Link to download of my book

People have been asking for copies of my book as the previous pdf link has expired.

Have set the pdf here for download. Many thanks to everyone who has downloaded and read it. The response has been incredibly encouraging.

The book collects interviews with people who have relied on the benefits system in austerity and goes behind the scenes to jobcentre & homelessness meetings to show people’s experiences of the austerity state.

 

 

 

Question: How did carework end up in such dire straits? Answer: outsourcing

I’m back. I’ve finished my book on austerity – more on getting a copy at the end of this article.

This article is about careworkers. Careworkers’ dreadful pay and working conditions won fleeting attention earlier this year when the coronavirus started wiping out carehome staff and residents, but alas – big media has moved onto new thrills. That can’t be the end of the story, though. Things have to change. Careworkers and carehome residents have been treated like garbage for years:

There is a problem with writing about attacks on careworker wages and working conditions over the past decades or so: I have too many examples to choose from.

Every carehome worker I met in the last decade was on a picket line in that first instance, fighting to protect already-meagre careworker wages from attacks and cutbacks. For as long as I’ve been writing, careworker wages and conditions have been targeted by a particularly witless brand of neoliberal: local councillors (of all political stripes), MPs (ditto) and the boards/trustees of private and third sector care companies who’ve been united by two of our era’s more perverted beliefs: 1) that care can be provided on the cheap and 2) if you achieve this cheapness by slashing careworker wages and standards, care can turn a profit.

Spawned in this manure, the stories are always, always the same. It all starts when care services, in one form or another, are outsourced from councils, or the NHS, to private or third sector companies. In the following months and years, managers of these companies cut careworker wages and sick-and-annual leave allowances, and direct that money elsewhere. Careworker contracts that were based on public sector wages and conditions – wages and conditions that private care companies swear they will protect – are, needless to say, quickly trashed. New carework starters begin on much-reduced wages and leave provisions – the bar set so low that it more or less disappears.

This model is so standard that you can cut and paste examples straight into it. Take the Fremantle careworkers in Barnet – a group of carerworkers who I first met on a picket line in 2007 and at plenty of strikes in the years after that. These long-time Barnet carehome workers (most were women) went home one day to find a letter from the Fremantle Trust, the company to which Barnet council had outsourced carehomes and the careworkers’ jobs.

That letter did not bring good news. The Trust told the the careworkers that their pay would be frozen and their all-important weekend enhancement pay rates removed. Many of the careworkers relied on that after-hours enhancement pay to meet their bills and mortgages. They hardly earned a fortune even with that money. Losing it was a catastrophe. The sums were simple enough – careworkers’ jobs no longer paid the bills:

“Some people are down three or four hundred (pounds) a month,” Fremantle careworker Carmel Reynolds told me at that time. Reynolds been in the job for 23 years at that point. “People organise their families around [that money].”

There was more, of course. There always is. The Fremantle Trust told the careworkers that it would also cut their annual leave allowances and slash their sick leave to the statutory minimum – the very same first-3-days-without-pay statutory sick leave “package” that many are convinced helped to fuel covid-19’s blaze through carehomes in 2020. Careworkers can’t afford to take 3 days’ sick leave unpaid, so they go to work when they’re ill. Fremantle careworkers were pointing that out even in 2007.

True to pompous form, Fremantle management told the shocked careworkers that they could either sign the new contract, or leave. Then, management rubbed the careworkers’ noses in it a little harder – managers told careworkers that if they were really worried about money, they could try and make their stolen wages back by working extra shifts. More work for less money – Fremantle Trust management seemed to reason that careworkers would be grateful for such a gig. No matter that many of the careworkers had children at home and would suddenly have childcare costs that they couldn’t cover. No matter either that the destruction of careworker wages and working conditions was grossly unfair:

“I said [to Fremantle managers] – how do you expect us to be able to cope…?” careworker Lango Gamanga told me. “They [Fremantle managers] said we could do more hours to make up the money… but what about the quality of our life – our daily life?”

Of course – careworkers’ quality of life is rarely a concern in these scenarios. Concern about workers’ quality of life was certainly nowhere to be seen in another battle I’ve picked from my list: the 2014 Care UK support workers dispute in Doncaster. That was the year that Doncaster Care UK workers took weeks-long strike action in protest at – you guessed it – wage cuts in the form of the removal of enhanced weekend and night rates, new-starter pay cut to £7 an hour and – again – cuts to sick leave.

