Labour lost. Stop the infighting. People can’t afford lefty petulance.

Am gracing you all with the tweets below, because I can’t stand the Labour intra-party bitching I’m seeing on twitter and facebook (could be a certain irony in going on twitter to attack people for being on twitter, but let’s do it).

Labour failed for a million reasons, supreme among which was and is a poisonous and self-indulgent factionalism that couldn’t be less interesting to 99.9% of the rest of us.

The main moral of the teachings below: get off fucking twitter and go and do something useful for the many people in poverty who really will need support when Boris Johnson gets going (those already making such contributions are of course excused from this instruction. Go well).

The harsh truth: outside of lefty and Labour circles, nobody gives a damn what goes on in those circles. I’ve been talking to people at jobcentres and foodbanks for over 10 years and literally nobody has ever said anything along the lines of, “how about that Owen Jones then,” or, “isn’t Margaret Hodge a witch,” or “yay, Novara media,” or “oh, Jeremy Corbyn,” or, “can I get involved in my local Labour branch,” or “how do I join Unite,” or anything remotely near those. People say things like, “I’m in arrears and they’re going to evict me,” and “I’m at court next week for council tax,” and, “I only got 2 days’ work this week and they didn’t text me this morning, so I’m fucked.”

So:

 

 

 

So that’s twitter told. Simple stuff, I know, but surely no less sophisticated than a tweet in which some thinker calls Jonathan Freedland a prick, or Owen Jones a cock, or Watson a fanny, or Corbyn a bellend, or whatever.

How you can help

Going to add to this list – here are some activist groups that I work with and you can get involved in. Leave your politics and views (and goddamned phone) at home, and put people who need support at front and centre:

Kilburn unemployed workers’ group – user-led benefits support group which holds a weekly meeting and clinic for people who are struggling with what remains of the benefits “system.” Leaflets regularly at jobcentres.

Stockport United Against Austerity – same as above, in Stockport.

Charlotte’s weekly leafleting, advice and food parcels session at Ashton Under Lyne jobcentre.

Focus E15: weekly leafleting session outside Wilko on the Stratford Broadway. Hand out leaflets. Talk with the many people who have shocking housing problems. Offer to go to housing meetings at the council if people want that.

There will also be your local foodbank(s) – usually plural. If there are limits to the time you can spare, make donations.

Etc

PS – took the Get Over It out of the heading because misinterpretation. The rest of it – carry on. Am in the last couple of weeks of finishing my book, so normal service will resume in the New Year.

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.

Northern remainers

To Stockport jobcentre, where I recently talked at length with Des, who is 60.

There’s a transcript from our discussion below. I post it as an example of a kind of flip side to social and mainstream Brexit hysteria – the right side of the Upside Down if you will. For every extremist, politician, party loyalist and media type who is losing their grip over Brexit, there is someone who is looking at the world like a grownup. It is easy to forget this in a world where overkill is the default.

Des was an ex-warehouse worker who’d been made redundant two years ago. Des wasn’t claiming benefits. He’d been living on redundancy money and savings since he’d lost his job.

His money was running out, though. Des used the jobcentre computers most days to look for work, because he didn’t have a computer at home:

“Five years to go until I retire. I still feel I got to work. I can’t afford it right now (not working). You’ve got people who work until they’re 80. You’ve got these in supermarkets now – some of them working until they’re 80 to make ends meet…. I might have to end up doing agency.”

Des was concerned about returning to warehouse work at his age. The work was physically tough: lifting, packing and long days on your feet.

Des had signed up to an agency which had texted him about 12-hour shifts. Des didn’t like the idea of 12 hours on the trot at the age of 60. Who would? He had enough to keep going for now:

“I just didn’t fancy getting up and doing a 12 hour day today… I’ve never done that. [I’ve done] 8 hours – 8 to 5. This would have been … could have been finishing about 11 tonight…”

We talked about Brexit.

Des said he wanted to remain. This was mostly because Des was worried about prices going up when England left Europe.

Des thought entirely in terms of the day-to-day cost of living.:

“I want to stay in… because I keep thinking only things will get dearer. I keep thinking they’re dear enough now.”

 

“I want things to go more in quantity for the same price. It’s all wrong now…I do have some luck when I can go around the supermarkets and getting your best reductions and get things a bit cheaper.”

