Tag Archives: DWP

How I got the DWP to release “commercially sensitive info” (admit how much they pay Ingeus)

dwpfoi

When I asked the DWP how much they paid Work Programme companies, they rejected my request 4 times. The last time was on the grounds that this information could not be released because it was “commercially sensitive”. This is obviously a completely inappropriate attempt to subvert transparency and the Freedom of Information Act.  It also suggests that the DWP are aware that they are paying Ingeus too much, or why try to hide it? I thought that making an appeal/internal review wouldn’t make them change their minds, but I did it anyway and surprisingly it worked. (I reckon they didn’t want me publicising the fact that they were refusing to admit how much they were paying.)

It all started when I was gathering info for what would eventually become this article on Mint Press News about corporations raking in hundreds of millions from DWP contracts in a system which not only favours huge companies, but actually demands a £20m turnover to be awarded the best contracts.

It was a fun couple of weeks. I set up a fake company and became a Partner with one of the largest Work Programme Providers. I called another DWP contractor and got tons of dirt in less than 15 minutes. It wasn’t all easy street, though- there were sources who refused to speak to me and companies which, even when they told the truth, still managed to conceal how they were earning all this money (it’s less straightforward than you’d think, because a lot of the money is in helping smaller companies get DWP contracts, so a company might pull in millions from exploiting the unemployed while being paid nothing by the DWP).

So you might think that making a FOI request to the DWP would be the easiest thing of all. No getting people to talk, no tracking down people who’d done business with/worked for the companies, no getting creative with the truth about the story you’re writing and hoping they won’t work it out from the questions you’re asking (they never do). But the DWP was determined to conceal the very straightforward answer to the question “How much were [work programme companies] paid in 2013 and so far in 2014?” (They’d already rejected two previous requests for allegedly being too expensive to investigate, so with these last two, I put one company’s name in each request instead of a few in one request).

This is what the DWP said:

“I can confirm that the Department holds the information you are seeking.

However, the information you have requested is commercially sensitive and is therefore exempt from release under Section 43 of the Freedom of Information Act.

The Section 43 exemption is applied on the basis that this information is commercially sensitive and release of the financial information would prejudice the interests of our suppliers and/or undermine the effectiveness of the Department’s future dealings with our service providers which is not in the public interest.

It would reveal to our suppliers competitors commercially sensitive financial aspects which would disadvantage there [sic] competitive position in the marketplace. This in turn would prejudice the ability of the Department to secure best value for the taxpayer when the contract is re-tendered.”

It could’ve been worse. At least they didn’t say the information has to be censored on grounds of public morals and national security, like China did when it banned a book.

My appeal

This was my appeal against the DWP’s decision. It was upheld and the figures were released. I’m actually really surprised it was successful.

“[…] However, this information would not reveal “commercially sensitive” information to these companies’ competitors, for the following five reasons:

1) The amount that Atos and Maximus were paid by the DWP is already in the public domain. An example is here (Atos): http://www.theguardian.com/society/2014/mar/27/atos-contract-end-relief-campaigners and here (Maximus): http://www.welfareweekly.com/news-brief-dwp-award-500-million-fit-work-contract-u-s-firm-maximus/

Many more web hits exist, as you can see yourself by doing a Google search.

2) The information asked for will not “disadvantage their competitive position in the marketplace” because knowing how much a competitor is paid will not help a company compete. This information is only a figure or end result, it’s not a corporate secret such as a recipe etc which, once known, could be mass-produced by all competitors. Saying this information would disadvantage competitors is like saying that, because I know how much salary a Guardian war reporter makes, that knowledge would make me a really good journalist and I’d get that job.

3) Even if knowing a competitor’s turnover or salary does magically give companies and self-employed people the knowledge of how to improve their product, service, method of production or operations, the public interest still outweighs the issue of the DWP securing best value in tenders.

