54 and out of work: how the DWP hounds you to amuse itself

Reposted from Kate Belgrave

Thought I’d spend a few pre-budget days rolling out more transcripts from interviews with people on the rubbish end of Tory austerity.

This one is yet another story about jobcentres and useless back-to-work activities (the transcript is at the end):

I went to one of the northwest London jobcentres last week to hand out leaflets with the Kilburn unemployed workers’ group … and I spent a long time talking to an older bloke (he was 54) who said he’d been in the jobcentre for an hour writing his CV with an adviser.

We’ll call this guy Keith. Keith was in the Work Related Activity Group for Employment and Support Allowance. He told me that he’d worked for much of his life in engineering as a fitter, but that all came to an end after a bad car accident about a decade ago. “Now I can’t do it. It’s physically impossible, because I’ll be in and around machines and all. That [accident] was the end of my engineering days. That finished me for a while and then I was really down.”

I give you this work history, because Keith reported it. I personally couldn’t care less whether people have worked or not, or what their histories are. As time goes on, I care less and less. If people are 50+, disabled and at a jobcentre, they’re a) usually in need at that moment in time, b) unlikely to get work because they’re on the scrapheap as far as employers are concerned and c) going to be written off as scroungers whether they worked all their lives or not. Those are the only relevant facts these days. Nothing else that people have or haven’t been or done counts.

Anyway, I ramble… Atos had, of course, found Keith fit for work, in a relatively recent assessment. Keith had managed to get that decision overturned on appeal. He was placed in the WRAG group for ESA. WRAG is the ESA group that the DWP wants to get rid of  – their latest move in what is a none-too-subtle campaign to eliminate disability benefits altogether, along with the concept that some people just can’t work. Because he’s in that Work Related Activity Group, Keith must turn out to the jobcentre every few weeks and engage in completely pointless “work-related” activities.

I say “completely pointless” because that is exactly what those activities are. They’re not about getting people into work. They’re about making sure that older, disabled people like Keith are constantly prodded. Nothing else. They’re just prodded. They’re not helped into decent, decently-paid work, or anything as romantic as that. They’re prodded and needled and nudged and got at, and that’s about that. Keith told me that his adviser happily conceded that the CV-writing was not about getting a job, but just an exercise to complete to meet government requirements. “[The adviser] said – “well, you done your CV and you’re covered. As far as the government is concerned, you’ve done your thing. Just do it” Keith said that he must return to the jobcentre in a few weeks’ time to participate in another “activity.” There’ll be more after that. I imagine Keith is being lined up as fodder for this or that privately-provided work course, or similar purposeless bollocks. On and on it goes.

I’m not telling you this because I want to tell you a sob story. As I said, I don’t know enough about Keith to know whether his story is sad or not, or what he has or hasn’t done in his life, or who he is, or what his attitude to life or work is. None of that is relevant. I am also perfectly aware that no amount of Sad or Tragic or even Likely To Die will see the political class conceding that Keith or anyone else deserves a benefit, so we’ll park that one there. I am talking about systems – absurd, aimless systems. I’m telling you this story to show you again the jobsearch and work-related and workfare activities so cherished by modern governments like ours are so often an absolute charade.

I really have met a great many people at jobcentres over the last few years who’ve said something to me like “I’m here [at the jobcentre] today because they’re going to send me on a work course/work programme/workfare job/fuck knows what and I have to go.” A few months later, we see each other again and they say pretty much the same thing. From time to time, someone gets a job through their own efforts. The really “lucky” ones end up in a short-term, low-paid job or workfare thing somewhere or other and are told to be grateful for it, because everyone who enters the world of work is saved forever and will be granted a great life from that point (even when the work is so badly paid that people can’t meet their bills with it. The whole thing is complete shit).

The rest just turn up to their jobcentres to take part in pointless activities because they have to. I’ve attended jobcentre and work programme meetings myself where advisers have cheerfully admitted that the work-related activity they’re proposinghas nothing to do with finding employment. The activity is a futile exercise that must be gone through so that the JSA or ESA claimant can get another measly benefit payment while being made to grovel for it. Sometimes, advisers don’t even seem to care if people are conscious for the activity. That might sound a bit cute, but it’s actually true – earlier this year, I attended a work-related interview at a jobcentre with a man who was on ESA (in WRAG) and so exhausted and up to his eyeballs with the meds he takes that he went to sleep during the interview. The jobcentre adviser didn’t seem to care at all. The point was to make this guy attend the session, not to achieve anything during it. I got the feeling that the adviser welcomed the down time – a quiet interview being easier to deal with than a confrontational one, etc.

Anyway. I suppose Keith might ultimately find a job, but at best, it’ll be something low paid and difficult. I know we’re all meant to be grateful for the chance to grind it out in a hard job for £6 an hour into our 50s and 60s, and probably 70s and 80s at this rate, and maybe some people are grateful for that, but – yeah. I’m getting on in years myself and I seriously hope that the home straight doesn’t line up like that for me.

Keith, 54:

“They’re driving me nuts in there. I just started to do a CV. I’ve been in there an hour, I’d say. I’ve never had a CV in my life, but it’s just something that they said I have to do. I don’t know what they want to do with it. They said I have to have an email [address], because that’s what the government tells them that I have to have.

“I had to go to this Atos thing. I’m in the group now that they’re helping me back to work. I got ESA and I’ve got to come in for all this. I keep telling them – well I can’t do this and I can’t do this, but they said – well, you still have to go through all this.

“I appealed that decision [Atos found Keith fit for work a couple of years ago]. My appeal was granted [and I was put in the Work Related Activity Group], but they put down on my appeal that I shouldn’t be seen by anyone for three years. But now that I am in this WRAG, I do have see them.

“I have to see the bloke downstairs now in three weeks’ time I think it is. They do my CV and put it into the computer. I said I don’t have a computer and they said “Oh well, you’ll need an email address” and all this. I told them I don’t have an email address. I do now.

“It’s unbelievable what they put people through to be honest with you. I’m 54. I had a bad accident. I was hit by a car and it broke my legs and ligaments as well, on the road. I was four months in hospital. It was a nightmare thing to go to this tribunal and in front of the judge. When they said “your appeal has been successful,” they said that I didn’t have to go outside or anything and I thought I’d be all right for a while.

“Atos found me fit for work, so that’s what I appealed. Since this Atos thing I’ve been through – I know that an awful lot more of people have been put through that. It is random, because you’re seeing someone who has really got no qualifications and Atos gave me nothing. Everything was fine [they said] there was nothing wrong with me at all. Then when I saw the tribunal I got the points, so who is deciding?

“There would be other ones that just couldn’t put themselves through it. I was worried about going through this appeal thing and I’m strong, but I reckon there would be a good few people who said “No, not for me.” Now, I got to do my CV for them. I don’t know what I’m going to be doing next time. The bloke I see downstairs, he was all right, actually. He said “well, you done your CV and you’re covered. As far as the government is concerned, you’ve done your thing. Just do it.”

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