way that she fears is permanent: “They [Newham Council] will put me in housing (out of London, away from jobs, training and free childcare with family) and I will be on benefits for the rest of my life.”

Marsha gets no respite from a public sector that should be in place to help. Marsha is being crushed by that sector. The public sector has no resources and no patience, imagination, or humanity as a result. That’s austerity.

On her own, Marsha can’t get housing in Newham near family who could look after her daughter while Marsha studies to qualify for the jobs that will get her off Universal Credit.

Marsha relies completely on her mother to look after her daughter and for much-needed emotional support. If Marsha is housed miles away from her mother as the council has historically insisted she must be, she’ll be isolated on benefits and in debilitating depression forever. The facts are also that job and training opportunities are much better in London than they are in the places that councils suggest people live.

This is why homeless families fight so hard to stay in the city. It’s not because homeless families can’t stand the thought of living in towns that don’t have a Harrods. It’s because employment and training opportunities in smaller towns can be hard to come by.

People also worry about racism in other towns, just by the way. We live in febrile times on that score.

Meanwhile – social services and her daughter’s school are constantly on Marsha’s case in a threatening way. They demand that Marsha and her daughter attend same-day meetings to discuss her daughter’s mental and emotional health – health that is inevitably deteriorating because of the conditions that Marsha and her daughter are kept in. Like so many people I speak with, Marsha worries that the mental and emotional health problems that are caused by the family’s living conditions will lead to her daughter being removed.

Meanwhile again, Marsha’s jobcentre adviser has sanctioned Marsha for attending college – rather than sending off the hundreds of never-answered applications for minimum-wage jobs that the DWP demands.

I talk to too many women with children who are held in poverty in this three-way clamp housing, social services and DWP all keeping single mothers in their place.

On the housing front:

I think that Newham council is stringing Marsha along when it comes to promises of better (ie fit for human habitation) housing. Such promises are as cruel and dangerous as they are empty – particularly when you are dealing with people who live in hellholes and have very serious depression.

A couple of months ago, officers showed Marsha a pigsty in Woolwich and told her to live in it, or else (the “or else” being that the council would give Marsha no more “help” if she didn’t shut up and take the flat).

Later on, under pressure, the council apologised to Marsha for treating her in this way.

Councillors said that they would find Marsha and her daughter a better home – ie, something human beings could just about live in. They even said they’d located such place.

That was months ago. Absolutely nothing happened after that. You started to wonder if this better home existed at all.

The council told Marsha that she couldn’t move in, because it was fixing the flat. I can’t imagine what sort of fixing this has involved. It’s been months.

And maybe Marsha was right to wonder if this promised flat was real. Certainly, the promise of it wasn’t. Marsha just told me that the council has rung to say that the flat is off the menu. The council says it has another flat in mind. Marsha was crying when she said that she doubted this. She said she was thinking of giving up – of leaving the homelessness hostel and bunking down wherever she could. This – from someone with very bad depression and anxiety.

You can see why homeless families in Marsha’s situation beg councils for social housing and secure tenancies. It’s not just that private tenancies are notoriously expensive and insecure, and that you’re likely to be facing eviction and homelessness again in a matter of months. It’s that councils can’t keep a grip when they’re farming people out to these places.

I could go on and I will in another post. I have more to post on the non-stop interference that Marsha and women in her situation get from social services.

For now though – Newham council needs to sort this out. Destabilising people with depression in this way is disgusting and dangerous. I’d ask Newham council for comment on this, except that I’ve been blacklisted. I will still ask councillors directly, though. The hell with it.

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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.

Continue reading

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You’re homeless. You should be grateful for a flat without furniture or a fridge or floor coverings… Suck it up

Back to homelessness in East London – where Newham council tells Maya and Rakib, a homeless couple with two very young children, that a flat with smashed and broken storage sheds and no floor coverings, or stove, or furniture is perfectly adequate for (the likes of) them.

The couple is homeless. That means they have no rights and no voice. They must live wherever authorities tell them to live. They must be grateful. They must understand that they’re at the bottom of the pile – and that’s how everyone else sees things.

Truly, homeless people are disenfranchised.

Says Maya:

“The council officer said they often rent flats out as shells and that was okay.”

This is important. It shows where the official mindset is at.

