Freedom vs health

There are homeless people living in the Morrisons carpark in Blackburn. Their camp is on the second floor of the parking lot. There are no tents in the camp: just duvets on the wet ground, clothes in bags and trolleys, and sleeping bags spread out on the duvets.

I wouldn’t choose it – but there are guys drinking near the camp who say that people do choose it. Ed, 30, says that. Ed says the people who live in the camp could choose a hostel or shelter – “there are services in the town that can put a roof over the head for one night” – but they don’t. That’s because hostels mean strict rules and restrictions. In the camp, people can do as they like. Doing as they like often means getting blasted on spice – as Ed speaks, two camp residents suddenly stand up and leave, saying “we’ve got to sort something out” as they go – but that’s their choice and people set store by their right to make it.

Steve, 55, lives at the camp (I talked to Steve earlier). He says he’s been at the camp on and off for a year. “Gets violent sometimes, but that’s all part of the territory, isn’t it?” Steve says that he was recently diagnosed with Alzeheimer’s. His time at the camp might end soon because of that. “I think sooner or later, they will want us to go into sheltered accommodation…can’t drink in there… I like a smoke.”

“People do what they want to do…you know what I mean?” Ed says. I do. I’ve seen it a lot in austerity: people at the end of various ropes who decide that freedom beats lockdown. People in this part of the picture have been making that choice for years.

Ed has himself chosen a hostel and its rules this time around. Ed and his girlfriend Pat, 23, and another friend, Rob, who is in his 20s, live at the Salvation Army hostel in the middle of Blackburn. Another friend, Mark, has his own flat. All 4 come to the Morrisons carpark regularly to drink. “I’m an alcoholic,” Ed says. Rob says that he’s an alcoholic, too.

There are rules at the hostel – no drinking, no drugs and no sex, by the sounds of things. “We’re not allowed in each other’s rooms, or anything like that,” Pat says. “If I got caught in his (Ed’s) room, we’d be in trouble.”

“Even if I go near her,” Ed says. He laughs. He says the hostel is “like a 55-bedroom holiday camp… basically, it’s like when you see prison – like you get wings [different wings in a building]. It’s camera-d up everywhere – staff room, staff walkabout places…[you have] a single room there, lock on the door. [You’re] very safe there…toilets shared and you’ve got a main canteen…” Ed says that the hostel isn’t bad. “It’s all right… they give you meals every day and all that…I’ve been in there [in the hostel] like 3 times. It’s because of mad shit I’ve done in my life…”

For Ed, the mad shit involved working like the clappers in pubs and bars, and drinking himself to oblivion. Bubble [mephedrone] was Ed’s other poison: “…when you take a line of that stuff – ah…” The plan now – it’s the plan for everyone in the hostel, rather than Ed’s plan personally – is to achieve sobriety and and independence. “You leave there [the hostel] – you’re meant to go into your own place… independent living.”

“Can you do that?” I ask Ed. “Can you afford it?”

“No,” Ed says cheerfully.

Ed has parked the idea of sobriety for the time being. Ed, Pat, Rob and Mark take me to the Sally Army hostel via an off-licence where they buy more cans. At the hostel, they point out the security cameras. We talk in the hostel entrance until a staff member comes out and asks people to take the beers elsewhere. People head to the cathedral grounds. It’s raining, but nobody cares. They’re free to do as they like.


Transcript of Blackburn interviews, January 2020 (names changed on request):

At the Morrisons carpark camp on the second floor, there are two guys sitting on wet bedding. They are very out of it. They’re looking at a phone. They stand up and leave suddenly: “we’ve got to sort something out.”

Ed, Pat, Rob and Mark are drinking next to the bedding. Rob comes up to me. “Do you want a Haribo?” he says. He has a packet.

Me: Are you living up here as well?

Rob: Nah. I don’t live here.

Ed: Are you a journalist? So how come you’re coming up here?

Me: Because I heard that you guys were living up here [in the Morrisons carpark]… and I write about housing and benefits.

Rob: Some people live on here.