4) The issue of the DWP securing best value for taxpayers in the re-tender is unimportant, as the DWP has already wasted millions of taxpayers’ money on Work Programme companies, Jobcentre sessions, Universal Jobmatch, and other pointless activities which don’t create more jobs so don’t actually help anyone get back into work:

The DWP pays Work Programme providers 10 million to 50 million a year, and there are over 40 such providers: http://www.heraldscotland.com/comment/herald-view/still-much-to-do-to-make-this-programme-work.21973283 . Even if we pretend that every single WPP was only paid 10 million- not 10 to 50 million- that’s still 40 million. On top of that, contractors were overpaid by 25 million: http://www.supplymanagement.com/news/2014/work-programme-could-overpay-contractors-by-ps25-million-says-nao and, further, DWP paid 31 million this year to underperforming contractors, and in future the figure will be 61 million:

http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2014/07/01/welfare-to-work-scheme-million-in-taxpayers-money-being-paid-to-underperforming-contractors_n_5549015.html

DWP paid Monster 17 million to unnecessarily create Universal Jobmatch when plenty of job search sites exist, then decided to axe it because it was not working: http://www.heraldscotland.com/comment/herald-view/still-much-to-do-to-make-this-programme-work.21973283

40m + 25m + 31m + 17m = 111 million, and that’s already a figure which I’ve twisted to be misleadingly lower than it really is (by pretending DWP only pays 10m to each contractor, instead of the factual figure of 10-50m).

Therefore, if the cost to the taxpayer of not securing the best value tender is less than £111m, the information I request should be given.

5) Encouraging competition is good for the economy and is integral to a free market. Competition (assuming it could be achieved by telling companies what their competitors were paid, which it can’t) would not affect DWP securing best value tenders.

Thank you for your attention in this internal review request.”

DWP gives it up

And they responded:

“[…] As a result of this review

I find that the original decision was not correct and as such your request for review is upheld.

The information that you request is that DWP paid Ingeus approx. £160m for the financial year 2013/14 (April 2013 to March 2014) and approx. £80m for the period April 2014 to October 2014.”

However we still don’t have figures for A4e, Remploy, Working Links, Seetec and others (because if I put more than two companies in a request, the DWP rejects it for being too expensive to investigate…we gotta do this one by one). So, next time you’re feeling bored…

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The DWP Works For YOU- Jobcentres must be run in accordance with benefits claimants’ wishes

DWP shaming

The DWP thrives on shame. Its tool for repressing benefit claimants is total humiliation and control, and its security for its controversial policies are lies and vilifying of the unemployed. If it operated otherwise, its punishments for poverty – six month workfares, daily sign-ins, mandatory meetings- wouldn’t be tolerated by either its victims or the rest of society.

DWP shaming, then, is perpetrated by two methods: demonising the unemployed in the media as lazy ‘something for nothing’ scroungers and benefits cheats, and directly towards Jobcentre ‘customers’ in the Jobcentres themselves.

 

The DWP line

I was repeatedly told that I had to sign in and be subjected not only to this forced attendance, but also to them checking my job searches (which gives them more powers than the police, who cannot just order you into a police station or conduct online surveillance because they feel like it) because they paid me £57 a week. Job searching was my “job”, I was informed, an obligation that I performed in exchange for the less than minimum wage of £57 a week. The Job Centre persistently and deliberately refused to allow- yes, “allow”, because they have all the power over our movements and our bodies, and I won’t pretend otherwise- me to sign in at my usual time which was more convenient for me as I had insomnia. They always said “We give you money so it’s your job to come in. You have to get up early for a job. This is the same.” But it’s not. It’s not the same at all. A job pays you, instead of giving you a pittance that’s not enough to live on. A job treats you with respect (or should).

That’s their line. Six month workfare? Your duty in exchange for £57 a week, barely enough to survive on, and not enough to eat well or pay the bills. Daily sign ons after you leave the Work Programme? Your job. Work Programme Provider or Jobcentre meetings, and sessions? Your obligation.

The line might seem harmless. Unimportant. But what’s behind it? The assertion that authority belongs to the Jobcentre to check your movements, not to the jobseeker to ensure she receives good service from the Jobcentre to help her find work. Another underlying assumption is that welfare is not a right. It is a privelege- and priveleges can be taken away or require reciprocity. (Hence unreasonable sanctions). When welfare is not a right, workfare, unreasonable sanctions, unfair Atos assessments, benefits which aren’t enough to live on, food banks and bullying all make sense. It’s all a part of DWP philosophy. 

And it’s lies. All of it.

 

If welfare didn’t exist…

Think about it for a second. If the government didn’t give people benefits, what would happen? Mass starvation.