Windowsills in the flat

We’ve reached a point (we’ve been at it for a long while) where officers and politicians genuinely believe that it IS okay to shove homeless families into shells and hovels – and that homeless people who are offered a shell, or a hovel, don’t know they’re born.

I think that a lot of officials genuinely believe this. After years of austerity, this institutional contempt is rife.

“At least you’re inside,” the argument goes. In the bureaucratic mind, sleeping on an uncovered floor under a roof is better than sleeping on a park bench – because that’s the choice. That’s where the line is now. We’re all meant to accept it. Homeless people no right to expect the basics, let alone a healthy environment, or anything so romantic as comfort.

Homeless people who hope for the basics are felt to have a scandalous sense of entitlement.

I hear the most extraordinary things as a result.

I’ve written about councils giving homeless pregnant women and sick and disabled people air mattresses in lieu of beds.

I wrote about 67-year-old Paul in Oldham, who was told by officers at First Choice Homes that the filthy, tiny and rotting static caravan that he lived in counted as adequate housing and he’d make himself intentionally homeless if he left it. I attended a meeting with him where an officer actually said that.

Paul in his caravan

I wrote about Marsha who was shown a place in Woolwich with stained mattresses, a broken, filthy oven and broken doorframes. She was told to accept the place, or else.

Oven at the flat Marsha was shown

Homeless people must accept all of this, or risk a council discharging its duty to them – that is, refusing to help them any further.

Their “choices” come down to – “do you want to live inside, or outside?” and “live in this hovel, or else.” Continue reading

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Homelessness and poverty while Brexit takes it all

Posted below are excerpts from a transcript of an interview with homeless Newham woman Marsha, 30.

I post this as an example of homelessness as so many women I interview these days experience it.

Marsha talks about common problems that homeless women with children are always up against now: the lifetime of housing insecurity, the debilitating anxiety and depression, and the public authorities that invade a homeless woman’s privacy and keep her in her place by never letting her forget that they could take her child.

Marsha talks about being trapped forever – in rotten housing and low-paid work.

Few people on the ground believe that this will change soon.

The political and media classes are completely consumed by Brexit.

There’s no time or space for people who rely on the public services that our imploding politics can’t provide.

That is disgusting. I can’t tell you how upsetting it is for everyone involved.

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Housing

For 18 months, Marsha has lived with her 6-year-old daughter in a single room in a Newham homelessness hostel.

The two share a bed in that room:

Marsha and her daughter in their one-room temporary homelessness hostel accommodation

Before they were placed in this hostel, Marsha and her daughter lived in temporary shared accommodation in a Newham hostel called Belgrave Court.

The two had one room. They shared a kitchen and bathroom with other hostel residents.

Marsha has lived in a lot of places like this. She grew up in shared accommodation.

Marsha’s mother migrated to England from Jamaica. She worked long hours as a cleaner. She brought Marsha to England when Marsha was 12. The two lived in shared housing.

They often had to move. Stability is a privilege that not everyone enjoys.

Marsha says:

“…when you’re renting a room… you’re sharing with all different people and there’s always issues, so we’ve always had to just kept to kept on moving, so as a teenager coming up into my adult years, I had to move…”

Marsha says that she was abused when she was younger.

She hates talking about these issues (“I don’t want all my business out there”), although council and jobcentre officers insist that she talks – again and again and again:

“The medical assessment officer, he asked if I had any issues. My issues growing up is not something I’m comfortable talking about, so I just said to him, “bottom line, I suffer from depression. I don’t need to go into the things that make me depressed, because it is uncomfortable to relive certain moments…”

Relentless interrogation by authorities

Marsha is forced to relive her past and present problems, though. Homeless women must repeatedly justify their need for housing and income help to strangers by explaining their backgrounds and experiences again and again. They must tell their stories from the start to each new officer who interviews them – council homelessness officers, MASH (multi-agency safeguarding hub) officers, jobcentre advisers and social workers.

They must tell officers everything: mental health histories, family histories, relationship histories and abuse histories. There’s no letup. There’s no privacy. There is no autonomy. Officers want details when they are deciding if a homeless woman is in need.

They want graphic details, even. Does the woman have panic attacks? How often does she have them? How serious are they? How bad is her depression? Is she medicated? Was she abused? Who was her abuser? What did her abuser do? How has her experience affected her kids?

