Apologies for being a Remainer – more stories from the jobcentre

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

———————-

*names changed

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

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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.

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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…

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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.

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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.

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Families trying to make self-employment and Universal Credit work: “It’s a nightmare. We never get paid on time. I have to keep chasing the DWP to get paid.”

Here’s (another) one for Amber Rudd and her specious advertisements which claim that the DWP and Universal Credit help people into work:

This is a short audio from one of the many recent Stockport United Against Austerity leafleting sessions I’ve attended outside Stockport Jobcentre. We talk with people as they attend the jobcentre to sign on and so on.

In this audio, a woman says that trying to survive by claiming the family’s Universal Credit entitlements alongside her self-employed husband’s earnings has been “a nightmare.”

(The quotes below are a transcript for this audio)

The DWP is utterly incompetent. Every month, the DWP fails to record her husband’s income accurately, even though he declares his earnings from his self-employment each month. The family is literally never paid their Universal Credit entitlement on time. They risk debt each month because of it.

She says:

“They [the DWP] never pay us on time. I mean – me husband works for himself, so his earnings are up and down at the moment, so we have to declare them every month. And I tried to set up a working from home business – but 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]…

“I’ve got direct debits coming out and I still have to ring them up. We still haven’t been paid… and I have to keep chasing them to get paid.

“Yeah – no, we never get paid on time.”

I ask:

“So, you’re trying to balance self employed earnings with getting Universal Credit?”

“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.

“And all my bills come out on the 24th and so I’ve got to chase it up to make sure that I get it…”

Remember this next time Amber puts out another advertisement which features another actor who claims that Universal Credit and the DWP smoothed his path into work and financial independence and a happy tomorrow, etc.

I spend a great deal of time speaking to people at jobcentres. I’ve literally NEVER seen or heard a real-life version of Amber’s ad, or even an approximation of it.

I have, however, seen and heard many people who’ve been trying to get work, improve their incomes and claim their Universal Credit entitlements, and who have reported abject DWP and Universal Credit failures like the one in this post.

I attend jobcentres a lot more often than Amber Rudd and I talk with real people there, too. I’d say that people who must use Universal Credit for real have a better grip on the facts than Amber.

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The rush to throw sick or disabled people off ESA and force them onto Universal Credit goes on while the DWP talks bollocks about support…

Here’s ANOTHER example (I’ve posted two already this month) of a disabled person suddenly being thrown off Employment and Support Allowance and forced to claim Universal Credit – and left with no money while waiting weeks for the first Universal Credit payment to start.

I post this as yet more evidence that the government and DWP talk entirely fabricated tripe when they claim that sick or disabled people are/will be helped to move from disability benefits to Universal Credit.

The truth is that sick and disabled people are thrown off ESA and left to hang.

I recently spoke at length at Stockport jobcentre with Karen*, 59.

Karen had been receiving ESA, but was found fit for work at a recent work capability assessment.

Like absolutely everybody I speak to in this situation, Karen’s ESA claim was closed as soon as she was found fit for work.

This always happens. Always. There is no warning. There is no help, or even a gradual reduction of payments. The axe simply falls.

People receive a letter which tells them that they’re getting their last payment and that’s it. People who already had almost nothing are left with absolutely nothing.

It’s criminal.

I can’t tell you how often I’ve heard similar tales in the last couple of years.

Said Karen:

“You just feel numb at the end of it. Got to go and see the specialist now… and they’re just saying, “you’re not scoring enough points. You’re not ill… this is my second Universal Credit meeting again now… to sign on again.”

Like absolutely everybody I speak to in this situation, too, Karen was forced to apply for Universal Credit to try and get a few quid while she went through the months-long two-part process to appeal the DWP decision to find her fit for work.

She had to apply for Universal Credit. There is no other benefit available in many areas now. Sick and disabled people who are in absolute poverty and lose their ESA are forced to apply for Universal Credit.

People have no savings to fall back on while they wait (often for weeks and months) for the results of fit-for-work mandatory reconsiderations and appeals.

Karen was left without a penny while she waited the-at-least-five-weeks for her Universal Credit payments to start.

She had to apply for an advance loan on her Universal Credit to survive. That’s what happens when people have no money.