  • The economy would be affected because people wouldn’t have money to even buy basic necessities.
  • There would be an increase in crime, rioting and black market dealing (we’ve already seen a rise in food theft). Because of the demand for cheap food, people might steal it and sell it, and possibly cut it with other substances. Hunger, and their children’s hunger, would drive many to working for gangs in exchange for money or food.
  • Mass deaths within about a week of The Great Benefit Stoppage.
  • Parents dying would mean orphaned children and therefore an increased burden on social services.

In fact, the cost of removing all the corpses, dealing with diseases and traffic obstructions caused by the piles of dead people everywhere, dealing with the crime, dealing with orphaned children and the costs of the economic losses would far outweigh that of giving the insufficient benefits that the government grudgingly hands over.

It’s possible that if benefits were stopped permanently, Britain would lose its world power status in a few years.

So jobseekers shouldn’t feel ashamed of receiving benefits- the government’s only giving benefits to achieve its own ends. And they’re giving the least that they can get away with. Welfare is our right. We need to be vocal about our right and the fact that we’re not being given enough, as the use of food banks proves.

And in fact it’s the employers who are the benefits scroungers. If a billionaire’s company uses workfare instead of having paid employees, or only pays employees minimum wage (leaving the government to supplement their wages with housing benefit and work tax credit), who is really on benefits?

And lots of people are on benefits, not just the unemployed; for all you know, your Jobcentre’s staff might be on housing benefit or child tax credit, too.

 

If your Jobcentre doesn’t help you find a job, YOU should shame THEM

Once, I found a Jobcentre-sponsored internship and asked the Jobcentre to refer me. They said they couldn’t- because they hadn’t known it existed and so hadn’t told me about it, and by then I was on the Work Programme and not eligible. I was told “We used to look for jobs for people. Now the government wants you to get off your arse and look for jobs yourself”. As if it was my fault I hadn’t known about it, not their negligence for being unaware of their own program.

They also refused to give me travel funds to an interview because I was on the Work Programme, and the Work Programme provider also refused because over a year before they’d given me around £30 to go volunteering. I suggested that I could just not go into my Work Programme Provider’s office a few times so they wouldn’t have to reimburse my bus fares. With the saving they’d make they could give me £100 towards travel costs and I’d pay the rest. They said they couldn’t because I have to come in…despite the fact that sitting around in their office in no way helps me get a job, while an interview will definitely pay off: it’ll either get me a job or valuable interview experience. A child could work out that if you’ve got £100 to throw around, spending it on travelling to an interview is a much more efficient use of taxpayer money than paying me to lounge around an office doing absolutely nothing. But as usual the DWP prefers to throw public money down the drain while vilifying their “customers” for wasting taxpayer money. (Despite the “customers” being taxpayers themselves).

This begs the question: I pay these people’s salary through taxes. If they’re not doing their job (by not telling me about internships I’m eligible for) and not giving me travel expenses, what on earth am I paying my taxes for?

The DWP calls jobseekers “customers” in mockery of the fact that their citizens are forced to trek into jobcentres so they can have food to eat. But as they call us customers, why not make them treat us as such? Jobcentres should be customer-centred. They should be run by and for jobseekers. We should get a say in their policies and have the right to meet with advisors and voice concerns if they fail to find us a job. After all, we pay their taxes; taxes are taken off benefits before we receive them, and we pay VAT. Instead of advisors asking why you haven’t found a job, you should be asking why they haven’t found you a job- what are you paying your taxes for if they’re not helping you?

The issue of responsiblity and authority has been completely turned around. It’s YOU who should be keeping tabs on your advisor’s performance, you asking them what they’ve done to find you a job, you pointing out their harassing behaviour, pointless “sessions” and failures to actually give you courses or volunteering that would help you.

 

Reminding Jobcentre staff of their duty and ensuring Jobcentres provide good customer service

The next time they try to shame you, remember that you are paying your advisor’s salary and they are the Civil Service- an organisation that works for the public. Jobcentre staff need to understand that they are working for the unemployed and being paid by their taxes. They need to be sensitive to customers’ needs and listen to their views, be accommodating about the times and days of sign ons. No other government agency forces people to come in at set times. Your GP doesn’t tell you they can only see you at 4pm on Tuesday and they’ll cut off your benefits for three months to a year if you show up five minutes late. Neither do local councils, hospitals, even the police. Even my Work Programme Provider lets people attend at a time that’s convenient for them.  But not the Jobcentre. No, that would be treating the unemployed as practically human, and acknowledging that jobseekers are busy instead of sitting around doing nothing. (The DWP assumes that if you’re not working or not working enough hours to not be on JSA, you’re free to come in any time).  Jobcentres must support the wishes of customers for DWP opportunities or to avoid intervention. Unless you’re being seriously harassed and might be sanctioned for doing so, I’d encourage anyone forced to attend the Jobcentre to communicate this to the staff on a regular basis, to facilitate their understanding.