————

Here’s Des when we spoke on July 4:

“It’s been two years… since I had a job… a warehouse. Mind you, I could have had a job today – off an agency. Said start as soon as possible, but it was a 12 hour shift and I didn’t fancy doing that right away…12 hour shift… in Reddish. It would have been [the same sort of warehouse work]. They don’t give much away on the phone. I didn’t fancy a 12 hour shift. I’ve done 8 hours, but a 12 hour shift.. they give you all sorts of strange things in the 12 hours, you know…

“That was on the phone. The agency texts you and says can you start as soon as possible. Mind you, I got an interview with another place last week, but they said they won’t let you know until the middle of July…cause they got to see everybody else as well you know… when I went to McVitie’s, they text you right away if they wanted you or not, but this one makes you wait before they… they probably say no, cause I am not too clever with their texts… their paperwork, it was like foreign with me and they haven’t got to time discuss things with you…

“I’ve been doing straightforward warehouse work – picking [sic], packing and all that. I’ve only been in the warehouse for the last ten years. Before that, I was in publishing, sort of, in a warehouse and that was just sort of everyday stuff. No skill or anything. I’ve been in mainly no-skilled jobs, so the other company is a bigger company, so I’ll be lucky if I get in there. You see I’ve gone from small to getting bigger and bigger [companies]. They expect you to have more knowledge [written and computer skills]. You see where you haven’t got that…

“I’m not on any [benefits] yet, because I’ve got too much [in savings] to claim… because I’ve been working all my life, it is only the last two years [that I haven’t been working]. I got redundancy, but I haven’t got enough to retire… if you’ve got less than £100k, you probably haven’t got enough…I keep doing lots of shortcuts [saving on spending] and hoping for the best you know…

“I’m 60. Five years to go until I retire. I still feel I got to work. I can’t afford it right now [not working]. You’ve got people who work until they’re 80. You’ve got these in supermarkets now – some of them working until they’re 80 to make ends meet… I might have to end up doing agency. I just didn’t fancy getting up and doing a 12 hour day today… I’ve never done that… 8 hours, 8 to 5 this would have been … could have been finishing about 11 tonight…

Continue reading

Meanwhile, back at the jobcentre…

Let’s go back to Stockport jobcentre, where I spoke at length recently with Pat, who was in her 40s.

Pat was manic: pacing and talking non-stop. She’d just been released from prison. Pat said that she was from Manchester, but been dropped at a halfway house of some description in Bredbury in Stockport:

“I don’t know where I am…I thought it was in Stockport, but it was in Bredbury. I was put there.”

Pat had to make a claim for Universal Credit at the jobcentre, but had no idea how to begin. She said that she didn’t have money for food.

I meet too many people in such situations at jobcentres: confused, clearly in need and reeling outside a jobcentre:

Said Pat (she was confused and spoke fast):

“I have to get… I usually have a [support] worker with me, but I’ve left it too late. She’s gone off now, because it is a bank holiday, yeah… I’m just come out of prison recently and … you get like £300, or whatever, but they… they dropped me here… I’m… from… Bredbury…

 

“I didn’t have… on my life, [I was] crying… come out [of prison] the day before. Everything was shut. I couldn’t get me doctor. I couldn’t get… I was sat in the stupid house where they put me… so finally my probation – they came and got me…I just got a ticket. I had to find [my] here [to the jobcentre]. I had nothing to get out with… in [prison] for 10 months…

 

“I get scared and I don’t want to walk around where I don’t know where I am…I thought it was in Stockport, but it was in Bredbury. I was put there. I’m from Manchester. I went into Manchester jobcentre, but they wouldn’t help me. They were saying – “Oh, because you’re living in Stockport…[we can’t help you in a Manchester jobcentre].

 

“It’s in like a bail house – a bail hostel in Bredbury. I’ve just come out of there. No bus ticket. No money and it was Easter when I got out. She [the support worker] did bring me a bag of food.

 

“I had to beg people. She [the support worker] did come up to me with a bus ticket, so I thought right – I’m just going to have to go and find it [Stockport jobcentre] It’s very hard for me, so I’m quite proud that I actually found it…

 

“What am I going to say [to staff at the jobcentre]? I’ve got a make a claim. Never done Universal Credit. I was on PIP and ESA when I went away, but obviously now I’m….it’s all changed… so it’s going to be Universal Credit now, so I think I make a claim and like [ask for] an advance payment [for food money] yeah… if it gets a bit difficult, I’ll come out and get you…”

 

Next up was Dennis, who was in his 50s.

Dennis was disabled. He was sitting in his wheelchair outside of the jobcentre.