As ever, this shambles started with privatisation. The Doncaster workers – they worked with people with learning difficulties – had their jobs transferred from the NHS to Care UK when the service was outsourced to Care UK. It didn’t take Care UK long to target their new employees. Implying that the careworkers had been spoiled by their NHS wages and working conditions – “annual holiday… for some people is close to 7 weeks on top of public holidays,” groused Care UK learning disability service boss Chris Hindle with the faux outrage that these people specialise in – Care UK proposed wage cuts that saw the Doncaster workers facing losses of £300 and £400 a month – just like the Fremantle workers

At one strike action, careworker Mags Dalton told me the wage cuts were so severe that she’d have to leave her flat and her job, and move back in with her parents in Newcastle while she found another job and saved up for the deposit on another flat. The Care UK cuts meant that she’d lose about £400 a month. Her rent was £465 a month. She couldn’t afford to keep paying:

“I made a life for myself in Doncaster with friends that I love and a job that I love. I only signed up for the house a year ago. I moved in on the 26th of June last year and the 25th of June this year, I moved out. How did that happen?”

It happened for the same reason that it always happens: when services are outsourced, money is re-routed from frontline staff. At Doncaster, Care UK executives tried to argue the usual toss – that cuts to workers’ wages were necessary if the rest of the business was to stay afloat financially. Curiously, senior staff and executive incomes appeared to be exempt from this do-or-die belt-tightening. Bridgepoint Capital, the private equity firm that owned Care UK, had managed to find around £14m for bonuses to senior staff while careworkers were facing pay cuts of £400 a month. Care UK was also reportedly expecting to make a profit of around 6% for the Doncaster contract. Careworker wages were obviously key to this windfall.

Continue reading

Homelessness: the plague that voters are happy to live with

They say that you should keep to your routines in lockdown, so I’ve been getting at Newham council about standards in temporary housing for homeless people – and going nowhere much.

Habit aside, there has been a point to this often-pointless exercise: to ask what the council was doing to protect homeless families from coronavirus in crowded temporary housing such as the Brimstone House homelessness hostel in Stratford.

I recently wrote about Marsha D, a 30-year-old homeless woman who lives with her 6-year-old daughter in a single room in that hostel. The two share that small space and one bed in it – a living arrangement that is replicated across the hostel and across emergency and temporary housing everywhere. They have their own tiny bathroom and kitchen. It’d be hard to isolate in those. Theirs is the sort of cheek-by-jowl setup that would have any contagion licking its lips. Even in so-called normal times, people feel entombed in such places. When there’s a plague on and a stay-at-home lockdown in place, people in these hostels talk about being buried alive.

You should hardly pin hopes on a virus, but I have wondered if this one might spark new sympathy (or even some sympathy) for people who must live in these hellholes.

If covid doesn’t do it, god knows what will. For a very long time now, the problem has been to convince the wider world to give a damn about homelessness, or, even, to convince the wider world to give enough of a damn to change things – to really change things, that is. For all that homelessness is seen as a plague in its own right, it still feels like one that the world is happy to live alongside – certainly one that Tory-voting members of the world are happy to live alongside and even enjoy. You don’t have to be too plugged in to know that this is because that for generations now, many voters have felt that homelessness and poverty are beneath sympathy: the individual’s fault. End of.

Government knows that all too well. There can be no doubt that Boris Johnson and his cabinet of sociopaths have felt tremendously comfortable about losing interest in homeless people who must live sardined into tiny spaces as a killer virus rampages through cramped populations. A whole month has passed since government said it would publish new covid guidance for providers of homelessness hostels and day centres, so I think I’ll stop looking for it. They’ve either hidden it really well, or not bothered to write it.

As for government funding for councils during the outbreak crisis – do me a favour. The bits of money and advance payments that government has chucked at councils to sort out a morass of covid-era housing, homelessness and council tax problems barely amount to a fistful of change when you remember the billions that Tory-led governments have removed from councils in austerity (pdf) – a carnage of cost-cutting, mass redundancies (often of experienced staff) and anti-social-security policies which caused the homelessness problems for people in Marsha’s situation in the first place. As everyone on the scene knows, housing and support needs caused by welfare reform have skyrocketed as funding to meet those needs has disappeared.