Benefits are your right and the DWP’s duty. Providing great service to you is the Jobcentre’s duty. 

Never forget that.

Stuff That Happened In 2013: feminism, sex work activism, DWP, freedom

So. A lot happened in 2013. Here’s a round-up of feminist, freedom-related and sex worker activism stuff that happened.

Feminism

Sadly it looks like we’re no closer to an intersectional mainstream feminism, as feminists continue to ignore trans, disabled, coloured, migrant and sex working women. 2013 saw the rise of the No More Page Three and Lose the Lads’ Mags campaigns, as well as outrage over the song Blurred Lines. The release of two members of Pussy Riot was claimed as a feminist victory here, even though their protest, arrest and release were nothing to do with feminism. Caroline Criado-Perez dropped her anonymity and gained fame through her project The Women’s Room, a database of female experts set up in response to a BBC claim that they couldn’t find any female experts for a particular show.

The slut shaming and suicides of Amanda Todd, Audrie Potts and Rehtaeh Parsons shocked the internetz and brought the danger of slut shaming and victim blaming into the public eye. Steubenville, Maryville and the Roast Busters also revealed to many non-feminists how bad rape culture is. The Magdalene Laundries scandal early in 2013 may also have contributed to greater awareness of how society punishes ‘deviant’ women. We tend to associate these attitudes with conservative cultures, but in reality the West is little different.

Freedom

Though the NSA scandal gained more publicity, the UK’s GCHQ were found to have put surveillance devices on undersea internet cables with the apparent cooperation of internet service providers. They claim it’s- of course- anti terrorism and that they’re not spying on us like the NSA. But if they can see our internet traffic, how can they figure out which ones of us are terrorists without spying on all of us? We don’t have a Snowden so it’s harder for us to get at the truth. Amnesty International is suing the UK for allegedly spying on them.

Chelsea Manning spent her fourth Christmas behind bars. Earlier in the year, Fox News played Dude Looks Like A Lady while announcing her name change. Stay classy, Fox.

The Tor Project released an updated and much faster version of the Tor browser and updated their operating system Tails. The Electronic Frontiers Foundation (EFF) won a court case and had National Security Letters declared unconstitutional.

David Cameron announced an intention to put porn filters on our internet, and this was recently trialled. The filters were revealed to have an American language bias and blocked lots of things they weren’t supposed to. As I previously pointed out, we already have the filters on our phones and they block sex education, LGBT, feminist and political sites. The hashtag #CensoredUK was used to criticise the porn filter. It didn’t help that Rhoda Grant MSP and the Bill’s creator Claire Perry MP made stupid comments that showed they don’t understand how the internet works. Banning rape porn in my opinion will not solve misogyny and rape culture; it’s attitudes that need to change.

The granddaughter of the founder of Westboro Baptist Church left the Church. And the Pirate Bay’s broswer was popular; its uploads also increased by 50% despite anti piracy laws.

Sex workers’ rights

In Scotland Rhoda Grant MSP’s Bill to bring in the harmful Nordic Model AKA Swedish Model AKA ‘end demand’ failed, leaving sex work decriminalised in the UK (bar street work and working together). A lot of activism and media work was done by everyone from Alex Bryce of National Ugly Mugs (HuffPo) to Melissa Gira Grant and Pastachips (BBC Women’s Hour). There was a debate between sex worker activists Douglas Fox and Laura Lee vs Rhoda Grant MSP and Richard Lucas, which I went to and wrote up here after interviewing Douglas Fox and Rhoda Grant. You can watch it here.

In Canada an important court case was won, proving that sex work laws are harmful (Canada has the legalisation model). A year has been given to come up with new laws. This could mean that hopefully Canada will get the New Zealand decriminalisation model, but it could also mean sex work is criminalised.