Repayments for that loan will be deducted from her future UC payments which means that she starts Universal Credit in debt.


A few facts:

1) Leaving sick or disabled people without a bean to live on in a northern winter should be a hanging offence.

2) The gulf between the support that the DWP purports or proposes to offer and actually offers is inevitably so wide that the two actually exist on different planets.

In its recent responses to Social Security Advisory Committee recommendations on managed migration from benefits such as ESA to Universal Credit, the DWP guffed on about plans to set up a fortnight’s run-on money for ESA claimants in Karen’s exact situation – for sick or disabled people whose ESA claims have been shut and who have to wait at least five weeks for their Universal Credit claims to start (see page 4 of this pdf).

If you believe that’ll happen, you’ll believe anything.

I’d also make the point that two weeks’ run-on money is hardly the last word in generosity.

A fortnight’s money will not cover the five and more weeks and months that people must wait for their first Universal Credit. Slow handclap for that one, Amber Rudd.

3) People who struggle to use computers continue to have problems with Universal Credit – a benefit which they must apply for and manage online.

Karen said that making her Universal Credit application was difficult, because she didn’t have a smartphone, or computer skills:

“I don’t have one of those phones [a smartphone]. I can’t afford to buy a phone. Then they expect you to go in and [use computers at the jobcentre]. I’m not a computer person which makes it even more difficult…”

As readers of the aforementioned DWP report will know (see pg 10) the Social Security Advisory Committee recently recommended that the DWP consider pre-populating parts of the online Universal Credit form to smooth the application process for people in Karen’s situation.

Needless to say, the DWP said No:

“…the Department believes it will be crucial that new claims are made to Universal Credit because we need to ensure data is as accurate and as up-to-date as possible when claimants move to Universal Credit…”

4) I’m calling it: the DWP and government want to force people to make new Universal Credit claims precisely because it knows that a lot of people won’t be able to.

Let’s look at this from a “politicians who want to appease a social-security-hating electorate” point of view.

One surefire way to cut the number of people on social security rolls is to make getting social security as difficult as possible.

This is an oldie, but most certainly a goodie if presenting yourself as tough on welfare is your bag.

Let us take a moment to remember the many American politicians and tough-on-the-poor mouthpieces who’ve claimed that harsh welfare programmes work, because welfare rolls drop when such programmes are introduced.

Mention at these times was and is rarely made of the fact that people in dire need are cut loose by tough social security programmes, because social security is made a lot harder to get. Call me paranoid, etc…

Back to Karen’s story.

As I say, Karen took out an advance loan on her Universal Credit claim to pay bills leading up to Christmas.

The DWP said that it would deduct repayments for this loan from Karen’s Universal Credit money when her claim began. Karen wasn’t actually sure if her full Universal Credit claim had started, because she was getting so little money.

Karen didn’t know where she was in the system. You hear that a lot as well. People have no idea what is going on, because the bureaucracy is so torturous.

“I just don’t get it… I got an advance loan just before December… I was told that I would have to pay £40 each payment when I got my money [when her Universal Credit claim begins]. That’s like £80 a month before I get anything… I’m trying to sort it out. I don’t really know. I’m not used to it…”

To cap things off, Karen had been called to another work capability assessment, even though she was still waiting for appeal results from her latest one.

Karen was travelling all over Stockport (on buses which cost £4 a day) between doctors and specialists to gather more medical information.

Her doctor insisted that Karen wasn’t fit to work. Her doctor gave her sick notes to give to the jobcentre to excuse her from jobsearch activities.

Karen said:

“I’ve got a sick note from my doctor because I’m waiting for a specialist now, but I know when I go on Tuesday [to the second work capability assessment] and go through it all again and then wait for a decision that they’re going to make… then they’re going to come back again no points scored it’s just like being bounced [from one place to another].


This “system” is a pig’s ear (yep – unfair to pigs).

I’ve said it several times already this month and I’ll say it again: I’m talking to person after person – all sick or disabled – at Stockport jobcentre whose ESA claims have been shut without warning and who have been left with nothing while they try to start new claims for Universal Credit.

People are being ground out.

