Random police-style interrogations of benefits claimants are the latest and lowest attempt to force Britain’s most vulnerable into filling the fiscal hole created by bankers, writes CHARLOTTE HUGHES
LAST week I was waiting for the bus home with my daughter when I bumped into an old school friend. I hadn’t seen her for a long while so we had a lot of catching up to do. She has learning difficulties and she struggled through school without passing any exams as there wasn’t the support in schools then as there is now.
When she left school the social security department, as it was called then, was very sympathetic. It encouraged her to be “on the sick,” as they called it, because her options for work were limited.
It also encouraged her to take up voluntary work to improve her social skills and to give her a focus. As a result she volunteered for a local organisation for 24 years. She loved it and thought she would never have to leave. Then the Tories got elected.
She was told at a jobcentre interview that she had to start claiming jobseeker’s allowance. Her interviewer also told her that she had to leave the place where she had volunteered for so long and volunteer at a place of their approval. She was very upset, but did it because she was told she had to. Before anyone states that she shouldn’t have done this, I must add that she didn’t feel that she could disobey. In her eyes what they say goes, and she hasn’t got a lot of self-confidence.
She started on the work programme and was given the usual countless tasks that everyone on that programme is given. She struggled through it but managed and lasted the full two years without a sanction. Her love of routine and checking her actions constantly helped her. She said it drained her, but because a job wasn’t found she was being sent on a work programme in Manchester.
She has to sign on there every week instead of the local jobcentre and has to borrow money from her family to get there. Her family has no money either. She can’t comprehend why they won’t send her to the local jobcentre, and I did try to explain but it was too complicated for her to understand.
Throughout the work programme so far she says she has applied for 424 jobs and only two prospective employers got back to her. She finds this difficult to understand. Why don’t people have manners, she asked. Even an automated reply would do.
She’s now stuck in a so-called voluntary position at a local charity and I’m disgusted that this charity is using workfare.
Using free labour and gaining financially at the cost of vulnerable people is never good. She has to attend every day but she cares for her mother one day a week.
The jobcentre has told her to stop doing this because the workfare placement must come first. In this lovely woman’s eyes — and my eyes also — her mum does come first. She’s very old now and needs her shopping taken care of.
I did try to explain about carer’s allowance but my friend found it too confusing to understand. She did say to me that she stuck up for herself in the jobcentre and refused to put the placement before her mother. I really do hope that she doesn’t get sanctioned for this.
This woman should not be in this position at all. Yes, she can do work that isn’t challenging, but she’s got a lot of difficulties and just tries to do her best and to live independently.
The DWP has knowingly taken advantage of a very vulnerable woman and made her already difficult life even harder.
She told me that she never used to drink because it’s bad, but she has started to because she is so stressed she’s finding life very difficult.
There must be thousands of people like this woman being victimised by the DWP. She should be able to live her life in peace, but the DWP and the Tory government have put a stop to this. Please spare a thought for everyone in this position.
ANYONE claiming jobseeker’s allowance (JSA), employment and support allowance (ESA) or universal credit may be familiar with the local service “compliance interview.” Letters inviting claimants to these are usually sent out on a random basis, or sometimes when fraud is suspected. These interviews are now compulsory and if you don’t attend them your money will get stopped.
While attending one of these interviews you are normally treated like a criminal, guilty before being proved innocent, even though you are most likely innocent of any wrongdoing as you have been randomly picked in the first place.
You are taken to a room which looks just like a police interview room. They record everything like the police do. You are asked to bring with you all documentation and proof of who you are. This is what happened to a local woman I know, who will remain anonomous to prevent any harrasment from the DWP. Here is what happened.
After being admitted to hospital for an operation, she returned home to a “compliance interview” letter. Now the only “crime” that this woman committed was to become ill. She is claiming ESA and was previously claiming JSA. There has been no other change in her circumstances, but she is regarded as a criminal and will be treated as such.
The woman concerned phoned up the DWP on the number provided to ask why she has been asked for an interview (interrogation) and to inform them that as a disabled person, and therefore classed as vulnerable, she would be bringing an advocate with her.
It took her a while, but she eventually got through to a real person. This chap sounded quite nice apparently, but wasn’t expecting any questions. People normally just comply; they don’t question the DWP’s decisions, he said.
He sounded compassionate for a DWP worker. He didn’t say he was under pressure but presumably he is, because he has been told that he’s got to claw £1,000 back from innocent people — people who have been claiming the correct amount of money and have committed no benefit fraud.
So she is just a person on the list of targets for this clawback. The man from the DWP didn’t argue the case for the interview as he believed that she was knowledgeable and it was pointless doing so. His tone was not that of someone happy in their job.
These compliance interviews are now being used as a new target by the DWP. Never before have I heard of this. We all have heard about sanction targets, but compliance targets? That’s an all-time low.
Another shocking element is the way in which you are interviewed in police-style surroundings. Even in a court of law you are supposed to be considered innocent until proven guilty. The DWP doesn’t see it this way, and now it has implemented this £1,000 clawback target, innocent victims are going to be falsely accused of committing benefit fraud and will be asked to repay money that they do not owe.
It’s much the same as demanding money with menaces. A very vulnerable person sitting in a compliance interview hosted by, usually, two very hostile DWP workers will agree to anything just to get out of the building. Their money will stop and they could well lose their home.
Please let the DWP know that we are aware of its latest trick. If you receive one of its compliance letters, always question it and demand a witness to any interview. That is your right, so use it.
We cannot allow them to get away with this. Making the poorest pay for the banking crisis which was created by the richest is never acceptable.
As my comrade states: “With every twist of the screw that takes place, it becomes more urgent that the jobcentre workers stand shoulder to shoulder with the claimants. Each generation has to relearn what solidarity means — that is what the power of capitalist ideology does to us!”
These articles are abridged from two blog posts published on thepoorsideoflife.wordpress.com.