Monday, 29 April 2013

Hello again, long time no see.

My journey seems to have come to a kind of end- I just got a letter from the DWP. It seems that they 'have decided that the doubt no longer applies' in reference to my sanction. I am getting the money back.

No apology (of course)- just that it doesn't apply any more. No mention of them making a mistake and stressing me out for months- it just doesn't apply.

So I guess that's it. I have signed off now anyway and gone self-employed- but not due to any advice or help from the Job Centre. In fact, because there was another sanction on my claim (when I missed one appointment- due to bank holiday confusion on my part) I am not entitled to any of the help or run-on benefits that most people who go self-employed are. No run-on housing benefit or In-work credit for me. I am on my own. It's made the decision a lot harder but to be honest, it is kind of nice to just not have to deal with them anymore.

Amazingly, when I told my advisor I was signing off, she said 'well that's good, because you would have had to start the Workfare programme next month'- as if she had no recollection of my reasons for not wanting to take part, or the meeting I had with her and her boss as a result of her not listening to any of my misgivings for not doing it. I wonder if she even knows who I am?

Thanks for listening. I might write a post or two in the future as I am still following this whole Workfare thing avidly. It seems to sum up a lot of what is wrong with our society at the moment. If it's happening to you- then stay adamant and don't take it. You're a human being not a political pawn- have faith in yourself.

Friday, 29 March 2013

It's been an interesting few weeks. First of all, the revelations coming mainly from Walthamstow Job Centre have entirely blown my mind (as this is where I sign on, incredibly), and secondly the fall out from this new information.

To say it has been a kind of important story for me is somewhat of an understatement. The dates in this blog correspond directly with those in the story- I was sanctioned on the 1st February and staff were allegedly told they must start sanctioning more to complete their targets by the 15th February. There was also the whole cock up with the form (their fault) which definitely increased the chances of me losing my money. I think what happened is that they read my appeal and decided I might not get sanctioned as my reasons for not doing MWA were actually very good. So then they pretended I had to submit the information differently, in a way that did not give the whole story. I plan to complain.

Since starting this blog I have spoken to many people in the same situation as me, all of whom talk about the negative effect it has had on their lives. I have thought on some level that this has been my fault- maybe I was being unreasonable not going on the A4E course, or by making a fuss- perhaps I am just being lazy, or reactionary- or as Iain Duncan Smith calls it 'one of those clever people' politicising my reluctance to do menial work or whatever else they try and make you believe about yourself. But having read about targets and also by learning about other people's stories I have realised that I am not to blame. This may seem like a small thing, but for me it is enormous. It's tied up with my self-worth and by extension how much I like myself in general.

After it all kicked off, my MP Stella Creasy put the word out that she wanted to get to the bottom of what was happening so I got in touch and showed her this blog and spoke to her assistant at length about what has been going on. Yesterday I also went along to a meeting that she called, which was pretty interesting. Weirdly enough, Stella and I practically went to school together so it was odd to see her doing her politician thing- it has to be said she is pretty impressive. I wonder if this is the main job of a politician- to be convincing and seem trustworthy? Probably. My own political beliefs could be viewed as being somewhat radical, so I felt very much like a fly on the wall.

I met some very nice Socialist Party members who were pretty pissed off with Stella over the Emergency Legislation issue. Her get out of jail free card is that voting no wouldn't have brought about an end to Workfare. Stella emphasised the point that this bill wasn't about sanctions but rather the intent of Parliament and she reckons that she didn't trade down, as they wouldn't have got the right of appeal had they voted no. Furthemore, she says she is being consistent as she believes in sanctions when they are used appropriately (such as within the Future Jobs Fund).

It was all very convincing. However there was a lot of anger in the room, primarily from TUSC Candidate Nancy Taaffe who was not convinced at all. I wonder if that was ever an option though? The disillusionment with the process was obvious in the room. People just don't trust politicians anymore. Is it worth it for an MP to send a message or become a symbol anymore? Is that not just a way of losing influence ultimately? Most of the people at the meeting thought that standing up for the people is really the only way.

Ms Taaffe's mother Linda especially thought that the time has come to make a stand, start a movement- get people down to Parliament and take action, and I also thought she was very convincing, possibly in a more human way. I liked it a lot when she said we need a 'system that plans for need'. Linda said what many of us believe ie: if Labour were in it'd be exactly the same. However, I could see what Stella was saying, and I understood why she'd done the things she had- maybe my personal history with her was part of it, but I also think she is intelligent and well meaning, and all you can really go on is gut feeling, which is an interesting notion isn't it.