Dennis said that he’d been moved from his one-bedroom first floor flat to a ground floor flat – he found the first floor flat too hard to get to.

Unfortunately, the ground floor flat had two bedrooms. That meant Dennis had to pay the bedroom tax for the “spare” room. He’d had one discretionary housing payment to cover the extra cost. That had finished. Now, Dennis was trying to work out what to do.

Dennis said:

“I was in one bedroom upstairs flat and I had to go [because of my disability]… they put me into a two bedroom [ground floor] flat. I’m now paying each fortnight for the bedroom tax. One of the bedrooms can’t be lived in…. so I’m paying for that.

“I was in the old place for about 30 years. I had to go to the ground floor flat…I still have to pay [the tax]… the reason for moving was the mobility.

“I’ve got a flat in Reddish. When I went to get the paperwork and all that – they’d given it to somebody else. It was the same street and same number. They got the names mixed up…”

 

And so on.

You get the picture. It’s chaos out here. Nothing makes sense. I keep meeting people at jobcentres who are just plain bewildered. On and on and on it goes.

It’s hard to see a time coming when Brexit is pushed aside and this mess is addressed.

Posting as usual should resume next week.

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

Decay like you wouldn’t believe – which century are we in?

Don’t know how to put this without sounding like I’m overdoing the drama:

I’ve talked with a couple of street homeless people recently who are so badly affected by ill health and homelessness that they look as though they’ve turned up from penury circa 1850.

Dirt, sores and decay: if it wasn’t for people’s modern (if rotting) clothing, you’d wonder which century you’d crashed in.

I find this timewarp disturbing. You see a human corrosion that belongs in historical photos.

On Wednesday morning, I talked to a youngish woman on Fairfield Street by Manchester Picadilly.

She was holding a dirty red sleeping bag. The woman was small, pale and had lost some of her teeth. Her thin hair was tied back.

Her hand, though.

I asked the woman how she managed on the streets in winter.

The woman said the cold had been hard. She still had trouble with her hands, because they were always wet and cold.

She showed me her left hand. It was swollen twice the size of a normal hand and covered in sores and yellow scabs – obviously infected.

I said, “oh my god.”

“I should go to the hospital,” she said.

“You need some antibiotics,” I said.

We talked.

Like everyone you speak with on the Manchester streets, the woman was hoping to raise the £17 or so that people need for a hostel bed for the night.

The woman said that she was banned from going into Picadilly station. The transport police moved her and others on from the station if they got too near.

She said that grating had been put up around some buildings so that people couldn’t sleep under them.

So.

Wtf is politics doing?

How can Brexit be more pressing than this decay?

Got a voluntary job – and then sacked from the voluntary job, because someone “better” came along… how unemployment rolls. More on #UniversalCredit…

There are longer transcripts from these interviews at the end of this post.

I recorded the two interviews below last Wednesday at the Universal Credit protest outside Stockport jobcentre.

The first interview was with Mark, 46.

Mark signs on at Stockport jobcentre. He receives Universal Credit. I’ve spoken with Mark before.

The last time I spoke with Mark, he was pissed off, because the jobcentre wouldn’t let him use a jobcentre phone to make a call about a voluntary job at a local cafe.

This time, Mark was pissed off, because he’d managed to get that voluntary job, but had just been sacked from it.

The person who’d taken him on had received three more applications for the role and had obviously decided that one of applicants was an improvement on Mark.

To Mark’s surprise, he was told that he’d never actually got the job, even though he was very sure that he had. He was told that his few weeks in the job were actually meant as a sort of training course. This so-called “training course” had suddenly come to an end, which meant that Mark had to go.

This explanation for Mark’s dismissal was clearly made-up-on-the-spot garbage, but Mark had to wear it. This “We Want You – No, We Don’t Want You,” stuff happens all the time to people who are out of work:

Mark said:

“I’m getting nowhere fast… I landed it [the voluntary job] myself at the housing office, didn’t I. The coffee shop. Got sacked two weeks ago… I lasted 11 [sic] weeks. She sacked me two weeks ago. Apparently, she got three more job applications… [they said it was a] training course… it wasn’t training. I put in for a job… [then] she said it was training. I did 11 weeks and they sacked us.”

So, there was that.

Since we were there and since there’s nothing else in the news, I asked Mark what he thought of Brexit negotiations. I usually ask people this, to see how people who are most affected by austerity feel as the Brexit shambles progresses (if “progresses” is the word).