The most you can say about this government’s last-minute covid-inspired overtures to councils is that they’re less shit than government’s most recent foul insult to covid-era careworkers – the one where Matt Hancock actually tried to sell the idea that the careworkers who government have left working for poverty wages in a swamp of covid and corpses, and with no PPE, would enjoy the day more with a badge. It was hard to imagine how government could top that for repulsive empty gestures, but there have been attempts. One must be last week’s thanks-for-housing-the-1000s-of-rough-sleepers-that-government-created letter to council homelessness managers from Dame Louise Casey, the government’s homelessness “spearhead” (whatever the f that is). What an absolute pile. I can only imagine how thrilled council staff were to see that in their inboxes. Oddly, Casey’s letter didn’t mention the billions wiped from council budgets since 2010, or the experienced staff lost in that blitz, or the LHA caps, benefit caps, out-of-control market rents and Universal Credit delays that have pushed people out of their homes and into the gutter and the hostels where many still sit, waiting for covid. If lockdown lifts, let’s see Casey deliver those letters to frontline staff in person.

As for Newham and councils in general: I could get very sick of the charades on that front, too. I can tell you how those charades go, though, so let’s do that.

The whole moribund process usually starts with me interviewing a homeless family who have been living in a one-room hostel, or some temporary-housing hellhole for month, or a year, or 2, or 3 years, or whatever it is. Next, I’ll email Newham mayor Rokhsana Fiaz and Newham housing lead John Gray and ask what the council plans to do for that homeless family and how much longer the family should expect to languish in temporary housing squalor, etc. Next, there usually comes a lagtime, which Gray and I sometimes use to bitch at each other over email, or, on a couple of memorable pre-lockdown occasions, in person. At some point in this farce, I’ll usually throw in a question about the empty flats on Newham’s Carpenters estate. Carpenters estate residents were kicked out of their homes years ago to make room for a planned University College London campus which never materialised due to a host of planning and financial screwups. The fallout from that shambles goes on. Flats on the estate continue empty while people in Marsha’s situation grind on in Brimstone House. Continue reading

Sacrificing sick, disabled and elderly people for economic gain? This ain’t exactly new

For thrills, I’ve been reading violent arguments for and against ongoing lockdown. I should give social media a swerve on these things, but in lockdown’s longer hours, there is something to be said for focusing on a lockdown thread and trying to decide which side is more revolting.

I’m thinking dead heat at the moment. You have on the one side the righteous types who feel that anyone who breaks lockdown should be tasered out as a human canker and on the other, the (often younger) people who believe that a) their economic chances should trump any flu for geriatrics and b) that covid’s cull of the Boomer and Gen X demographics is one of its selling points (climate and pangolin rescue being the others. I am 51, so am more on board with the last two).

There is a disturbing aspect to this reading though. It’s the fact that so many people seem to think that the Time Before Covid was different – that this furious debate about a stark choice between a strong economy and abandoning thousands of inconvenient people to a grim death is, somehow, new.

You see the word “normal” bandied around a lot, and with a wistful note – as in it could be 6 months before we return to normal, or when will things return to normal? I can only assume that by “normal,” people – or whoever thinks or writes this stuff – mean a time when they didn’t know, or didn’t have to know, that there was already a body count on the economy vs altruism front (altruism having been outgunned for longer than I care to recall). To those who know the austerity scene, there’s nothing new on offer in these covid debates. The economy vs lockdown-to-save-lives dispute is just the latest chapter in a bloody years-old battle between those who champion a nation’s economic fortitude (read “the one percent’s right to rampant personal wealth creation”) at any cost and those who are horrified by that cost. The cost has generally been the deaths of thousands of sick, disabled and/or poor people who were and are cut loose from benefits, care and housing, because those people are considered a financial drag.