I'm hoping there will be more revelations, more leaks. I would like for the DWP to be exposed as liars and be made responsible for basically wrecking people's lives. I'm one of the lucky ones as I am not living in poverty and I have a network of people around me who look out for me. What upsets me is that many of the people who have lost their money do not. We are supposed to be civilised yet all this points towards a huge disregard for some of the weakest people in our society. Really, if you are not angry, then why not?

Saturday, 16 March 2013

I haven't written for a while. I still haven’t heard about my appeal- I wonder how long it takes? I can’t seem to find a number anywhere to call ‘Scotland’ to find out. I think I’ve almost lost the will to pursue it- as bad as that sounds. 

I’ve wanted to write a post about how all this has affected me psychologically for a while but I’ve been wary to, as that kind of thing often attracts a special kind of criticism. Having finally decided to go self-employed next week, I feel like maybe I’m in a better frame of mind to write it.

Unless you’ve been unemployed then it is hard to understand how much the constant pressure from the Job Centre can affect you. For the last six months I have felt as if I am a terrible person with very little worth, even though I have been trying hard to get a job. Much of the media tries to reinforce this view and after a while, it really gets to you, no matter how resilient or clued up you are.

In some ways I am not a typical benefit claimant (whatever that may be- I am trying hard not to align myself with the rhetoric here), I am well educated and middle-class and have had a lot of opportunities in my life. I read a lot and think I have a good grasp on why people believe certain things- yet I have still suffered a lot from being described as a ‘scrounger' etc. You begin to believe that you are not good enough, and that it is only a lack of effort that is stopping you get a job. I can only imagine what it must be like to not fully understand the mechanics of a situation like this.

To get an interview for a recent position that I applied for I visited the premises, interviewed the staff, wrote an article and got it accepted for publication in three different places. I got the interview, did a mock-up interview with a friend of mine who is in the same profession, practiced my interview answers for hours in front of the mirror and did an excellent interview. I made it to the last two candidates and only just missed out.

This is Iain Duncan Smith’s idea of someone who is not ‘doing everything they can to get a job’, and this is just one example out of many jobs I have written carefully worded cover letters or application forms for. I don’t expect it to be easy to get a job having been out of (paid) work for 7 years, but the competition for these positions is absolutely phenomenal. I phoned up one employer this week to ask about a job I’d applied for and was told they’d had over 300 applications.

As I’ve said in a previous post, I have worked as a cleaner before- I’ve done pretty much every low-paid job you can think of. Maybe I should take one of these positions but I feel I have so much more to give to society- I’m full of ideas and capability. At 36 and with a daughter to look after (and impress) I think it might be the time to get a job that really makes me happy and that I can invest a lot in. Is that a luxury? I’m just not sure anymore.

The Job Centre doesn’t care about any of this. Every visit makes me feel worse about myself, less able and productive, and less hopeful. I recently lost 4 weeks money for refusing to go on their A4E course and work placement (see below). On speaking to one of the Job Centre staff I was told ‘of course you’ve been sanctioned- you are one of the polite ones- they are not scared of you. They know the ones who are playing the system but they won’t touch them as they’re the ones who will kick off’.

The power of the media cannot be underestimated. Even one of my good friends recently told me that she ‘would rather have an abortion than be a single mother on benefits’ and that I should ‘get off my arse’. Admittedly she was drunk and I have forgiven her because I don’t think she was very happy at the time, but it’s an interesting example of how these notions sink into people’s minds. I am sure my more moderate friends and even some on the left hold similar ideas about welfare. As I say, I really don’t think you can criticize unless you have been there.

It is pretty hard for anyone to have a positive relationship with themselves nowadays. It is something that has to be worked on and developed. You have to have enormous strength of mind to stay optimistic and happy and forward-looking. Many people do not get the love and care as they grow up that is necessary to develop the core of self-confidence and self-assurance that comes naturally to others. Depression is rife and the lack of social mobility these days can act as a huge deterrent to ‘sorting yourself out’. I am only partially talking about myself here, but I can see how so many people struggle to become productive members of society, and it has very little to do with being ‘lazy’.