Mark said:

“Brexit? It’s a joke. I’m sick of hearing about it. It’s pissed. [We’ve been in the EU] for 40 years. How do you untangle that? I can understand why David Cameron, [George] Osborne walked out of it. They only put it [the referendum] out for a joke, but now it’s for real…

“I kind of wanted to stay [in Europe], so I put the opposite vote in for it, because I thought we [people without money] would get shafted either way. So, I voted for Leave, but I didn’t really mean it…it doesn’t make any difference. We’re still going to let every fucker over here. We still going to have people buying BMWs and foreign cheese and wine. It’s not going to make no difference. It’s just about… how much more do we pay for the privilege of buying it all?”

So, there was that as well.

The next interview was with Steve, 17

Steve was standing across the road from the jobcentre in a group of five or six kids. They had noticed the Universal Credit protest banners outside the jobcentre. They were waving at the protestors outside the jobcentre and yelling “Free the weed! Free the weed!”

Continue reading

#UniversalCredit, sanctions, rent arrears, radiation therapy, 8 people living in one small flat…what the hell does this achieve?

When will modern society work out that hating and bullying people in poverty doesn’t eradicate poverty?

Last Wednesday, I spent several hours at Oldham foodbank, speaking with people who’d come in for food parcels. I visit Oldham foodbank from time to time.

On Wednesday, I had a long talk with Mel (name changed), 47. There’s a full transcript from that interview at the end of this article.

I’m posting this interview for a specific reason.

Mel and her family were on the receiving end of a great deal of government and public bile.

I want to show you how that looks from Mel’s side of the fence:

Mel talked about being patronised by frontline officers and targeted by people in the neighbourhood.

Universal Credit officers dismissed Mel when she rang the helpline because her benefits weren’t paid: “He [the DWP officer] said, “there’s thousands like you. You’re not the only one.”

A neighbour had dobbed Mel in with authorities – I think for housing extra family members in her flat.

A secretary at a local school had called Mel’s children and grandchildren dirty: “I didn’t actually punch her…I’m not a violent person but…yeah.”

The list went on. It usually does.

That’s the point I want to focus on here.

I know precisely what government and a judgmental electorate would say about Mel’s family. They would call Mel and her family scroungers. They would hate on the family and think – “Job Done. That’ll Learn Them.” (It’s only a pity that bailed-out bankers aren’t punished as thoroughly for their money-handling problems). Such is our era. The general view is that all that people in Mel’s situation need to sort things out is a kick in the head.

I don’t believe that bashing people when they’re already down is a brilliant social policy tactic. What I do know is that Mel and her family were being crushed by the dysfunctional and abusive public sector bureaucracies that they relied on. That part was absolutely not Mel’s fault. That part was society’s fault. Society approves of institutional aggression towards the worst off and likes to describe people in poverty as barbaric if they respond badly to that aggression. That’s how things roll for the Mels of the modern world.

Let’s start at the beginning.

Mel was ill. She said that she was having radiation therapy. She looked sick. She was tiny and gaunt, and her hair was thinning. She kept saying that she looked old. She was upset about it.

“I’ve got two weeks left of radiation… two weeks left of treatment, three times a week. I look old.”

There were other problems, too – like Mel needed them.

One problem was that Mel was receiving Universal Credit. Universal Credit’s defective payment systems had caused Mel no end of grief. For example: Mel had rent arrears. She couldn’t understand why, because the housing costs component of her Universal Credit was paid straight to her landlord. Her rent should have been covered. It hadn’t been at one point or another, and she didn’t know why. Mel kept getting letters from First Choice Homes about the arrears. She couldn’t repay the money. She would never be able to repay the money. The demand letters kept coming. This happens too often to mention. The threats roll in and roll in. There’s no respite. The debts never end.

So, there was that.

Another problem was that Mel’s flat was overcrowded. Her children and grandchildren were staying with her, because they had nowhere else to go.

Mel said she had seven (sometimes eight) people living in her two-bedroom flat. There was Mel, her five-year-old daughter, her 26-year-old daughter, the daughter’s partner and their three kids (and sometimes another daughter, I think Mel said). The 26-year-old daughter and her family had recently been evicted from their flat, because the landlord had wanted to sell.

There was more.

At the moment, the family relied on Mel’s benefit money to pay for food and clothes. Mel’s daughter had applied for Universal Credit, but had only received one payment in ten months. Continue reading

“[MPs] don’t worry about money. They don’t worry about where the next electricity is coming from. You never see anyone like that knocking down at foodbank.” #UniversalCredit

Have posted below a longer transcript from recent interviews at Oldham foodbank with Michelle, 38, and Jeanette, 53 (I published excerpts earlier here and here).