Officers want to rate a woman’s story. They want her to prove that her problems are genuinely serious, whatever that means.

Marsha says that her medical history of depression and panic attacks (she’s been hospitalised in the past) has sometimes been dismissed in the past, because officers say that panic attacks are run-of-the-mill these days:

“They said to me panic attacks is a common thing, [that] lots of people go through it. [They said] “just find coping mechanisms and you will be all right.”

Officers say that even when Marsha is clearly unwell:

“…the sort of depression that I had at the time – I was always washing my hands. I was always doing stuff. I couldn’t take light. Even now, I can barely stand light. That’s why I put stuff over the window.”

Marsha still drapes sheets and blankets over windows to keep the light out. I visited her at about midday on a Saturday and her hostel room was in shade.

Sheets and blankets draped over the hostel window

Officers know these things, but ask about them repeatedly all the same.

Councils keep detailed files about homeless people, but don’t refer to them, apparently.

Marsha says:

“I said to him [the officer], “I’ve got my housing file in my drawer. It’s this thick. I have been complaining since I moved into this property that I have panic attacks at least two to three times a week.”

At a recent meeting with social services, Marsha had to remind the social worker of her name, because the officer wasn’t sure who Marsha was – even though she had called Marsha to the meeting.

The social worker hadn’t looked at Marsha’s file. She just brought Marsha in to question her.

———- Continue reading

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Mayor apologises for letter which threatened to make a woman with serious mental health issues homeless. Now what.

This is an update:

Regular readers will know that I recently published a story about the letter on this page – a letter that threatened a Newham hostel resident with homelessness if she didn’t attend a meeting.

Lukia, the woman who received the letter, has serious mental health issues.

She’s recently been in the care of a mental health unit.

The note said that Lukia would be thrown off the council homelessness list and evicted from her hostel room if she didn’t attend a meeting that day.

Needless to say, Lukia found this note upsetting in the extreme.

 

When I first posted the letter, some readers here and on facebook felt that it couldn’t be genuine – that staff couldn’t have issued such a rough note on an unheaded piece of paper in such unprofessional way.

I understood that. Nobody wants to think that council and hostel staff professionalism have collapsed to such a point.

Except that professionalism has collapsed – at councils, at the DWP – all over.

In the two recent videos below, Newham mayor Rokhsana Fiaz apologises for that letter. She says that there’s been an investigation into the note and that the person responsible has been sacked.

I’ve heard the same thing on the grapevine, so we’ll go with it for now.

Thing is – what next? – for Newham, for councils generally, for the whole of the public sector?

The political and media classes couldn’t care less that the public sector is actually anarchic a lot of the time. Brexit is their one interest and fatal obsession. You’d be better off asking Santa for housing than putting in a request with that lot.

Politicians like Fiaz do a good line in apologising (google “Rokhsana Fiaz apology” for a look), but that doesn’t change the fact that they’re still overseeing a housing catastrophe. The national housing disaster is going nowhere even faster than Brexit. Sadly, unlike Brexit, it isn’t live-blogged by mainstream press outlets in real time.

The best you can hope for now with local politicians is a kneejerk response that goes in your favour.

I know for a fact how things “work” behind the scenes at certain council offices at the moment, because I’m in contact with officers here and there. Campaigners and welfare advisers bring individual housing cases to the attention of a mayor or a council leader. That mayor or leader rushes down to the housing options team in that council and tells staff to find housing for that individual pronto.

Staff do as they’re told and money is somehow found to meet a local rent (this part always intrigues me), but staff seethe. Some leave. There’s no system as such – just reflex reactions from sensitive politicians. The thing really is lawless – like Brexit, if you will. Sign of the times, I suppose.

If you’re campaigning with people who are homeless, that sensitivity is your main way in. Problem is – not everyone who is homeless knows that, or is in a position to pressure a council.

Lukia has been offered housing.

Anyway. Continue reading

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PIP assessment recording: the PIP assessor who didn’t know what homelessness really was

I’ve posted below an extract from a PIP assessment recording I made.

Paul’s caravan – exterior

It shows that some Personal Independence Payment assessors have no idea what extreme poverty in our so-called modern era looks like.

It shows that some PIP assessors don’t know – or don’t believe – that such poverty and need exists.

That is a problem. These assessors make judgments on sick and disabled people’s eligibility for much-needed benefits.