Perhaps that makes me a bleeding heart but if so, I can’t apologise. I go and sit in a room with these people every week and see it for myself.

Interestingly, if I had been feeling better about myself lately I probably would have gone self-employed a lot earlier. In fact- if the Job Centre had listened to me and advised me properly I may well have done it six months ago and been spared this ridiculous rollercoaster of emotions. Happiness really is the key to economic stability- or maybe that is just unrealistic. My ‘utopia’ would probably never work. Haha.

Monday, 4 February 2013

Friday, 1 February 2013

I've been sanctioned! I knew it would happen. I've lost a months money.

Maybe if I had been allowed to send the letter I wrote (see two posts below) this wouldn't have happened. Then again, I'm not so sure.

I did receive a reply to the email I wrote complaining about this issue, but only after 7 days, and that was only after I'd sent a prompting email asking when they were going to reply.

This is what I got back-

Thank you for your email communication received 30/01/13 concerning your case being referred to a Decision maker.

You have asked to be provided with the contact details for the Decision Making and Appeals (DMA) team and to be provided with a case reference number relating to the referral of your case.

Unfortunately I am unable to provide you with a direct contact number for the DMA team as phone numbers are for internal use only. Once a decision has been made on your claim you will receive a letter which will explain the decision made and the next steps you can take if you are unhappy with the decision, you will also be provided with all necessary contact details at this stage.

I should explain that because of the impartial status of Decision Makers, I am unable to intervene in the decision making or appeal process.  Individual cases of doubt are decided by specialist Decision Makers who have the necessary training, knowledge and expertise to act on behalf of the Secretary of State. Their decision are based on the individual circumstances of the case and on case law and current legal guidance.

I would, therefore, stress that if you are unhappy with the decision once it is made you follow the appropriate appeals process as set out in your decision letter.

Please speak with your Adviser --- who can be contacted on --- or alternatively email her at --- if you require any advice relating to this referral.


See how she has ignored the cock up with the forms. Classic. I have been told I can apply for a hardship fund which I will do.  Apparently I did not have 'sufficiently good reasons' for not attending the course. It's a shame they haven't read this blog really. Haha.


Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Hello again.

There has been a bit of a lull in my situation due to the Christmas break, but yesterday I went back to the Job Centre and was told I had been given the wrong form to fill in and followed the wrong procedure to make a case as to why I shouldn't be sanctioned. Instead I had to dictate a few sentences to my Job Advisor there and then- which will be my entire case.

I asked if I could take the form away and write it myself and was told no, I had to do it then as it had to be sent off immediately. My daughter was with me as it was a snow day and afterwards she went behind the desk. 'You can't come round here' my advisor said, but my daughter ignored her and put out her hand so she was forced to shake it. Haha. In her defence, my advisor has been a lot more friendly and human since I did my speech about how I know it's not her, it's the ridiculous system that she's forced to work with.

I also got told off for not applying for jobs at the right time. Over the last few weeks I have applied for six jobs, but one week I applied for 4, and the next week 2. I was told that it has to be 3 PER WEEK or I will be sanctioned and lose 4 weeks money. I don't understand why this is, but being a single mum sometimes your planning goes a little astray due to child illness or snow days or LIFE. If I know I'm going to have less time one week then I'll do more job applications the week before/after. Isn't this just how it goes?

Today I wrote this email to my advisor's boss. I hate being like this, I feel like one of those annoying fuss-making people, but I also feel like it's important to see this through, because I have been making a real effort in my life and need it to be recognised. I don't feel like I should be penalised.


I hope you're well.

Yesterday I came in and --- explained that I had filled in the wrong form and followed the wrong procedure to make a case as to why I didn't attend the A4E course. I spent a considerable amount of time writing a statement and I also supplied references from my training provider and a certificate I have recieved for taking part in a business course. I felt these things, plus a recommendation from my manager at the company where I have been doing an internship would prove that I have been making considerable effort to get back to work, rendering the A4E course unapplicable to me.

Obviously I am a bit worried that my money is going to be stopped. The very brief paragraph I dictated to --- yesterday in place of the above may not be enough to make sure that doesn't happen. She explained that if I do get sanctioned then I can appeal- but I would prefer to not get sanctioned in the first place and to not have a period where I have no money. --- explained that there is no contact name in Edinburgh so I can't submit my evidence. Is there no one I can talk to about this? I must have a case number at least?

