Tories donating cans to foodbanks that people must use because of Tory welfare cuts. Do me a favour.

Me ranting in the Independent today about Tories tweeting photos of themselves donating to the foodbanks that people are forced to use BECAUSE THEY’RE PUSHED INTO POVERTY BY GODDAMNED TORY SOCIAL SECURITY CUTS.

For Christ’s sake. How much of this shit are we supposed to put up with.

From the article:

“This display of Tory MPs collecting for food banks and tweeting out photos to prove it is perverted. These fool MPs are actually prepared to highlight the fact that thousands of people can’t afford food on their watch.

“I can’t wait to find out whose brilliant PR idea this was. I also can’t wait to find out why the Trussell Trust thought that associating themselves with this deviant exercise would work in their favour. God has certainly left that building – along with irony.

“Let’s be very clear about the reasons that people visit food banks.

“People use food banks because they’re forced into poverty and insurmountable debt by the heinous damage that recent governments have visited on social security.”

Read the whole article here. 

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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#UniversalCredit rolls out in Stockport this week. Bloody battles loom over this disaster

Universal Credit rolls out here in Stockport this week. People making new benefit claims will have to claim Universal Credit from this Wednesday.

This will be a disaster. The whole benefits scene already is.

Readers of this site will know that I’ve been interviewing Universal Credit and other benefit claimants at Stockport jobcentre for much of this year. Stockport United Against Austerity holds regular demonstrations outside the jobcentre, which I join. I interview people who sign on at the jobcentre as they come and go.

Stories of sanctions (sometimes one following straight after another and lasting for months) are already all too common among people who use that jobcentre.

People already talk about delays to the start of benefit claims and problems accessing much-needed assistance. I’ve talked with people who’ve been years out of work and can’t get basic help to secure voluntary jobs. Some already claim Universal Credit. Some claim JSA or ESA.

Stockport jobcentre is the only jobcentre in the borough. You’re dreaming if you think that the jobcentre has the staff or resources to manage a tide of complex Universal Credit claims.

Funds for people in poverty are being targeted for cuts even as Universal Credit rolls out

There’ll be a great deal of local attention on Universal Credit in Stockport in the coming months.

Stockport United Against Austerity is campaigning to stop and scrap Universal Credit.

Last week, the Stockport council cabinet agreed to a SUAA demand for full council to vote to call for a halt to the Universal Credit rollout. Council votes on that motion at next week’s full council meeting.

The council needs to do a great deal more than that.

It is not. Quite the reverse.

As we speak, Stockport council is preparing to plunge the borough’s poorest citizens into further hardship.

The council is consulting on plans to close its local welfare assistance fund – the all-important stopgap fund for people who are in extreme financial difficulties and who can’t afford food or basic household items.

This is an extraordinary step to take at exactly the time when Universal Credit is rolled out locally with its built-in debt problems and inevitable setting up of people for serious rent arrears.

Protest this Wednesday

Join Stockport United Against Austerity, Charlotte Hughes and supporters from Disabled People Against Cuts at a protest calling for the scrapping of Universal Credit this week at:

10am-11am
Wednesday 21 November 2018
Stockport jobcentre
Heron House
Wellington Street
SK1 3BE

Regular demonstrations and interviewing will continue outside the jobcentre in the coming months.

Councils to vote on calling for halt to Universal Credit rollout. Better than nothing although not really.

Attended the Stockport council cabinet meeting last night, where Stockport United Austerity asked if the council would vote to call on government to halt the Universal Credit rollout at its next (29 November) meeting.

The Cabinet said it would.

Which was something, I suppose. Leeds City Council has or is doing the same. If more (how about all) Labour led councils followed suit, that might be a look.

We need something a sight more radical from councils though. I doubt that a few strongly worded letters to government re: the problems with Universal Credit will cut it. Universal Credit rolls out in Stockport on 21 November.

As we speak, the council is considering removing the local welfare assistance scheme which was one of the last threads in the shredded social security safety net. Doesn’t bode well for support for people in extreme financial hardship when Universal Credit really hits.

Update: I didn’t word this brilliantly in the first post. It’s a vote to call on government to halt the rollout of Universal Credit.

Universal Credit is not the only horror show in town. The entire benefits system is wrecked. I’ll show you.

Fact: Universal Credit is NOT the only benefit which plunges people into debt and desperation.

The entire benefit system is a wreck. Years of staff cuts, privatisation, jobcentre closures, sanctions, benefit delays and a brutal institutional contempt for claimants have left people reeling in a system that can’t even do the basics.

Universal Credit hasn’t gone wrong. It has gone exactly as planned. The application process is difficult. It excludes anyone who can’t use a PC, or navigate complex public sector bureaucracies. It has built-in delays which leave people in debt – rent arrears, in particular. Universal Credit strikes terror into anyone who might need it. Its depravity is entirely in keeping with welfare reform.