They’re at a dangerous remove, because they carry out these assessments behind a desk.

They judge people’s needs by reading through a computer checklist in a room in an assessment centre.

As poverty worsens, that remove tells more and more.

I attended this PIP assessment a bit over a year ago in Rochdale with Paul, who was in his 60s.

Paul had a serious heart condition, chronic kidney disease and mobility difficulties. He’d had a pulmonary embolism.

He was also homeless. He lived in a tiny old caravan on a concrete site in Oldham.

Paul in his caravan

The problem? The PIP assessor had NO idea what such homelessness meant. I was struck by this. You can’t judge people’s needs if you can’t fathom their lives. You certainly can’t judge people’s needs if the assessment system you’re using doesn’t account for poverty.

Two things:

– the assessor expressed straight-out disbelief about Paul’s accommodation (“a caravan?” you’ll hear him ask with surprise in the audio below)

– the assessor showed a startling lack of imagination about the limits of such a caravan. He asked if there was a shower in the caravan.

He kept asking Paul what disability adaptions and aids he had in the caravan. You can see from the photos that the answers were No and None. Paul barely had four walls.

So.

I find this too often with so-called professionals who assess people in poverty for much-needed sickness and disability benefits.

Bottom line is that assessors think that people in poverty have more than people actually do. They give every indication of thinking that people are better supported than people are. There’s a sense that the default position is that people are coping.

There was certainly a sense here that people who were sick or disabled and homeless simply couldn’t fall below a certain line.

Stove in the caravan

The fact that Paul didn’t have adaptations because he was literally living in a tin can without even a bucket for a toilet in it wasn’t on the radar.

Made you wonder if PIP assessors asked the same questions of homeless people who lived in tents.

The PIP assessor even asked if social services had been around to see Paul’s caravan could be adapted.

I think the assessor wanted to see an occupational therapy report – he wanted proof that Paul needed help and should get PIP because of that.

Assessors are obsessed with formal reports and pieces of paper – the certificates and reports that cost money, require ID and are harder and harder to get for people who are pushed to the fringes.

Paul’s caravan was as basic as caravans get. It was old, tiny, broken down and cramped. The caravan was so small that Paul couldn’t stretch out on the interior ledge that served as a bed. You couldn’t lean on the walls, let alone fit a handrail to them.

The caravan had no toilet or shower. There was a toilet and shower block on the Oldham site where the caravan was parked. Paul had to use that.

I realise that questions about adaptions and aids are usually asked at PIP assessments, but I wondered what the assessor was seeing in his mind: Paul living in a nice two-deck Winnebago in which you might fit a wet shower and a stairlift?

Here’s the conversation:

Assessor: The home that you’re living in – what would you describe it as?

Paul: I’m homeless…

Assessor: Homeless. Right. You do not live in a house at all?

Paul: I actually live in a caravan.

Assessor: Caravan. Caravan…? Caravan. Now, in the home do you use any aids or adaptations that are there for you…? What are they?

Paul: If I lived in a house, then I would be needing preferably a bungalow so there are no stairs…if I lived in a bungalow, I need a walk-in shower and preferably a seat to sit on…

Assessor: Yeah, but in answer to the question that I asked. Do you have any aids at the moment…

Paul: I have elbow crutches…

Assessor: Elbow crutches. Anything else?

Paul: No

Assessor: Have you been assessed by social services… or anyone that has been around to your caravan to see if there’s anything that they could do for you…

Paul: No

Assessor: When you wash, is there a shower in this caravan?

Paul: No…There’s a shower on site, there is a shower block…

Assessor: All right. There’s a shower you use in the shower block.”

—–

Etc

—-

The post below is an excerpt from a series of covert PIP and ESA recordings I’ve made in austerity.

The transcribing of these recordings will form part of an interview and assessment collection made possible thanks to a Barry Amiel & Norman Melburn Trust grant.

Amiel_Melburn_logo

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Actually, Neil – the Universal Credit “system” for self employed people and variable incomes is shite

To twitter, then! – where Universal Credit director general Neil Couling (or the hapless minion who runs Neil’s twitter account) tells me that Universal Credit works brilliantly for people whose incomes vary.

People who are self-employed often earn different amounts from month to month. They must report their earnings each month. The DWP is meant to adjust their Universal Credit entitlements accordingly and pay people the Universal Credit that they’re owed.