Meanwhile in Europe the European Womens’ Lobby wants the Nordic Model across all European states. Sex workers in France are at risk of being harmed by the Nordic model as attempts are being made to introduce it there. Sweden acknowledges that the Nordic model is harmful, as do researchers such as Ann Phoenix.

The murders of Petite Jasmine and Dora caused a very swiftly organised sex work activist action including demos outside embassies and Twitter hashtags. Earlier in the year, a Twitter hashtag on sex workers’ rights made the papers, as did the Glasgow Sex Worker Open University conference.

The Nottingham Women’s Conference caused controversy by not allowing sex workers to attend or speak; instead two anti-sex work prostitution survivors spoke. Three sex worker activists attempted to get in and live tweeted the attempt, then a feminist blogger who had been at the conference made a blog post claiming the activists were exaggerating the situation.

In October there was a debate on sex work in London with feminist Kat Banyard, author and human rights campaigner Ruth Jacobs and others. Jacobs, who had previously been anti sex work (though she pulled out of the Nottingham Women’s Conference as it excluded sex workers), came out as an ex sex worker at the debate and argued for decriminalisation. Feminist Meghan Murphy was furious at this turn of events and allegedly attempted to out her on Twitter, not realising she had already outed herself. (Several feminists on Twitter including myself had been aware of Ruth’s past.)

DWP

Labour promised to “sack Atos” if they win in the next election. Stories of DWP-induced poverty and more Atos horror stories made the papers, including a sanctions story that was reported on the BBC news in December. There were numerous protests including demos outside Iain Duncan Smith’s house. The bedroom tax has forced lots of people to move, with some living on the streets. The use of foodbanks has risen just after Cameron stopped the collection of food bank statistics. This increased use of foodbanks has been reported in the mainstream media, which is great . A United Nations Human Rights Inspector came to the UK in tha later half of 2013 to investigate the bedroom tax.

Slutocracy

In the second half of 2013 I wrote for The Quail Pipe (is ‘patriarchy’ a meaningful term), Fearless Press (female pick up artists),Cliterati (teens and slut shaming) and the Feminist and Women’s Studies Association blog (teen pregnancy stigma). On this blog I wrote about feminism (duh), was delighted to interview the DWP whistleblower Jobcentre Mole, Don’t Judge My Family, the UnSlut Project, minister Richard Lucas, Rhoda Grant MSP and Douglas Fox. In late 2013 Glosswitch wrote a blog claiming that myself, Stavvers and other feminists are elistist show-offs because we don’t support the anti porn campaigns, to which I replied.

So that’s my summary of 2013. Here’s to 2014, see you all on the other side!

The Job Centre, illegal sanctions and state control of the body

Our government is throwing away hundreds of millions on work providers like Ingeus and A4e. The Herald claims that each provider costs us between 10 million and 50 million per year- and there are over 40 of them. It’s a tad pointless when all these expensive schemes don’t actually help people get jobs. It just lowers their self esteem and perhaps indirectly makes it harder for jobseekers to sell themselves at interviews when they feel humiliated and oppressed or guilty for being unemployed.

Even if Ingeus and A4E could help people into work, what difference does it make to the economy- there are only so many jobs. Choosing some unemployed (those attending the Job Centre) to build up and get jobs doesn’t reduce the unemployment rate; it just means that these chosen few will successfully compete with other unemployed who aren’t yet claiming JSA. The number of unemployed remains the same. And the non-benefit claiming unemployed who lose out to the benefits claiming unemployed will eventually have to claim benefits if they can’t compete for jobs. This isn’t any more beneficial than giving employment to brunettes over blondes or gays over straights. So what is the DWP’s and Iain Duncan Smith’s real goal?

We all know the Atos horror stories (here’s one in video form about how Atos declared a woman with mental disabilities fit for work) and the tales of sanction-induced poverty and homelessness. Could the DWP’s agenda simply be control? The DWP is based on control: what types of jobs you apply for, how many you apply for, where you’ll look for them. Control of the body and physical location is integral to the DWP’s operations (workfare, group sessions, attending Job Centre or work program provider interviews and advisor appointments). The system of ‘agreed actions’ means that even if something isn’t mandatory it becomes mandatory once you’ve agreed to it and you can’t change your mind even one second later.  If you don’t do it you get sanctioned.