This is not a complaint, though it is fairly frustrating that I was given the wrong form/procedure to follow. I'd prefer it if you didn't mention this to --- as this is not really to do with her- I just really want to make sure my money doesn't get stopped and I think I have a real case as to why it shouldn't be. It'd be a shame if I can't convey this properly to the appropriate decision maker.

Thanks for your time.

Let's see what happens. In the mean time, here is a song that feels relevant somehow. Any excuse to post a pop song...

Monday, 10 December 2012

Right, just printed this off in the scummiest internet cafe in the whole entire world. Going to drop it off at the Job Centre now. Wish me luck!

Dear Sir/Madame,

I hope you find the following relevant. It is my account of why I think I am not suitable for the Launchpad course and following work experience.

Please bear in mind I have only been ‘officially’ seeking work for the last six months.

In the last 7 years I have done various placements and personal projects to improve my chances of finding work, including applying for an MA (for which my funding unfortunately fell through), writing and having a book published and volunteering in a primary school for six months.

When my daughter started school full-time I approached the Arts and Literature Collective ‘Mercy’ with a view to interning for them. They took me on and during my time with them I managed a team of interns, put on a successful exhibition in Liverpool, did research and promotion and helped to publish a book of art and poetry. I would like to pursue this kind of work and now have excellent references and an up to date CV to assist me.

Primarily however, I have been training as a Horticultural Assistant. I undertook an evening course ‘Introduction to Gardening’ in 2011 which I paid for myself. I also did the first part of a Permaculture course which is a recognised qualification.

In 2012 I did a City and Guilds Level 1: Certificate in Gardening which I successfully completed. I went on to find and take part in a ‘Striding Out’ course on how to start your own business with a view to perhaps starting my own gardening business while also continuing with my creative work. I have included a copy of the certificate I gained.

In June this year I enrolled onto the City and Guilds Level 2: Certificate in Gardening which I was due to start in September. I was also volunteering at the nursery where I did my course. It was around this time that I was told I would have to take part in the Launchpad course. I was told by my job advisor that I would not be able to do the second part of my gardening course as Launchpad is mandatory. This would also mean giving up my volunteering.

I have since spoken to my advisor and her manager about the course being mandatory and they have confirmed that this is the case.

Subsequently I did not start the City and Guilds Level 2. Not to be deterred I asked at the plant nursery if I could do a work placement there, which they agreed to, but was told by my advisor that I do not have a choice where I do my 4 weeks work experience. This doesn’t make sense to me as I do not want to work in retail.

I went along to the first day of the Launchpad course and explained my situation- that I felt I was already making credible steps towards employment. Even A4E said they didn’t think I was suitable for the course. I was told they had a different programme that would be more suitable for me which I agreed to take part in for 6 hours a week as I think it would be beneficial for me.

Launchpad’s ‘Module objective’ is the following-

‘To progressively develop ability and confidence in managing personal circumstances, overcoming barriers and developing skills, such that participants are better equipped to make realistic decisions about returning to the labour market’.

I really feel that I have been making realistic decisions. I believe that to do a course on how to motivate myself when I am already enthusiastically trying to do what I want to do does not make sense. I am currently looking for somewhere to start my City and Guilds Level 2 in January.

I’d like to make it clear that since being on JSA I have been actively seeking work and have applied for many jobs- obviously I am prepared to work part-time while I continue training. One position I applied for recently had received over 200 applications. However, this will not stop me from getting a job as I am positive and resourceful.

One of the last paid work positions I did was as an HR assistant, screening CVs and application forms. I know how to write a convincing application. I feel within the next two months I will have a job. But I cannot do this if I am working in Poundland or similar getting experience in a field I have no interest in and that will ultimately only look incongruous on my CV.

I'm a single mum who wants to balance working towards the good of society and the people around me with bringing up a healthy and happy daughter. I believe I can do both and the best way to go about that is to pursue a meaningful career in subjects that I am becoming proficient in.

I hope you can take the above into consideration. I am not, perhaps the typical benefits claimant (if such a thing exists), and being pigeonholed is extremely frustrating. Being treated as if I am trying to get out of working even while producing evidence to the contrary has really affected my morale. I feel I have done nothing but try to help myself yet I now face losing my benefits which seems somewhat upside down. I have included some references.

Thanks for your time