Like so many interviews I post on this site, this transcript highlights two important points:

1) Political and press obsessions such as government, voting and Brexit barely register in many lives.

I asked both woman for their views on government and Brexit.

Michelle said:

“I ain’t got a clue me, I don’t understand it. I really don’t.”

Jeanette said:

“Neither me…You never see anyone like that knocking down at foodbank…They don’t worry about where the next electricity coming from.”

2) The benefit systems that people in poverty rely on are in tatters, but that fact is ignored. Nobody cares.

Politics refuses to intervene, or to offer constructive answers. Mainstream politics is fixated on Brexit and central politics to the exclusion of everything. Meanwhile, people in poverty are being dragged down by failing state bureaucracies. Online benefit application forms fail. Helplines are hopeless. Claimants go months without money, which makes debt inevitable. The idea is, of course, that anyone who has ever received a state benefit deserves the worst. Dependence on the state justifies aggression from the state.

Michelle had rent arrears, because the DWP took ten weeks to make her first Universal Credit payment. She was also repaying a tax credit debt that she disputed and an advance loan that she took out to buy food during that ten-week wait for her Universal Credit:

“Oh God – it were a nightmare signing on for Universal Credit. You have to do it online and I had to [keep] ringing the jobcentre. I had to keep ringing them, because it were so hard.”

Jeanette had had a stroke in 2009. She struggled with balance and speech. She’d recently applied for Personal Independence Payment application, but missed an award by five points. She’d decided not to appeal that decision, because the appeals process was too complex and wearing:

“Too stressful. I’ve got to think of my health. Just rely on family and friends to get me around.”

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: no part of this mess helps people find stability, or work. Quite the reverse. Any stability people had has been torpedoed. Prevailing government theory is that destabilising people by throwing them off benefits motivates them (whatever “motivates” means). It does not. These broken, maddening public sector bureaucracies mire people in debt. Unfortunately, that fact is below the radar.

Transcript: Oldham foodbank, 7 March 2018.

Michelle:

It hasn’t been this bad before. [They] moved me over [from Employment and Support Allowance to Universal Credit] in October last year. They made me do it, yeah.

They told me… I applied for ESA again, but they said because I was in the catchment area for Universal Credit, that I have to have that instead…but I went for [an ESA face-to-face] assessment on 25th of October [2017] and I’ve still heard nothing…nearly six months. [The assessment was at] Albert Bridge House, yeah.

I don’t sign on. I just have to go and see my advisor at the jobcentre every few weeks.

Oh God – it were a nightmare signing on for Universal Credit. You have to do it online and I had to [keep] ringing the jobcentre. I had to keep ringing them, because it were so hard.

[I] could do one bit of it, where they told you to do your details, but then it told you to do something else – a separate thing which is a new ID thing what they’ve set up. You’ve got to do that to prove your identity. You’ve got to choose which company to do it with.

I did mine with the Post Office. Got to set that account up and then go back to Universal Credit [with the registered identity details] Oh, it is horrible. Then, you’ve got to get an appointment to go up to the jobcentre to do the rest of it there…

You just do it [the identity proof] online while you’re filling your form out. It just takes you to another site and it tells you choose which one you want to use, so I clicked Post Office. Then you have to like create an account with them just to prove your identity, because they’ve got more information on you then – so that they know that it is you, because there are a lot of people trying to claim benefits under different names, so to try and stop that basically.

Had to give my passport, yeah, because it was online…

I had no money for about eight, ten weeks. They let me have an advance payments, but it were only for £200. I’ve got two kids and got behind on all me payments and everything. It were horrible…

Jeanette: It puts you behind with your rent.

Michelle: Yeah, I’ve been having to pay extra each month, because of my rent was in arrears and it wasn’t my fault. It was horrible. [I] rent with First Choice Homes…arrears, about two months, about £700 I think. I have to pay about £20 every month on top of the rent, because the rent’s £330.

They [the DWP] are deducting [money from my monthly Universal Credit payments] for advance loan – about £40 a month. They are taking [repayments for a] child tax credit [overpayment], because when I went onto Universal Credit, the child tax credit stopped, because it all goes in with that. Then after I had been on Universal Credit for a few months, [the DWP] decided to say that they had overpaid me [tax credits] and I owed £300. So now, they’re taking £49 a month off me for that as well.