Neil seems to think that this actually happens.

I’d asked twitter what should happen to a Universal Credit claim if people made money one month, but not much in the next two (I was trying to understand if Universal Credit claims stopped if people earned over certain amounts):


Said the great man in response:

“Light touch, simple and quick” – like a 2 in 1 shampoo! Sounded absolutely fantastic.

Pity it’s tripe.

I say it is tripe, because I keep meeting self-employed people outside the jobcentre who tell me that trying to claim Universal Credit while on a variable income is a nightmare – a nightmare that they’ve given up trying to wake from.

They say that the DWP can’t calculate their entitlements correctly and/or never pay their Universal Credit entitlements on time. In fact, this was the reason that I asked twitter about Universal Credit and variable incomes in the first place. I was trying to work out wtf was meant to happen, so that I could compare that with the shambles that was actually happening.

In February, for example, I posted a discussion with a woman outside Stockport jobcentre who said that trying to claim her family’s Universal Credit entitlements each month was “a nightmare.”

She said that her self-employed husband declared his earnings to the DWP each month as instructed. The DWP had not once managed to calculate the amount of Universal Credit that the family was owed and pay the money on time.

She was not happy about this. At all:

“They [the DWP] never pay us on time… Me husband works for himself, so his earnings are up and down at the moment, so we have to declare them every month…even when he’s declared his earnings, they suspend our account, we still haven’t got paid a week later and then we still have to ring up [the DWP]…

“He declares them [his earnings] on the 16th of every month, because the payday is the 23rd. He declares them, which reopens our account, but then a week later, we should get paid – on the 23rd – but every month when it gets to the 23rd, we’re never paid, so I have to wait 40 minutes by ringing them up and getting through to them… and I’ve got a three year old and a two year old as well as the baby and it’s a nightmare.”

So, there was that.

Continue reading

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Get to the office or we’ll make you homeless: what’s the outcome of the council investigation into this threat?

Last week, I posted a pic of this threatening letter that had been received by Lukia, a resident of a Newham homelessness hostel:

Lukia has a history of depression and serious mental health problems.

She’s been living in a room in the homelessness hostel for more than a year.

Lukia has a history of serious mental health issues.

As I said in last week’s post, Lukia found this note very upsetting and threatening, as well she might.

The note says that if she doesn’t attend a meeting that day, she’ll be thrown off the council homelessness list and evicted from her hostel room.

In an email last week, councillors said they and the mayor were horrified by the note and would investigate.

Apparently, the mayor repeated that concern at a council meeting last night.

That was all very well, but I want to know the outcome of that investigation. It’s been over a week.

How many people have received such letters?

Why is it that councils (and other so-called service providers such as the DWP, just btw) allow such contempt for people who are most in need to flourish?

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Get to the office today or we’ll throw you off the homelessness list: how people with mental health issues are addressed

Update 28 Feb: the council says that it is investigating this situation – to find out how someone living in one of its homelessness hostels came to receive such a letter.

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Original post:

Seriously.

I wrote a fortnight ago about Lukia, a woman with serious mental health difficulties who lives (if “lives” is the word) in a Newham homelessness hostel.

Lukia has previously been in the care of a mental health unit.

She is battling Newham council for permanent housing.

Lukia came home last week to find this note under her door:

The note says:

“You are request [sic] to come into the office in Victoria Street today by 3pm. Failure to do so will lead to you being removed from the homelessness list and you will be asked to leave your home.”

I post this to show you again the way that people with no clout are addressed by authorities.

Every contact is a threat.

People aren’t invited to meetings with council or hostel staff. They’re told to attend, or else.

The “or else” part can be the threat of being thrown off the homelessness list and out of a hostel room, as in this case.

It can be the threat of street homelessness and child removal. Whatever form the “or else” takes, these threats are heavy-handed, dangerous and unjustified.

It’s high time that councillors and MPs addressed this. A shortage of housing does not justify a shortage of decency and care.

Lukia, as I’ve written, has a history of serious mental health difficulties and of being placed in temporary accommodation so vile and substandard that she’s been moved out of it.

She feels that permanent accommodation is her only chance at the stability that might lead to an improvement in her health.

Threats of homelessness hardly help people achieve that.

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