Being five minutes late to sign on at the Job Centre will mean you get sanctioned for 4 weeks. I found this out a while ago when I decided to test out my new platform wedges. I arrived at the Job Centre and as usual I had to wait for nearly 10 minutes to be seen. “Joel” checked my job search and seemed surprised that I was applying for jobs every day. He said he was pleased that I was looking for work. The Job Centre only requires that you contact 2 employers per week and I would always exceed that every day. Then Joel said “You’re five minutes late.”

I was very surprised as I actually thought I’d get there early as I’d got up and hour and a half earlier than I needed to (my sign on time was early in the morning) and also left the house earlier than usual because it hadn’t taken me as long to try out eye shadow blending as I’d thought it would. But I didn’t say any of this because there is no point telling the Job Centre anything. I just said “Okay”.

Joel is a nice friendly guy. I’m not criticising him. I’m just reporting on DWP policy because it is ridiculous. Joel gave me a letter to take away because I had been late.

I asked him “What is the purpose of this letter?” Joel replied that it’s a warning. I asked “Do you keep records?” He said they do keep records but only for 2 weeks. “If you’re late twice in a row you’ll be sanctioned but if you’re on time next time then we destroy the record,” he said. I asked him for the policy reference but he didn’t know so I looked it up. And you know what I found? Being late can’t actually be sanctioned. Jobcentre “customers” can only be sanctioned for failure or refusal to attend. (The first time means a 4 week sanction and refusing or failing to attend again means a 13 week sanction.)

jobcentrelatenessnotsanctioned

Only refusal and failure to attend are sanctionable. Not being late to sign on.

This means the Job Centre is sanctioning people illegally. No wonder Joel couldn’t point me towards the policy reference – there isn’t one.

But that’s just one example of the Job Centre’s increased control over the movements of its “customers”. Foucalt wrote about state control of the body and it seems to apply to the Job Centre which is now so regimental that being 5 minutes late is now punishable by a 4 week illegal sanction. While some of the DWP’s contractors will allow adviser interview times to be set at convenient times, the Job Centre demands that claimants attend at whatever time the Job Centre wishes.

The Job Centre can change your sign on time with no warning and without telling you and they will refuse to change it back even though you usually babysit at those times (it’s happened to me). An investigator travelled 95 miles to meet me at the Job Centre to ask me questions about the babysitting, my relationship status and bank accounts. He told me I should have informed the Job Centre I had babysat even though I’m not paid a penny for doing it and only babysat occasionally. I had a to sign a declaration that my circumstances hadn’t changed. The investigator was understanding and said he knew I wasn’t deliberately hiding anything from the Job Centre, but the Job Centre has to know about babysitting otherwise it’s like the government is funding childcare for the kid’s mum, especially if she can only work if I provide childcare.

With restart interviews, sessions. job search interviews, adviser interviews and god knows what else for those on JSA, ESA and Income Support, it’s clear that control of people’s movements and schedules is a key tool in the DWP’s agenda of humiliation and control.

When you’re forced to run to the Job Centre out of fear of being late or hurry through treacherous ice as snow blows into your face, all so you can get money to buy food…it doesn’t exactly help your self esteem or your confidence at interviews or your motivation to get back into work. This is control and punishment, pure and simple.

List of all the things the Government is doing to increase wealth gaps

 

Work Tax Credit

Sound good? Tax credits for poor people, right? Nope. Work Tax Credit is counted as “income” when calculating your Housing Benefit. So you actually get nothing. If you work less than 16 hours a week you won’t be entitled to Work Tax credit but that’s not so bad because you’ll actually pay the same amount of rent.

Did I say you get nothing? That was wrong. If you don’t need Housing Benefit then you get to keep the Work Tax Credit.

 

Housing Benefit

If you rent a property then the Housing Benefit goes to your landlord. But if you’ve got a mortgage then the Housing Benefit drops into your pocket. This is clearly unfair as it’s helping the more affluent or less poor get more affluent. But the poorest don’t get a penny.

 

Child Tax Credit

This is also counted as income while calculating Housing Benefit, as was Child Benefit. So the poorest don’t receive anything while those who own their own houses take it all.