The DWP, meanwhile, continues to puff out fantasy reports in which it asserts that it tailors support for sick or disabled people who struggle to move from benefits such as ESA to Universal Credit:

Says the DWP:

“We are committed to providing tailored support for all claimants, including those who have restricted access to technology. Each individual’s circumstances are different and therefore their barriers to work and the support needed must be tailored to these needs,” blah blah blah (pg 14)

Can I say at this point that I just love that phrase “tailored support.”

The DWP has been bandying that phrase about – claiming to offer “tailored support” to sick and disabled benefit claimants, while doing nothing of the kind – for years.

Readers of this site will know that the phrase “tailored support,” and variations on it, has historically been trotted out by DWP when it has launched its various assaults on unemployed sick or disabled people.

For example: we heard a lot about tailored support when the DWP cut specialist Disability Employment Advisors from jobcentres (from about 2014 to 2016).

The DWP would send me (and everyone) press statements which claimed that sick and disabled people with support needs were being provided with a “tailored” work coach service in lieu of DEAs.

The DWP made such claims – even as I sat in Kilburn jobcentre with disabled people whose benefit claims were erroneously closed by advisers who had no training in sickness or disability and who freely admitted that the DWP’s claims of a tailored service were rubbish.

Paragraphs from the DWP’s latest writings on managed migration to Universal Credit look very much like a cut and paste exercise from press statements and reports that the DWP has been sending out for years.

Etc, etc. You see my point. This “system” is an absolute pile and has been for ages. It’s even more dysfunctional than Brexit. More practice, I guess.

*Name changed

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DWP: if you don’t close your ESA claim and move to Universal Credit, we’ll shut your ESA down anyway

Posted below is a transcript of another interview with an older woman who signs on at Stockport jobcentre.

I made this interview at a Stockport United Against Austerity leafleting session at the jobcentre just before Christmas – about three weeks after full Universal Credit rolled out at Stockport.

It’s another example of the bullying that the DWP engages in to move people from jobseekers’ allowance and employment and support allowance to Universal Credit.

It’s also another example of people’s utter powerlessness in all of this – of the fact that people who must live with Universal Credit have absolutely no voice in it at all.

That grates more and more.

This woman had two complaints. She said:

  • the DWP was forcing her to make a joint Universal Credit claim with a male friend who had moved into her flat for somewhere to live. The woman insisted that the man was not her partner. The DWP insisted that he was.
  • the DWP was going to force the issue of the joint claim by closing down the man’s ESA claim so that he would have to apply for Universal Credit with the woman. If he didn’t, he’d have no income at all.

Needless to say, the woman was furious about both of these things.

She said:

“Now they’re going to phone ESA and put a stop to his money – so he’ll have to go over to Universal Credit. It’s wrong,”

and:

“They’re trying to make us go on a joint claim for Universal Credit. He’s got his own claim for ESA, but they’re saying… we’re a couple, but we’re not a couple…”

She was utterly disenfranchised. Everyone is. It’s always the DWP’s word over yours.

—–

Universal Credit really does sweep through like the plague when it arrives.

We’ve really noticed this in the anecdotal sense since full Universal Credit rolled out in Stockport six weeks ago.

When you talk to people outside Stockport jobcentre, you get the strong feeling the DWP is rushing to move people from JSA and ESA to Universal Credit.

People don’t want to move to Universal Credit. They want to hang onto their existing JSA or ESA claims as long as they can. They must make entirely new claims for Universal Credit and they don’t want to. Claiming JSA or ESA was hardly a picnic, but Universal Credit is something else again.

People know all too well about the delays to first Universal Credit payments and the weeks and months without money. They know they are powerless on other fronts, too. Objections to issues such as the DWP’s interpretation of personal living arrangements are swept aside. If you’re a benefit claimant, you’re a liar by definition. End of.

Resistance is pointless. If you don’t close your JSA or ESA claim and move to Universal Credit when your circumstances change (and even when they don’t, in some cases), the DWP will close your claim for you and leave you to hang. Too many people report this sort of bureaucratic strongarming.

Never forget that poverty means powerlessness. People who must claim benefits are just pushed under the latest juggernaut. There’s no negotiation, or concern.