Ed: Do you know what… we went away for 5 years, yeah, and we come back to find that people are actually living here…do you know what the funny thing is, though… people do what they want to do… there are services in the town that can put a roof over the head for one night, but they do… do you know what I mean. Continue reading

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

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

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

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

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





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

How you can help

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Apologies for being a Remainer – more stories from the jobcentre

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


*names changed

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

Why a private rented flat means poverty forever

Here’s a short post on a topic that comes up more and more: homeless people who want to resist being placed in private sector tenancies by councils, because they know that private tenancies mean permanent poverty:

Readers of this site will know that I’ve published several interviews this year with Marsha, a 30-year-old homeless Newham woman who lives in a single-room homelessness hostel with her small daughter. That one room serves as living room and bedroom. The two share a bed in that room.

Marsha and her daughter in the one room in their hostel

Marsha is in deadlock with Newham council about future housing.

Marsha is desperate for a social housing flat – a secure(ish) tenancy and rent she might afford. The odds are against her getting such a flat. The odds are against most people. There are about 28,000 households on Newham council’s housing waiting list. Plenty of people on that list live in dire hostels and flats.

The council has insisted through the year that the numbers mean that Marsha’s only real option is a private flat. (There was mention of a flat owned by a charity at one point, but the rent on that was still high and there was much discussion re: whether the flat was ready or not).

The problem is that Marsha knows that private rented housing will very likely finish her chances of financial independence.

“the private rents and the way it is going … it is unaffordable to me… because at the end of the day, what job am I going to be working where I’m working enough, so I’m able to cover my rent and my monthly expenses? I want to put myself in a space where I can have a good income and provide for [my daughter]… “

So, Marsha does what people do. She waits in the homelessness hostel and hopes to avoid eviction from the hostel while she makes a case for social housing. Bidding on social housing flats isn’t going too well. It’s not unusual for people to find themselves in a queue of over a thousand for a place in Newham.

Thing is – Marsha has decided that trying to beat the odds to get social housing makes more sense than trying to force the sums for private rentals to add.

She has a point. It’s a point I hear more and more.

Marsha has looked at cheap private flats out of London. There is a major problem with flats out of London, though (there’s more than one major problem, but we’ll focus on one for now). If she leaves London, Marsha will be miles and a costly train-trip away from her mother. Her mother is the person who provides the free childcare that Marsha needs while she finishes qualifications and looks for work.

Without that free childcare, she’s had it.

Looking for a private rented flat in London is literally a non-starter. The ever-expanding gap between local housing allowance entitlements (which are frozen) and market rents sees to that. Marsha could not meet the shortfall between her LHA allowance and a private rent once the council stopped paying topups.

Private landlords can easily raise rents and evict tenants for people who’ll pay more. If that happened, finding another flat that Marsha could afford, or a landlord who’d even take an LHA tenant, would be near-impossible:

“…this is not the life that I want for [my daughter]…she’s going to grow up relying [on the system] in the same way…I want her to see that I want to work… I want to pay tax. I want to get into the system where I am contributing to that instead of taking from it…”

So, Marsha waits.

She takes a big risk doing that. Turning down a council offer of a private flat – wherever that flat is and whatever state it is in – can finish a homeless person’s chances of housing help from a council. A council can decide that someone has made themselves homeless intentionally if that person says No to a private flat. Eviction from a hostel, or any temporary accommodation, can quickly follow that.

Point is – people will take that risk to avoid private rentals. That’s where we’re at.

It is not – as I’m sure critics of people on benefits will argue – that homeless people have gotten all above themselves and refuse private places because they feel entitled to low-cost social housing in major cities.

It is about homeless people knowing that a private rental is guaranteed to trap them in arrears and ongoing poverty, and return them to homelessness, sofa-surfing and hostels. Why embark on that journey if you’re already there?

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.


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].

Continue reading

Northern remainers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We talked about Brexit.

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

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

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


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


Here’s Des when we spoke on July 4:

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

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

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

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

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

Continue reading

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.


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.

Blogging for July-August

Hi all,

Blogging will be light over the next month or two as am finishing up a major transcription project – all the interviews I’ve made and recordings from homelessness and jobcentre meetings that I’ve attended in the past five years. 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.”


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.


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.


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.