 

The cuts/NHS/tuition fees

Pretty self explanatory. Those with lots of money needn’t worry about tuition fees. If you can afford private healthcare then the NHS isn’t really important to you. If you have lots of resources, time and the educational background to invest in your kids’ education, cuts to public services won’t really affect you.

 

The bedroom tax

Again, an obvious one. Only those who don’t own their own properties are targeted while those who own their properties could have ten spare rooms and not pay a penny in tax – even though it’d be much easier for them to afford the tax. It is common tax policy in most countries to tax proportionally accotrding to earnings, which was why the Thatcher Poll Tax recieved widespread opposition. The bedroom tax is worse than the Poll Tax because it only targets the poor.

 

The Jobcentre

Affluent people and their family, boyfriends/girlfriends and close friends won’t ever step into a Jobcentre. They can be as shiftless as they want. But the less fortunate have to be subjected to constant surveillance, forced travel and attendance to the Jobcentre and various companies and workfares. Worst of all (in my experience) is the constant harassment and erosion of self esteem and confidence. It’s this last thing which has led me to include the Jobcentre in this list. Because writing great CVs and covering letters – not to mention performing well in interviews- is heavily dependent on self esteem  and confidence. The Jobcentre, A4e, Ingeus, Atos, Working Links and the rest are making the poor poorer by  (unintentionally) making them do badly in interviews and keeping them out of work for longer.

Memoirs of a benefits scrounger: Jobcentre sanctions me for getting a job

My transition from good-for-nothing benefits scrounger to upstanding citizen is only a phone call away. Yes, for the last couple of months copywriting and content writing work was harder to find and I’ve been claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance. Now that I’ve got a regular job again I went down to my local Jobcentre to close my claim. Turned out it wasn’t so easy.

“We can’t close your claim because you didn’t sign in on Monday so we have to take disciplinary action against you. Your benefits have been stopped and it’ll have to go to a hearing,” said Lauren, one of the Job Centre staff.

“But I was at training,” I explained. “And I sent you two messages saying I couldn’t sign in that day. I gave you a message online and got my friend to come in and give you a note.”

“That doesn’t make any difference because you didn’t physically sign in,” Lauren shrugged.

I pointed out that closing my claim would probably be easiest for them and anyway there was no point stopping my benefits because closing my claim would stop them anyway.

Lauren explained this was Jobcentre policy and said I’d have to answer questions about why I’d failed to sign in before my claim could be closed. This is how it went:

Her: Why did you fail to sign in on Monday?

Me: Because I was at training for my job.

Her: Well why didn’t you sign in on Tuesday?

Me: Because I was at work.

Her: Well why didn’t you come in sooner today?

Me: When my friend dropped off the note, one of your colleagues gave her a message for me that I just had to phone. They didn’t say I had to come in. The only reason I’m here is because I don’t have your phone number and I thought you might need to see me.

Her: Why did you fail to look for jobs in the last 2 weeks?

Me: I didn’t. I applied for around 20 jobs in the last 2 weeks.

Her: Where are they?

Me: They’re in my Activity History.

Her: OK, I see them. But why did you fail to apply for any jobs since last week?

Me: Because I got a job.

Lauren typed all that into a form and sent it off to DWP Hearings Land. “It’ll take 15 minutes to go through, so you might as well phone to close your claim from home,” she said. “You’ll receive a decision in a few months about whether your benefits will be stopped or not.”

I got up. So this was it. After months of Jobcentre harassment – including stopping my benefits for 3 months because I mixed up the address on a job I’d agreed to apply for (reduced to 2 weeks on appeal) – despite applying for 34 other jobs I hadn’t agreed to apply for. The Jobcentre had set my mandatory target at 2 jobs per week and by my advisor’s admission I was applying for over 15 jobs per week and was the person who applied fore the most jobs out of every Jobcentre “customer”. Three weeks later they stopped my benefits for 2 weeks for forgetting to go to a CV session at the Jobcentre. And a week after that they said they couldn’t reimburse bus tickets (£26) because I hadn’t told them I was going to the interview beforehand. Actually I had, but my advisor didn’t give me the form to fill in or tell me that I had to fill it in. I ended up getting the job – it was a temp job that lasted 2 weeks. The Job Centre then paid me much less than I was entitled to for months, because they thought I still had the job. It took three phone calls and two Jobcentre visits to sort it out because every time they told me the error was fixed, it turned out it wasn’t.

