Amid rising concern about the impact of welfare cuts – particularly since a senior coroner recently linked suicide and welfare reform for the first time – 61-year-old Jimmy Stirling begins a diary on CommonSpace charting his dealings with the UK benefits system
I AM Jimmy Stirling, a 61-year-old unemployed graphic designer, photographer and musician, single grandfather and social housing tenant living in Glasgow.
I receive Jobseeker’s Allowance of PS50 per week and have a very small pension payment of just under PS25 per week. I do voluntary work for my neighbouring community and look after one of my granddaughters for two days per week.
I was recently conscripted to take part in the UK Government’s Community Work Programme, where I would be forced to work for my Jobseeker’s Allowance, which I see as slave labour.
This not volunteering, this is not being paid a wage, this is conscription.
I am against this terrible programme and this is my experience in trying to avoid a six-month, 30-hours-per-week sentence just to juggle the government’s statistics to make them look good.
I’ll start at the beginning of my battle with the Community Work Programme, and I’ll post my diary update every Friday on CommonSpace.
2 September 2015
I was issued with a notice on 2 September by a substitute adviser at Parkhead Jobcentre Plus to take part in the Community Work Programme. I did not see my adviser, so I got a substitute who had only being doing the adviser post for two days.
This notice was not signed by a member of staff at the Jobcentre and no name of a work coach was printed nor displayed.
For reference, Learndirect runs the Community Work Programme, and Learndirect was bought over in 2011 by Lloyds Development Capital, part of the Lloyds Banking Group, at a price of PS40m-PS60m.
9 September 2015
As instructed by my adviser/substitute adviser, I attended the Community Work Programme induction meeting on Wednesday 9 September 2015, at Learndirect, Adelphi Centre, Glasgow at 9.30am.
I was one attendee along with another nine attendees. The person conducting had me fill out forms, mostly ticking boxes and filling in a few lines as well as adding dates and my name.
I refused to sign any of these forms. The same person, on taking back the forms for checking told me that I did not sign any of the forms.
My reply was: “I decline to consent to information sharing, but I will participate in all mandatory activities.”
I repeated this quotation when asked again. The person conducting then told me that if I did not sign, then I could not take part in the programme. I repeated the quotation again. I was told that I could not take part in the programme and that my DWP office would be contacted immediately by phone.
A second person, maybe of higher office, asked me why I had not signed and I repeated my quotation. Her reply to me was that she thought I was not willing to take part in the programme because I did not sign. I said that that was not true. I was then told to leave, which I did.
I conducted myself in a calm and non-threatening manner throughout and left the premises in a dignified manner.
16 September 2015
I attended Parkhead DWP for my usual signing.
Today was my normal signing day. I went to Parkhead Jobcentre and again, I did not see my work coach (this is the new name for an adviser).
The situation with Learndirect was brought up. The lady said that a woman had called them from Learndirct on 9 September telling the Jobcentre that I did not sign forms.
I said that this was correct and that I had rights, and that although I didn’t sign any forms I was willing to take part in the programme. I then signed on as usual and asked her if my allowance would be paid in to my bank account. She said yes. I received my JSA allowance five days later.
I was then given another letter to meet my job coach on Monday. I said that I had rights. The woman said that I could be sanctioned if I did not sign forms, I told her that I do voluntary work which keeps my skills up to date as well as helping the community and that I would get a very good reference from Cranhill Community Trust, if and when required.
I also told her that if she checked my job application record she would see that I did more than my agreed 10 job applications per week and this showed that I was motivated into finding work. This didn’t seem to sink in at all.
21 September 2015
Today, I had a meeting with my adviser who said that I did not sign forms at Learndirect. I repeated that I have rights.
He told me what Learndirect had said over the phone, which was basically, again, that I did not sign forms and was therefore not eligible to take part in the Community Work Programme.
I told him that I had told Learndirect that I wouldn’t sign forms but was willing to take part in the programme – I told him that I had said it twice in front of nine other people. He made a note of this.
I told him the probable problem for me getting work was my age, and he agreed. I also told him it was unfair for me to do the full programme as I don’t get the full Jobseeker’s Allowance.
He looked it up and saw that I only get PS50 a week because of my small pension. This made no impression and neither did my voluntary work, nor the fact that I look after my granddaughter twice a week.
He said that my voluntary work could possibly be fitted in to the programme – this was the first time that had been mentioned.
I was then told that what was said today would be forwarded to a decision maker and that I could face a three-month sanction.
I will now have to wait for that decision to be made. Now it is a waiting game, I do not sign on again until 30 September and it will be a fortnight today that I will notice if my money has been stopped.
They appear to stop your money before telling you that you have been sanctioned, I have heard.
22 September 2015
I visited Westgap, a voluntary rights and advice group based in Cessnock, Glasgow.
They looked at my case and will take it on as they are confident I will win an appeal against any sanction.
My MP has been kept informed of what has been happening and she is going to write to the DWP with a couple of questions regarding my case.
Now, it is a waiting game to see if I have been sanctioned. The ball is in the DWP’s court.
The next instalment of Jimmy’s diary will be published this Friday, 2 October.
Picture courtesy of Andrew_Writer