Sick or disabled people and anyone with an underlying health condition (I count poverty as such a condition) have been sacrificed for years for the purported economic good (see earlier note about the one percent and wealth creation). The coronavirus has simply brought a hot-news angle to situations where you hardly hoped there’d be one. For example: careworkers have been working for next-to-nothing in godawful conditions for years (weekend pay removed, no pay for travel time, sick leave slashed to the statutory minimum where the first 3 days off sick are unpaid, etc). I’ve written about this many times myself over the years and can confirm that absolutely nobody cared. However – things have improved for careworkers – on the visibility front, at least. The working conditions of careworkers are suddenly centre stage, because covid-19 is killing them and wiping out their clientele. Talk about scoring in extra time. Who says that fortunes can’t change? I don’t suppose that many of us imagined the day when reporters would stake out resthomes for retweets and the latest action, but here we are and there you go.

One more point before I return to the forums: whatever happens next, it’ll be people without economic power who’ll pay. We’ve learned this one over the years as well. Lift the lockdown and people who are at increased risk from covid will die. Plenty of people who don’t have the coronavirus will die as well, because the NHS and care systems will be stretched too thin to meet other needs. If lockdowns go on, though, it’ll be people who need to work to feed their families who will sink. Low paid people who have no savings will probably be knocked out altogether.

The real problem is that millions of people were living on the edge before the coronavirus turned up to push them over it. Sick, disabled and elderly people were dying. Millions of low-paid people couldn’t feed themselves and meet the rent. Lifting lockdowns, or keeping lockdowns doesn’t really take us anywhere new. There has to be a structure that gives everyone a chance. The pre-lockdown structure isn’t it.

Has government actually thought about help for people stuck in homelessness hostels and cramped emergency places?

Quick one:

I’ve been searching for updated government guidance on hostel and day centre provision during the coronavirus and can’t find it anywhere. On 25 March, Gov.uk said it would be updated soon. I’m not sure what date the government had in mind for Soon, but I’m thinking that we have yet to arrive at it.

Am also looking for any government guidance for councils and/or others who are housing homeless families in cramped (often single room) hostels and emergency or temporary housing – housing in which people can’t isolate from other family members, because they only have one room to live in. I don’t necessarily mean shared accommodation, although that’s relevant. I mean temporary or emergency accommodation where people have their own kitchen and bathroom, such as they are, but only have a single room to live in. Hostel accommodation is often as cramped as that – several people living in one room. Family members who need to isolate have nowhere to go in those places..

If you’ve seen updated guidance for people in these scenarios – or any guidance at all – along the above lines, you’re welcome to leave a comment, or to contact me here if that is better. I’m hoping that I’ve just missed those things and that they are not actually missing.

There’s no way homeless people can isolate in hostels. Families share rooms and beds

Let me take you inside a homelessness hostel so that you can see how exposed homeless people are to any virus:

In recent days, I’ve talked at length with Marsha, a homeless 30-year-old Newham woman who lives with her 6-year-old daughter in a Newham homelessness hostel called Brimstone House. I’ve written about Marsha’s living conditions and housing problems many times in the last year.

Marsha’s housing situation was a disaster long before coronavirus came into the picture. In the hostel, Marsha and her daughter live in one small room together. There’s no bedroom. There’s just one room. All their belongings are piled up in that one room. They share a bed. They can’t open their main window without a key, which they must request. The two have lived in this tiny space for nearly 3 years.

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

Needless to say, isolation is not a starter in this type of arrangement. People actually laugh when you mention it. However – spreading bacteria and viruses IS a starter, to say the very least. Marsha says that last week, her little girl – who has asthma – had a cold. There was no escaping that for Marsha (who also has asthma) – not least because she and her daughter sleep in one bed together on the same mattress:

“You know how kids are – they cough and they don’t put their hands over their mouth…a few times she coughed and I was like, “oh my god.” I just kind of got used to it… there’s no way of escaping it.”

Great, isn’t it? Doubtless there are Tories around who think that Marsha should just learn to hold her breath. My personal view is that high-ranking party members should trade places with Marsha. Boris Johnson should be forced to see out his coronavirus isolation in one of these rooms with Matt Hancock and a few other colleagues who haven’t got covid-19 yet – Thérèse Coffey comes to mind, as does Iain Duncan Smith, who should be made to stay for the entire length of a 6 month lockdown. It is high time that these people went shoulder to shoulder with reality. These hostel rooms drive people out of their minds, even without a killer virus in the mix. With a killer virus in the mix, everyone goes down.