Well, after all that there was no “congratulations” or “well done”. They couldn’t even reimburse my travelling expenses for an interview I’d gone to a few days prior – apparently it’s up to Lifeskills to reimburse me now. (Which means I wasted a trip to the Jobcentre to fill out the necessary form. And I know Lifeskills probably won’t reimburse me because I didn’t tell them about the interview beforehand. Not that it matters because the cost of travel to Lifeskills would be almost as much as the reimbursement.)

As I left the Jobcentre for the last time, looking around and reminiscing about the indignities I’d suffered and wishing I’d blogged about them, Lauren said “See you later”. “See you, but I don’t think I will,” I said. “You might be back. I might see you again,” Lauren countered. I shrugged. “Yeah, you never know, with the economy and that.”

Then I turned and walked out of that door. It seemed an anticlimactic end to my time here. Hadn’t the Job Centre bullied me and forced me to grace their building with my presence every two weeks or oftener? Hadn’t the message that my main goal in life was to rejoin humanity by finding work been drilled into me over and over again? Yet they seemed totally unimpressed now that I actually had a job.

I’ll still be officially a benefits scrounger until I make that phone call. And somehow I don’t want to. I like being a benefits scrounger. I think it really focusses my writing.

Slutocrat (Scrounger #20616)

The Ingeus Diaries (part 2): Jobcentre stalking & benefits cut due to Jobcentre incompetency

DAY 2

Before I wrote my last blog, Meg told me that some people hadn’t turned up because the Jobcentre failed to tell them it was mandatory that they go to Ingeus. As a result, their benefits will be cut. These people still weren’t there today. Meg also told me she would only have to go to the Ingeus course for two days. But things quickly changed for her:

“Ingeus told us that if we take more than 2 days off from the Stairways to Work course, we’ll be chucked out of the course,” she explains. “The Jobcentre will know and I know that if I’m chucked out, my Jobcentre advisor will put me on another workfare much more quickly. So I’m going to have to attend for the whole 2 weeks. Most of the other jobseekers have realised this too, and they intend to keep going to the course.”

Interview transcript:

The other jobseekers from [Town 1] and [Town 2] were phoned by their Jobcentres. The Jobcentres asked if they had gone to the course. I feel that this is stalking. They felt annoyed and harassed. My Jobcentre didn’t phone me.

Today we were doing CVs which wasn’t helpful; I was told my CV was good and Ingeus didn’t suggest any changes to my CV.

The woman from Ingeus was talking about transferable skills and she held up her daughter as an example: her daughter graduated from University but after a year she couldn’t find a job which needed a degree so she worked in an airport and is still there now, two years later. I think it’s ridiculous that jobseekers are being told how to find work by someone whose own daughter is unable to find work suited to her qualifications. And that wasn’t an example of transferable skills, it was an example of young graduates having to settle for any work due to a lack of suitable jobs. It’s not a positive story – it’s a sad tale about the recession and our problems with unemployment and underemployment.

We had to do a test about our social skills and the French social worker scored 70, which is equivalent to 100%. I was the next highest and scored 70. We also were given a bit of paper with dots on it and told to draw lines to join all the dots. After we’d finished, the woman from Ingeus explained that she had made us do it to show us that most people don’t think of drawing lines outside the dots. This shows us that to look for jobs we sometimes have to look for jobs that are similar but not the same to the job we want to do. Like if you want to be a landscaper you could look for gardener jobs.

DAY 3

Today we sent out ‘spec letters’ – emails or letters speculating about whether there’s a vacancy. A middle-aged woman, Bethany, was copying a sample letter. She wrote “I have a lot of skills in housekeeping, cleaning and that sort of thing.” I burst out laughing. Then she’d written “Yours sincerely, Name” just like the sample. I fixed it for her because I can type fast. Mark, the social worker, also finished his letters quickly and spent the rest of the time helping others. The Ingeus woman was struggling to deal with helping everyone so me and Mark did it for the rest of the afternoon.

Bethany’s husband drives her to and from Ingeus. One of the young people, Daphne, gets driven to Ingeus by her mother. The amount they have to spend on the petrol is a lot because Ingeus pays less than 20p a mile.

We used the computers to search for jobs and just sat in a circle listening to what the Ingeus group leader said. Four others and I talked about how we weren’t learning anything useful.

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