Charlotte Hughes has been campaigning against the austerity driven agenda of the Department of Work and Pensions for over a year now. Every Thursday Charlotte and her colleagues attend a stall outside the Jobcentre in Ashton-under-Lyne to offer advice, support and solidarity to social security claimants visiting the centre. These claimants are increasingly under pressure from cuts to social security and a harsh sanctioning regime that can be devastating to those it is imposed on, in an apparently arbitary manner. This is a post from Charlotte’s blog The Poor Side of Life, recounting a day outside the Jobcentre.
Hi sorry its been a while but I have been busy. I suffered a bereavement and it hit me for six. Hopefully I will be back to normal soon. This has not however prevented me from attending our weekly demonstrations Im glad to say.
Today was a particularly miserable day, and for more than one reason. The weather was very dull and miserable and the rain didn’t help. And it was also a bad day for claimants.. well even worse than normal if that is possible.
Its never a good day at Ashton Under Lyne Jobcentre. The claimants have suffered more than others, and have been some of the first victims of the governments evil regime. You can feel the suffering in the air. People are either close to loosing it, or becoming ill as result, or they become aggressive. We saw quite a bit of that today. People storming into the Jobcentre building and storming out. The atmosphere isn’t nice but we do our best to help.
When we arrived we were informed by several claimants coming out of the Jobcentre that the Universal Credit system was down. They were made to feel like they were somehow in the wrong for this, which of course they weren’t. They turned up to sign on and were told to come back next week and were done so in an abrupt way. When asked if they would receive their payment, they were told “I don’t know just come back next week”. As you can imagine the claimants were scared and some were angry. They were told to phone a premium rate number up… Now this in my eyes is the total insult. Most people claiming universal credit cannot afford a mobile phone never mind mobile phone credit. We did our best to phone the number provided, but we were abruptly cut off. Theres no need for this rudeness. It certainly isn’t the claimants fault. Its the fault of the computer system installed by Ian Duncan Smith which isn’t fit for purpose.
Im always suspicious when the Universal system “fails”. Now as seen on the fantastic Dispatches programmes recently aired on channel 4 this does sometimes happen, but sometimes I think that those in charge could well be trying to load the already defunct system with yet more information that it cannot handle. Either way the only people that are going to suffer as a result of this are the claimants. I hope they are ok.
The other issue we encountered today is an important one, and its been happening too far too many people these days.
In times of hardship under certain circumstances a claimant is still allowed to claim a small hardship allowance… you do have to fill a certain criteria for this of course. To apply for a hardship payment you can in the rule book walk into your local Jobcentre Plus office and ask for a form at the front desk, or if seeing an advisor ask them for a hardship form. Its easy. Then once filled an appointment is made for you to discuss your claim and to supply supporting information for your claim for hardship.
Its not that hard to do, but why oh why do the ‘advisors’ at Ashton Under Lyne Jobcentre keep refusing to do this. This happened 4 times today and at least twice last week. They just hand over the standard information letter and say “phone this number to get a form”. This is wrong and demoralising to the claimants. They don’t have either the mobile phones or credit to phone this number which coats a lot to phone. We do let them use our phones but its not easy. Its cold, wet and noisy. The claimants feel like giving up and morale is at an all time low.
For the DWP workers reading this, please start handing out the forms that you are supposed to hand out. Its not hard. If you have been given a directive not to do this, remember that it is in your own guidebook that you do so, and you would be acting against your own rules if you don’t. All we want is fairness and kindness, and its not a lot to ask is it?
Spoke today to a claimant that hasn’t received any money since April. She now says that her first payment will now be received on the 6th of January… She’s used to having no money. she lives on the streets and sofa surfs. I like her she has character and we have offered her advice. Because she will be on Universal credit they offered to give her a “loan” to try and cover her a little bit until she gets her first payment. She’s refused because she will have to pay it all back with her first Universal Credit payment. She says she can’t afford to do that and I agree with her.
It was a hard afternoon, but we carry on because we care. I was asked today a question I couldn’t quite believe I was being asked. It was “Who pays you to be here?” Of course I answered no one. We are there in all weathers and always will be despite what might be thrown at us in the future. The claimants using Ashton Under Lyne Jobcentre are too important to us ti stay away.
For any claimants reading this please don’t give up. We will continue to fight for you regardless and you are not alone.
Charlotte Hughes (First published in The Poor Side Of Life , 26th of November 2015)
Please note I will be writing up about recent DWP news in another post. I wanted to express todays events first. The claimants are too important and they will always come first.
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