The truth is that there’s no way to escape ANYONE in places like Brimstone House. Several hundred people can live in this building in the cramped rooms (the figures quoted are usually around 210 “units” (flats) with 2 or more people in each tiny flat). Germs don’t have to work to get around. Literally the only way to isolate is to stick your head in a bag. If one building occupant gets so much as a sniffle, everyone gets it – even in so-called good times.

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Save up for rent before you’re switched to Universal Credit, coz you won’t get money for 6 weeks

Courtesy of Stockport United Against Austerity:

Telling, if useless, advice on the Stockport Homes website which instructs people who claim legacy benefits how to prepare for their claims being migrated to Universal Credit.

The most extraordinary bit of advice on the page? – telling people who have no money, or savings, to start saving so that they can cover a six-week delay to their rent money when they’re switched from legacy benefits to Universal Credit:

Get ahead with your rent – Unlike Housing Benefit, under Universal Credit you become responsible for paying your rent and after switching you will face a six-week delay before receiving your first payment. You should still pay your rent during this time. It’s important that you are prepared so you don’t get into debt. Putting an extra few pounds on to your rent account each week to build a credit balance will mean you can still pay your rent when you switch.”

This is extraordinary. Hope Therese Coffey reads it. Not that she’ll give a stuff.

This “advice” is an admission by the largest landlord in Stockport that built-in Universal Credit delays cause serious hardship to the worst off people in Stockport and threaten their tenancies.

It’s an instruction to people who have no money to save money to protect themselves against Universal Credit’s serious flaws. This is garbage. Those of us who leaflet at Stockport jobcentre know people can’t save enough to build a rent buffer. We keep meeting Universal Credit claimants who are in serious rent arrears and either facing homelessness, or are actually homeless.

You could also say that the above advice is an attempt by a big landlord that also manages properties for other landlords to threaten claimants to save money so that landlords aren’t inconvenienced by Universal Credit’s built-in rent-delay arrears generator. We can’t have property owners being put out by all of this.


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

Staff: Universal Credit claimants go without money because support centres are woefully understaffed #UniversalCreditStrike

To Millennium House in Stockport this morning, where caseworkers at the Stockport Universal Credit centre were on strike.

The strikers say that the centre doesn’t have the staff to provide Universal Credit claimants with the support they need. They say that people who claim Universal Credit are going without money because of that.

Much of a caseworker’s time at the centre is taken up trying to fix Universal Credit problems for local people who call, or whose problems and details are emailed to them by the national Universal Credit helpline.

Tasks range from sorting out advance loans, to trying to make sure people with children are paid the childcare costs that working Universal Credit claimants are entitled to (“the childcare costs [system] is a massive problem,” said caseworker Billy, 29, who was on the picket line). Workers also deal with calls from people who haven’t been paid the right amount of Universal Credit.

Billy, 29, said he had hundreds of cases on his caseload. Everyone in earshot nodded in agreement. I’ve heard figures in the hundreds before. I’ve certainly spoken to housing officers who’ve been brought in to deal with backlogs of hundreds of homelessness applications.

Another striker, George, 24, said he took about 133 calls last week from people who had problems with their claims:

“…so that’s averaged about 30 a day. [People] are on the phone to me saying, “why hasn’t it been done?” [why hasn’t my Universal Credit problem been fixed?] You’re not supposed to say, “well, [it’s because] the phone’s not stopped ringing.” It’s the true facts of it. You just get so many ad hoc queries on top of the work that you’ve got to do that it just all piles up.”

Both Billy and George said that people who claimed Universal Credit went without their entitlements, because staff were oversubscribed:

Billy said:

“Definitely…a lot of the time people [who claim Universal Credit] don’t get paid.. underpayments are generated if the staff can’t get the work done. There are underpayments, because people aren’t getting paid what they’re owed. It’s not their fault…”

George said that workers dealt with claimants who said they were suicidal:

“They’ll say – well, I’ve got nothing here.” It’s just like – it’s not even about getting the money any more. It’s just like – let’s look after their wellbeing first…I’m not saying this is every call, but I’m just saying it’s like a consequence for some people… this is Universal Credit. They [people who claim Universal Credit] are the most vulnerable people in society.”

