London, UK (TFC) – In March 2015, I asked the Jobcentre to let me have work experience there, so I could dig up some dirt on the way the UK’s Department of Work and Pensions treats welfare recipients. Benefit sanctions (stopping people’s benefits for up to three years for noncompliance with Jobcentre rules) have become controversial, as they have led to deaths and suicides, including the death of an ex-soldier. All names are changed.
One of my tasks was destroying the Jobcentre’s confidential files. The files all dated from January 2015. After choosing about 15-20 random claims to read, I found that a woman suffering from anxiety and depression was denied Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), a benefit for sick and disabled people. Instead she was deemed fit for work and forced to claim Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA), the benefit for healthy people who are out of work. All JSA claimants must attend the Jobcentre every day, every week or every fortnight to prove that they’re looking for work. If they don’t attend or look for enough jobs, they can be sanctioned. A man on medication for depression also had to claim Jobseeker’s Allowance. Another JSA claimant was just off medication for depression and being seen every two weeks by his general physician. A woman was appealing the Work Capability Assessment’s ‘Fit To Work’ finding with the help of the Citizen’s Advice Bureau, as she had been found fit to work even though she has a paralysed shoulder. She still had to claim JSA and look for work in the meantime.
One man had half sight in one eye, full blindness in the other, hearing aids in both ears, arthritis in his arms, hips and spine, a metal plate in his right hand, a degenerative condition in his spine, breathing problems (requiring the use of 3 inhalers) and a heart condition. He was found fit to work and was appealing it.
On his Claimant Commitment (above) under the heading “Types of work I am looking for” was written, “I don’t know what kind of work I am able to do.” Picturing the advisor interview at which this form had been completed seemed to sum up everything about the current state of DWP policy: a pointless parody of itself with deeply saddening impacts.
Jobcentre advisor Sheryl explained the problems people face when they actually get a job. People who had found work used to receive a job grant and had their rent paid for four weeks to tide them over until their first payday. She said that Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith scrapped it. The welfare claimants she dealt with borrowed from family and friends to get through the first month until their first wages were paid to them. Sheryl doesn’t agree with this state of affairs and says she doesn’t trust Iain Duncan Smith. “I trust him as far as I can throw him, and I can barely pick up a pen, never mind a man.”
Sheryl also said that whenever there’s a new claim for JSA, the Jobcentre phones the claimant’s previous employer to check if they were sacked or if they chose to leave. Either one could mean you are not entitled to JSA until 6 months later, if the Jobcentre doesn’t think you had a good enough reason to leave. When I asked how they can live, she said “Food banks or they borrow from family and friends.” Food banks are organisations set up by charities and places of worship to dispense free food to those who need it. Since the coalition government gained power in 2010, their numbers have risen dramatically due to welfare reforms.
Benefits stopped because of administrative errors
One jobseeker didn’t have a computer at home, but his claimant commitment required him to go online every day. Advisor Abby told him he could be sanctioned for not going online daily and if his new advisor was Callum, he would definitely be sanctioned. She said the Claimant Commitment shouldn’t have included that demand, and it should be changed. This shows how casually sanctions are applied.
Another day, a man came in to ask how to write his job searches on Universal Jobmatch so that his advisor could see them. He said he would be in trouble if he didn’t write his searches, as they would say he hadn’t been looking for work in accordance with his Claimant Commitment. His advisor had neglected to tell him the whole process so he couldn’t find the box where he was supposed to enter in his job searches.
I also overheard a man being referred to a decision maker for not checking Universal Jobmatch every day as per his claimant commitment, even though he had applied for enough jobs.
During my induction, a man was referred to the decision maker for not applying for jobs that he could do. For the first job, there was no bus to get there on time. The other job he didn’t apply for required qualifications he didn’t have.
These are just a few of the many incidents I witnessed. A full report, Jobcentre: Confidential, will be available worldwide on Amazon in the next couple of weeks.