I understand why activists target Universal Credit. Universal Credit is a vicious ideological project which will adversely affect millions of working people (potential voters, that is). It has cost billions and will cost more. Its failures can be laid firmly at the door of Tory extremism.

The truth is, though, that every part of the safety net is in shreds. No politician will fix that easily. I’m not convinced that the electorate even wants the net fixed for a lot of people. Chaminda had that right. Destruction of welfare reflects an electorate view of the poorest. I’ve often spoken with people who are struggling mightily, but who agree with some degree of welfare reform. They receive benefits, but say that too many people get benefits when they shouldn’t.

——

Computer Says No

Let’s take a look at a few typical experiences of people who sign on (or try to) at Stockport jobcentre. I attend Stockport United Against Austerity leafleting sessions at that jobcentre and interview people as they come out. Universal Credit rollout starts at Stockport this month. The jobcentre already has some UC claimants.

The interviews below were all made this year. I’ve picked three at random. Readers of this site will know that I have many others.

The theme of these interviews? – Exclusion. Each person went into the jobcentre with an issue and came out with the same issue. Nothing was fixed, or solved. People were no closer to answers to problems than they were when they went in. This is so commonplace that it is standard.

Here’s Kerry:

Kerry was in her 30s. She was out of work. She was trying to sign on for jobseekers’ allowance while she looked for work. Kerry Anne had a job interview set for the Tuesday after we met.

Kerry had filled in a JSA application form. Then, she’d received a DWP text which instructed her to attend a meeting at Stockport jobcentre to complete her JSA claim.

Kerry had turned up to the meeting – only to be told that her paperwork wasn’t adequate. An adviser told Kerry she needed three forms of ID to claim JSA. The meeting ended there.

When I met Kerry, she was standing outside the jobcentre trying to guess what the adviser was on about. Kerry didn’t have three forms of ID. Nobody does. The adviser had not explained what she’d meant.

Upshot: Kerry left the jobcentre no closer to JSA than she’d been when she arrived. She had no idea how to complete her application and no idea when – or even if – she’d get any money.

That sort of scenario is absolutely par for the course. One person after another leaves that jobcentre trying to work out what in hell to do next. There really are times when it feels as though people who try to claim benefits are forced participants in a hellish gameshow challenge – where the prize for navigating one obstacle is a cryptic hint about the next one. The thing is ridiculous. It goes on and on.

Next up: a man in his 30s called Steve.

Steve needed help to buy a cheap pram. Steve and his partner had a baby, but they couldn’t afford a pram for him. Without a pram, they just carried the baby around town.

On the day we met, the couple had asked the jobcentre for a social fund loan. The jobcentre said they couldn’t have one. Advisers said Steve was paying back another loan. Steve insisted that he wasn’t. This went on for a while. The jobcentre wouldn’t budge.

Continue reading

Back next week. A few thoughts on Universal Credit until then…

Back next week.

Will leave you with this thought about Universal Credit until then:

Universal Credit hasn’t gone wrong. It has gone exactly as planned.

The application process is difficult and convoluted. It excludes anyone who can’t use a PC, or who struggles to navigate complex public sector bureaucracies. It has built-in delays which leave people in debt as a matter of course – rent arrears, in particular. It really is no exaggeration to say that just about everybody I speak to at foodbanks and jobcentres these days is in debt.

Universal Credit strikes terror into anyone who might have to use it. That’s the whole idea. Its depravity is entirely in keeping with assaults on social security as we’ve seen them in the last decade or so. The replacing of DLA with PIP, the harshness of the ESA work capability assessment, the closure of the Independent Living Fund, the tightening of eligibility for social care, the caps to LHA – these so-called reforms have been as brutal. Universal Credit is the latest chapter in an evil story.

At Oldham foodbank, Universal Credit is the biggest problem by miles

Was at Oldham foodbank last week (there’s a long interview from that session here).

I also had a long chat with Glenn, who is one of the foodbank volunteers.

He told me that:

  • about 75% of foodbank parcels went to people who were struggling because of Universal Credit problems. Rent arrears was a major issue.
  • the foodbank had seen about twice as many people this year as last year, largely for the above reason.
  • the foodbank came close to running out of supplies at times. People donated around Christmas and New Year, because there was a lot of awareness at that time, but things were different during other months.
  • more and more people who used the foodbank were in work. Glenn gave the example of people who were in cleaning jobs. Some people had two cleaning jobs, but could not meet their bills on their wages.

This certainly gels with service user reports.

I’ve published a lot of interviews on this site with people who’ve had to use Oldham foodbank in the last year or so. Literally everyone I’ve spoken to at each visit has been in debt – debts which have often run to thousands of pounds. Reasons have included rent arrears because of Universal Credit delays or LHA gaps, council tax arrears, court fines for arrears and PIP and other benefit delays. I’ve posted links to a few of those interviews below.