There’s a second day of strike action tomorrow (Wednesday).

Here are transcripts from the interviews with Billy and George this morning:

BILLY: [The Universal Credit service centre] is not really a call centre [as such]. It gets turned into one sometimes… we’re actually case managers. We’re not meant to take that many calls… but when the phones are running nonstop, you can’t manage your claims…

It’s managed per team – so, say, if someone rings up with [from] their phone number, then our system then routes them to their case manager [at the centre] but if you’re managing 800 claims like some of us are, then – yeah.

“It is the workload,” another striker said. “At one point, there were 16 people on long-term sick…”

BILLY: The management think that we’re adequately staffed… over the summer with people being on holiday – they have the right to be on holiday – but…if we were adequately staffed, then you wouldn’t feel such a hit…

SECOND STRIKER: There’s such a disconnect between management and staff, because I was speaking to a manager last week and he seemed to think you’ve [we’ve] got it made and I’m looking at him…thinking that’s because you’ve never done it [the job]. You don’t know what you’re talking about…

ME: What will happen when they [the DWP] start migrating people from JSA and ESA to Universal Credit?

BILLY: That’s worrying… advances [Universal Credit advance payments] are a big subject [with people who contact the centre]. When people make their [Universal Credit] claims, they haven’t got any money, so they’ll need advances…

[There is]… a massive problem with childcare costs. Basically it boils down to… if you report it [your childcare costs] a bit late, you don’t get paid… the system doesn’t allow [you to change details]. See the end of this transcript for more details about problems with the Universal Credit childcare costs reimbursement system].

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We’ve stopped your Universal Credit today without warning because you’re working without pay…

…or something.

I wrote recently about Alice (name changed). Alice got a job as a security guard for a G4S supplier BUT must wait two months for her first pay.

Alice has been out of work for several years. She’s been claiming Universal Credit.

She was relying on Universal Credit for rent and some income until she received that first wage packet (she won’t be paid until the end of July).

But on Monday morning, a note appeared in Alice’s Universal Credit journal which said her Universal Credit had been stopped that day. Alice had no warning. She just got the note in her journal:

journal_note_universal credit stopped

As you can see, the note says Alice’s Universal Credit was stopped, because Alice had told Universal Credit that she had a job, but not how much she was earning.

Alice is, of course, not earning anything for two months. That’s why she has not submitted any information about her earnings. She has nothing to submit.

She did, however, tell Universal Credit that she wouldn’t get any wages for two months. Universal Credit noted that.

There can be no doubt that Universal Credit noted that, because Universal Credit agreed to reduce Alice’s advance loan repayment amounts for the two months without wages to leave her with more money for that time.

Now, Universal Credit has stopped all Alice’s money and left her with nothing.

She rang Universal Credit and was hung up on, because the officer on the phone felt that Alice was angry.

I’d be angry myself if I was working for nothing and being punished for it by the DWP, but you know how it is. People who don’t have a penny to spare are supposed to take all this on the chin.

So.

This is the sort of garbage that people have to put up with – working for nothing and then being punished by the DWP and pushed into rent arrears and all the rest for not getting paid.

Meanwhile, the Tories tear themselves to pieces over Europe and Labour tears itself to pieces over anti semitism.

And people wonder why I say that I hope that the whole of Westminster is sucked down a sewer.

Blogging will be light over the next month or two as am finishing up a transcription project. Still available for contact here.

Good news: you’ve got a job. Bad news: you won’t be paid for two months

Here’s a story of another employment shambles – yet another example of the reasons why low-wage work is impossible to survive on:

“Alice” (name changed), is in her early 40s. She’s been claiming Universal Credit for about three years.

Alice has recently been employed as a jobcentre security guard. This is Alice’s first job for some time. She needs the work and she needs the money. Alice has serious rent arrears (she’s being evicted from her flat because of that), council tax debt and more.

Unfortunately, starting work won’t improve Alice’s situation – certainly not in the first instance.

Alice has been told that she won’t get her first wages for nearly two months.

That’s because the company that employed Alice (a contractor/subsidiary/whatever that apparently supplies guards under the G4S Secure Solutions banner) has an horrendously punitive pay system.

