“Mind-Numbing Degradation”: When Budget Priorities Are Inhuman 22/11/2017

Artwork by Jacqueline Page

With another budget coming, I feel scared and uncertain. If people are vulnerable on benefits or in low-paid employment… a budget can stop us from living. I want to share a real-life example about how my son was affected by the system.

My son lost out on an education because the school would not support him with his medical needs. The school only focused on its own agenda and expectations. My son then went on to college to try to get an education — but he had to leave college after a budget stopped the ESA benefit (the Employment and Support Allowance). Without that, I could not afford to pay for his education, due to my low income.

The college kept fobbing us off, telling us that the job centre would support us. But it didn’t, and the college was giving us the wrong advice. At this time, nobody knew anything, and we could not access any support. We drowned in all the misinformation as my son was thrown onto the dole.

The job centre proceeded to bully, pressure and put him down… They were constantly getting him to rewrite his CV, just for the sake of keeping him busy. This got him going round in circles under constant threats of sanctions. One sanction was based on lies, and the DWP (Department for Work and Pensions) believed the lies. They ignored my son. With a bad attitude, they supported his accuser. As I was forced to support my son out of my own low benefits, the stress was traumatic.

We eventually fought this sanction in the courts. It took a lot of effort in a pressurised environment to constantly write to agencies and management to defend ourselves. Months later, tribunal papers showed that the accusations had been lies. They were thrown out, and the sanctions were overturned. We won.

Unfortunately, however, my son still lacks security and is treated terribly. The disability officer speaks like a salesperson, reeling off a random list of available jobs with no respect for my son’s or my medical requirements. The officer is very blasé and indifferent. His treatment of us is even patronising. He is always interjecting with platitudes and asking heavy intrusive questions in a rude manner.

Faced with the constant degradation, the mind-numbing processes, and everyone giving my son conflicting instructions, he said, “If I didn’t have you, mum, I would be dead by now.”

By chance, my son was finally hired by a retailer, but on a zero-hours contract. Despite this work affecting his health, he saw it as an escape from the rude, insolent, nasty, abusive, bullying staff at the job centre.

Mr Chancellor, I hope you can hear me!

My son was then told to come off JSA (the Jobseeker’s Allowance) and go onto Universal Credit, on the assumption that the system could deal with flexible hours; but they got all the bureaucracy constantly wrong. The call centre was again rude, and no help. My son was talked down to like a criminal. My son felt intimidated throughout, and bullied into going to job fairs even though he had work. This was undermining his employer and making my son risk the sack.

Then came a new threat of sanctions: eleven pounds a day for three months that would come out of his already low income, all because his efforts to find another job were deemed not good enough. How can you be expected to job search for 35 hours a week while you are already working?

He was constantly talked to like dirt and often received nasty derogatory text messages. The whole system was so oppressive and intrusive. He could no longer face this state-sanctioned bullying and abuse, so he stopped his Universal Credit. Instead, he grabbed what hours he could at work, despite his health becoming more of a struggle.

I want a government that practises politics for the good of the people, with the system going back to the principles and values of the Beveridge report to bring the caring back into so-called “social care”.  Government practices now are more narcissistic, punitive, unreasonable, and uncivilised than they were then. Each of us needs to be given a chance. Getting back to our core values would be for the good of humanity.

By Kathy ATD Fourth World