This welfare reform disaster has to be turned around one way or another. You can’t have people on the edge like this, especially with another freezing northern winter taking hold. Seriously. If the aim of welfare reform was to push people in poverty into debt, fear, agony and death, we’re at Mission Accomplished.

Enough.

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

 

“I miss one bill [to] pay another.” Universal Credit and debt, debt, debt. More #foodbank interviews

 

When the stress of applying for disability benefits is dangerous to disabled people’s health…

 

Ten week Universal Credit start delay, rent arrears as a result, advance loan repayments, tax credit debt…How debt is built into Universal Credit

“I got sanctioned nine months altogether – sanctioned, sanctioned, sanctioned.” And £2k rent arrears. No money for fares to work. More stories from the foodbank

 

 

#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

Universal Credit, not allowed to use jobcentre phones to secure work, sent on a course called Changing Attitudes…

Here’s another example of farcical jobcentre operations. How many of these have I got:

I recently attended another leafleting sessions at Stockport jobcentre with Stockport United Against Austerity.

I spoke at length outside the jobcentre with Mark, 46.

Mark had been on Universal Credit for two years.

Mark was fuming.

Mark had been given a number to call about voluntary work at a Stockport Homes cafe – but the jobcentre wouldn’t let him use the jobcentre phones to call the number to arrange an interview. He couldn’t believe it. Well – he could believe it, because being told to get lost is par for the course at jobcentres, but you know what I mean.

Said Mark:

“I can’t get even get a fucking job as a fucking roadsweeper… do you know what I mean? Volunteering… I thought that having that on my CV it would be better than [nothing]…[but] they won’t even let you use the phone…”

There was more.

Mark said that the previous week, he’d had been sent on a course called something like Changing Attitudes, or about changing attitudes. Something cute like that.

The course was about changing Mark’s attitude to unemployment. It was not, alas, about changing the DWP’s attitude to unemployment. Stories about not allowing unemployed people to use jobcentre phones to set up voluntary work suggested the DWP was in urgent need of its own course. The DWP does get these things arse-about.

Still, Mark decided to enter the spirit of the course. He decided to ask around for voluntary work. Unfortunately, the DWP’s rigid refusal to provide the most basic services had turned Mark’s morning into a trial.

I find this so often at jobcentres: people wandering around outside, trying to understand what just happened, or didn’t happen, inside the jobcentre and why they are no closer to work, or even solutions to basic problems, than they were when they went in. They are told to Go Away as soon as they step in – to go away and find their own phones, or to go away and get another bank statement, or medical certificate, or piece of paper to prove an address, or to go away and look online for answers to their problems.

The DWP does not prioritise sorting people’s problems out. The DWP prioritises pushing people out the door. The DWP is good at that part.

Mark said:

“They put us on the training course last week… it was changing attitudes to it all [laughs]… [They said] instead of thinking outside the box, think inside the box – so I’m thinking I might just become a volunteer instead of signing off. Everything has been for nothing.”

Never was a truer sentence spoken. Everything people do at the jobcentre is for nothing. If you’re wondering why the average bloke in the street is so pissed off at the world at the moment, it is because everything people are told to do is for nothing. I gave Mark my phone to use for his call. It turned out the number that he had was wrong as well. What a circus. Continue reading

Benefit claimants without a past or history wanted. Really.

A few thoughts:

I was at a thing last week which had a media session.

One of the speakers made a pertinent, but dispiriting, point.

The speaker said that it was important to make sure that people who received benefits didn’t have a problematic past if they decided to speak to the media – that those people didn’t have a history of fraud, or unsavoury behaviours that the rightwing might dig up.

It’s a line that depresses me. A lot of the people I interview have a past. Everybody has a past. My own past wouldn’t stand scrutiny at all. With the people I interview – there can be drug and alcohol problems, jail records, histories of broken relationships, a list of jobs started and lost – all kinds of things. Life is harsh. It gets a lot of people.

The main thing these people have in common is that they don’t have any money. They don’t have the sort of money you need to paper over cracks. They don’t have rich parents to live with when a job goes, or money for smart lawyers if they get caught dealing, or stealing, or whatever.

Point is – these people are utterly excluded from public conversation, for the very simple reason they don’t measure up in a spotlight. They’re thought to make the social security cause look bad. That angers me.

The political class, meanwhile, bursts with fraudsters – thugs, crooks, charlatans who flip houses and bullies who don’t declare properties and don’t pay tax, and all the rest. They get a free pass on it all.

Nobody tells that lot to avoid the limelight.

This is really starting to irritate me – the rules regarding who should and shouldn’t be heard.