I hate authority as it is. Unchecked authority is something else again.

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A bit more from that discussion:

“My friend has just come to live with me… they’re trying to make us go on a joint claim for Universal Credit. He’s got his own claim for ESA, but they’re saying… we’re a couple, but we’re not a couple. We just look after each other. We don’t sleep together. We have separate beds, but because he’s in my property, they’re forcing us to make a joint claim for Universal Credit where I think it’s wrong…

“He gets ESA. I get Universal Credit, but because ESA is stopping and everybody is going over to Universal Credit, they’re saying that he has to come over to my claim. But it’s not going to be a joint claim, because the money is going to get divided between two of us… which I think is wrong.

“I’m sick and tired of going in there [into the jobcentre]. Three times in the last fortnight I’ve been in there now, because he has refused to go over to Universal Credit on my claim, which I don’t blame him [for] because he’s an individual, you know.

“I just told them that he won’t go over to Universal Credit on his own. Now they’re going to phone ESA and put a stop to his money, so he’ll have to go over to Universal Credit. It’s wrong.”

“…so what they’re going to do is they’re going to stop his money and send him a letter telling him that he has to go over to Universal Credit. That’s the only way to do it..”

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DWP already chucks people off JSA and ESA and forces Universal Credit claims. So much for managed migration

And I’m back.

Went leafleting at Stockport jobcentre with Stockport United Against Austerity yesterday.

I wanted to note this:

Since full Universal Credit rollout started in Stockport in November, we’ve spoken to a number of people who’ve been pushed off jobseekers’ allowance, or employment and support allowance, and told to apply for Universal Credit – for spurious reasons if you ask me.

People say they’ve been left with nothing to live on when their JSA or ESA is stopped and while they sit out the weeks they must wait for their first Universal Credit payment.

For example:

We spoke at length yesterday with a woman whose ESA claim was stopped at the beginning of December.

She’d been without money since – aside from a Universal Credit advance loan which she’d had to take out. She’d already spent that loan on bills. She’ll have to pay the loan back when (if) her Universal Credit payments start.

The woman said that as far as she was aware, her ESA was stopped because she’d gone on a four-day trip to see her sister who’d just had a baby (this trip had been paid for by a family member for a surprise, by the way. I say this to head off twits who want to moan in the comments about benefit claimants who dare to indulge in minibreaks).

The woman said she told the jobcentre that she would be away, because the trip coincided with a jobcentre meeting. She had to ask if she could change the meeting date.

When she came back from her trip, the woman found that her ESA claim had been closed.

She had to apply for Universal Credit.

She’d applied and had still not received a payment. Yesterday, she was making her third trip to the jobcentre to try and finalise her application.

She said:

“Four days… it [one of the days I was away] was the day I was signing on, you see, and I came back and they told me I had to sign on for Universal Credit.”

She’d been without income since:

“It’s the time waiting for this Universal Credit [that is the problem]. I got no money. I came down here to fill the form in and he was really nice the lad down here [the jobcentre adviser she saw at Stockport]. He was really nice.

“I came down to show me ID and now I’ve got to come down again.

“I don’t know why they can’t do it all [activate the Universal Credit claim] in one go. Got no money….they gave me an advance payment, but that’s gone on all my bills. I went [on the trip] at the beginning of December and they gave me an advance just before Christmas, but I’ve got more bills to pay.”

So.

We’re finding this too often: people who’ve been thrown off JSA and ESA, and left with nothing while they try to get their Universal Credit claims going.

It was news to me that requesting a new date for a jobcentre meeting counted as a change in circumstances that would mean someone had to make a new Universal Credit claim. Doesn’t matter anyway: the point is that people are left without money while they must make a Universal Credit claim.

I’ll tell you this – such conversations do not give me confidence re: the already-weak managed migration protections that government claims will shield people who must move from existing benefits to Universal Credit. Do me a favour. If you believe that the DWP is inclined or even able to shore up the incomes of people who must move to Universal Credit, you’ll believe anything.

The facts are that we’re meeting people who’ve had their JSA or ESA stopped and have been left in the shit. They must then go through the form-filling and meetings nightmare that is trying to start a Universal Credit claim.

The hell with this.

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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!”

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