[So that’s] £49 [taken out each month] for child tax credit debt, £40 for advance payment and £20 for arrears. Not much left at the end of the month once I’ve paid my bills and gone shopping. Only have a little bit left. If my girls need anything, I can’t…do it. Once that little bit of money has gone, I’ve got to wait another month again. The only other thing I get is child benefit, but that is £34 a week. That goes on the stuff like I need like the gas and electric. I can’t give it to my girls. Girls are [aged] 17 coming up and nearly 13.

[The DWP never contacted me to negotiate deduction amounts I could afford]. Oh, no, no, no. They just tell you. They don’t ask. They don’t discuss it with you. They just tell you.

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Schizophrenia, aged 55, #PIP payments stopped, forced to the foodbank – why are guys like Andrew called society’s leeches but rich Carillion bosses are not?

Back to Oldham foodbank last week, where I talked at length with Andrew Smith, 55 [there’s a transcript from the interview at the end of this post].

Keep Andrew in mind when you read about the extraordinary salaries and bonuses trousered by people who are responsible for the Carillion disaster. Ask yourself how we arrived time and place where people such as Andrew must grovel for food at a foodbank while Carillion chancers are paid unbelievable sums of money for risking and destroying vital public services and jobs.

How dare anyone claim that people such as Andrew are the leeches?

Makes me sick.

Andrew was at the foodbank, because the DWP had stopped his Personal Independence Payment. This meant that Andrew was down several hundred quid a month*. He said the local CAB was appealing the DWP’s decision on his behalf.

Said Andrew:

“I said the wrong thing [at Andrew’s face-to-face PIP assessment] and they [the DWP] stopped it [Andrew’s PIP]… I’m just hoping they give it me back, because if I don’t [get that money], I’m going to be in an absolute mess.”

He was right about that. Andrew’s chances of getting the money elsewhere at his age and with his health problems were zero.

Andrew had a schizophrenia diagnosis. He also had varicose veins which ran the length of both legs (I won’t forget seeing those). He said that it hurt to walk – a statement that was extremely easy to understand when you saw the state of his legs. The DWP didn’t give a damn about the state of Andrew’s legs, though – or any other aspect of Andrew’s life. The department stopped Andrew’s PIP about three months ago. Some genius DWP decision-maker had decided that a man of Andrew’s age and with Andrew’s health problems could manage without money or support – or, I suppose, that he could find that money and support elsewhere.

I despair at these decisions – or at the people who make them, anyway. The benefits bureaucracy is disgusting. It stops people’s benefit money and consigns them to poverty at the stroke of a pen. People are not even given lead time or a grace period to deal with such decisions. They just get a letter saying the money’s stopped, or not coming, or whatever. Benefit decision-makers who cut guys like Andrew loose know full well that the Andrews of this world have neither the health nor the opportunities to make up lost benefit or support money. They can see people’s paperwork and the bank statements. They know the dire financial circumstances that people will be left in when money is cut. The bureaucracy makes the decision all the same.

The government and the DWP know that Andrew will not step out of a PIP assessment and into a job. Job opportunities are especially scarce when people are older. I’ll punch the next worthy who says otherwise. I’ve lost count of the number of men who I’ve talked to at foodbanks and jobcentres who are in their 50s and 60s, who did manual work when they were younger and who are now on the scrapheap. Fitters and joiners, painters and decorators, general kitchen assistants: their health goes and they’re dumped.

Andrew said that in his working days, he had jobs on building sites:

“I did wet stone walling with sand and cement,” and, “I worked on canals and paths at Greenfield… building sites.” Needless to say, Andrew can’t do that work now. He’s too old for it and his health has gone, as health does in these circles.

“They [the CAB] have put an appeal [against the DWP’s PIP decision] into tribunal and the tribunal should get it me back… I’m very poorly. I’ve got schizophrenia and I’ve got very serious varicose veins. Horrible, love… I said the wrong thing [at my PIP face-to-face assessment] and they stopped it.”

Yeah. That’s what they do. The bureaucracy casts people adrift and lets them sink. There’s no justification for that, no matter where you sit on the political spectrum and no matter what you think people should or should not have done to “take responsibility” in their lives. I don’t pay my taxes to keep people like Damian Green on the payroll, or to line the pockets of the swindlers who’ve run Carillion into the dirt. I pay tax to keep guys such as Andrew from having to visit foodbanks. Continue reading