Payday is the last day of each month. People get paid a month in arrears. So – if someone starts work at the beginning of April, for example, they must wait until May 31st for their first wages. They get nothing on 30 April. I have seen HR emails which outline this “system” to pissed-off employees who ask about it. People ask about it, because they can’t believe it. The emails describe the timelag. I swear to god. I keep looking at those emails and that is what they say. This stuff does my head in.

Two months is a long time to go without money. It is an especially long time to go without money when you have no money to start with – when you’ve been out of work for years and you’re about to lose your flat, because you can’t afford rent.

Alice said:

“I don’t have money. I don’t have money to eat – I have, like, £5 for… I’m going to have to be on a diet.”

There’s more.

At training, Alice and other guard trainees were told that their employer would only pay them one month’s wages in that first payment at the end of the first two months. The trainer said that they would receive that month’s outstanding wages when their employment ended.

Alice said:

“It’s like I’m paying deposit to work for them or something.”

Brilliant.

I looked at the HR emails again. I concluded that the month’s “withheld wages” likely has to do with the month-in-arrears payment system. In our previous example, if a person started work at the beginning of April and was first paid wages on 31st May, they would only be paid for their April earnings on 31 May. They wouldn’t be paid their May wages until 30 June.

This stuff drives people up the wall.

So.

Alice and other guards are told by their employer to tell jobcentres that they’re with G4S Secure Solutions when they turn up for work. I’ve seen messages with that exact instruction. So, I asked G4S for comment on this wages behaviour from companies that supply security guards under the G4S banner.

This part of the exercise was as thankless as you’d expect.

G4S was pissed off. I wouldn’t tell them the name of the company that was sending in security guards on its behalf. I had reason for withholding that name for now – protecting Alice from retribution being one. I was hoping (ha) that G4S would take the initiative anyway – that it would immediately announce an inspection of every supplier and anyone who appeared to be providing guards on its behalf to ensure that everyone operated on the level.

Such initiative is never taken, of course. You rarely get initiative. You only get corporate defensiveness.

I got this from G4S:

“We only work with sub-contractors approved by the security industry association approved contractor scheme and we expect the organisations we use to align to our policies for remuneration, cash advances and uniform provision,” etc, etc.

I also got a lot of moaning – G4S saying it was unfair to make connections between itself and other companies without handing over details. The hell with that. I hand over nothing. G4S has less to lose than Alice. As I say, I couldn’t see why G4S couldn’t take some sort of initiative regardless.

I rang the company that employed Alice to ask about the connection between itself and G4S – and also, as it happens, to ask about applying for security guard roles for someone else. Needless to say, nobody called back. So – we’ll keep at it. Maybe there are companies out there who send guards off to jobcentres, tell them to say they work for G4S if anyone asks and then have a laugh out the back. Hell – maybe there really are. This end of the employment scene is infernal. The thing teems with corporates, contractors, subcontractors, suppliers and anyone else who has an eye to the main chance and no notion of fairness or responsibility. When Alice and I first spoke, she wasn’t entirely sure who she was working for. That happens all the time.

Her new employment has presented Alice with other money problems.

She’s had to take another Universal Credit loan to pay for expensive peak-hour travel across London to the jobcentres sites that she works at. Like everyone I talk to who claims Universal Credit, Alice is already paying back a Universal Credit advance loan which she took out to cover another debt.

Her jobcentre work coach said that the DWP would suspend repayments on the first loan while Alice waited for her first wages. Unfortunately, a loan repayment deduction was still made from Alice’s last Universal Credit payment. Her work coach said that he couldn’t give Alice a free travel pass, because her employer wasn’t able to say in advance exactly which days Alice would be working, or where. Alice has a zero hours contract and is sent to different jobcentres. Those decisions are made on the day.

Anyway.

I realise that many people couldn’t care less what happens to jobcentre security guards. God knows I’ve reported first-hand experiences of guard aggression. The point I’m making is that there are people out there who find work, but still can’t earn.

I’d also make the point that government likes the sort of tension that festers at jobcentres. It takes stressed, bullied and poverty-stricken benefit claimants, low-paid security guards and jobcentre advisers with the power to sanction people’s benefit payments, and abandons everyone to each other in jobcentres. It’s hard not to conclude that carnage has always been the plan.