Your Money and Your Life

img_1928Tribe of Moles is Bella’s new weekly column reflecting struggles against benefits sanctions, austerity attacks and state repression – encouraging resistance, counter-power and autonomy.

Imagine you have to attend a test which is going to decide if you have enough money to live on – or not.  You don’t really understand exactly how they are going to make the decision.  But you do know that growing numbers of people are failing the test and getting their income stopped.

Of course a lot of Bella readers don’t have to imagine this.  Anyone can become ill or develop a health condition.   Thousands of people in Scotland have to go through the so-called Work Capability Assessments which decide whether or not they are going to be awarded the sickness/ disability benefit Employment Support Allowance.

Your GP or specialist has said you are not fit for work – this counts for nothing.  Your future will be decided by a private company with a brief to kick claimants off sickness benefits.  The tests are run by the private company Maximus on behalf of the DWP – Maximus took over from the notorious ATOS, but little has changed bar the corporate logo.  Attend any jobcentre and you will see plenty of people clearly incapable of working who Maximus have miraculously cured…..

So imagine you’ve got to go to the test, at the Maximus assessment centre.  Your health conditions include mental health issues.  Your anxiety and stress is through the roof.

But you find a welfare rights organisation.  A worker there knows the rules and can accompany you.  They are on your side.  You are no longer facing this on your own.

You go to the assessment centre with your advocate.

But the Maximus people say your advocate can’t accompany you.

They claim that he’s barred from the building – “on police advice”.

Your advocate points out that everyone has the basic human right to be accompanied, by an advocate of their own choice, to Work Capability Assessments – or indeed any benefits interview.

Leave or we call the police, Maximus tell your advocate.  You can still have your appointment, but someone else can be your accompanist, Maximus tell YOU.

Now you really are in a panic.  You trust your advocate, you can’t just change your representative at the last-minute. You and your advocate agree to leave together, and get the appointment re-scheduled for later.

As your advocate starts to leave Maximus employees try to slam the door shut behind him, to trap you in the building without him, to pressurise you to go through the test there and then.

You manage to get out of the assessment centre.  Then the police come and arrest your advocate.

Important welfare powers are being devolved.  We need to make it clear to the Scottish government that if this is to mean anything the DWP and all the private companies milking the poverty industry must be told that claimants have an absolute right to be accompanied by their own advocate.

This nightmare happened to a woman claiming Employment and Support Allowance in Dundee, witnesses told Dundee Sheriff Court on 9 June.  Witnesses recounted events when Fiona attended the Maximus Assessment Centre at Caledonian House Dundee on 15th November last year.   Maximus refused to permit her advocate, Tony Cox, an activist with the Scottish Unemployed Workers Network, to accompany her and called the police.  Dr Cox was arrested and held overnight in police cells.

Now Tony is in Dundee Sheriff Court again this Thursday 23 June on charges of threatening behaviour (the court heard that he argued with Maximus employees the claimant had the right to be accompanied).  Solidarity demonstrators from Scottish Unemployed Workers Network, Dundee Against Austerity, Edinburgh Coalition Against Poverty, Glasgow Anarchist Collective, the Action Against Austerity network and more will be at the court.

When Tony was in court two weeks ago there was not only a court demo but solidarity demos at jobcentres round Britain, Glasgow, Edinburgh, London, Doncaster, and Cardiff.

But we need much more.  We need outrage.  We need hundreds of people besieging Dundee Sheriff Court on Thursday.

Statement from Paul Laverty, screenwriter of “I, Daniel Blake” directed by Ken Loach.  (Film won the Palme D’Or at the Cannes film festival 2016.) “When we were researching the material for I Daniel Blake we came across overwhelming evidence of vulnerable people subjected to great pressure both by the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) and indeed the subcontracted companies carrying out the work capability assessments.On a trip to Dundee I personally witnessed Tony Cox and his colleagues at the Scottish Unemployed Workers Network giving solid practical advice to confused and sometimes highly distressed claimants. I have spoken to doctors who have been infuriated by the treatment of some of their patients who have been deemed fit for work despite serious illness.In this context the work of Tony Cox and his colleagues who accompany vulnerable claimants is a great service to the body politic. They are doing this on a voluntary basis, at no charge, because they are principled citizens who refuse to stand idly by while their neighbours are often bullied. Claimants have a right to be accompanied by an advocate of choice and if this right was respected in full by the DWP citizens like Mr Cox would not be in the dock, and a great deal of public expense would be saved. I have no doubt that the senior management of the DWP are determined to punish anyone who stands up to them; and once again, the vulnerable client, who was so upset that she could not continue to give evidence at the last court hearing now has to repeat the ordeal once again; one more person to the long list of those who have suffered unnecessary misery at their hands.  DWP managers, shame on you.”

This denial of basic human rights isn’t an isolated incident.  In 2015 Tony was also arrested at Arbroath Jobcentre, when accompanying a claimant.  Forfar sheriff court found he had not committed any offence whatsoever in the Jobcentre; after the DWP witnesses had given evidence, the prosecution decided to withdraw the substantial charge.

Scottish Unemployed Workers Network are outside jobcentres virtually every week, informing and supporting and accompanying claimants into the Dundee Jobcentre.  The DWP seem determined to stop this front-line advocacy.   They are probably worried that Dundee’s position as the Sanctions Capital of Scotland is under threat.

The Tribe of Moles and our friends in Edinburgh Coalition Against Poverty (ECAP) have had the polis called on us several times by DWP bosses at Edinburgh’s High Riggs jobcentre  On 29 February this year four G4S security guards physically stopped the ECAP advocate accompanying a claimant to High Riggs Jobcentre.

This bullying and denial of basic rights happens at jobcentres every day.  I was chatting about Tony’s court case in a community kitchen in Muirhouse recently and a guy told me how he had accompanied his son to make a benefit claim – and the security guards had tried to stop him going in.  And, he said, a relative had had the same thing happen when he accompanied his own daughter.

This is all in complete contradiction to the DWP’s public policy.  “Customers have the right to ask a representative to help them conduct their business with DWP….”

We need to be prepared to act to enforce this right.  After the ECAP advocate was stopped at High Riggs in February, we organised.  We returned to the jobcentre a week later with over 50 supporters, people attending from Glasgow, Greenock, Dundee – Tony Cox was there. The DWP gave in, and our advocate accompanied the claimant with no problems.  And in the appointment, instead of the usual harassment, the DWP official was all sweetness and light.

For years, A4e’s Edinburgh office denied claimants the right to be accompanied to their Earl Grey Street office.  We refused to give up – defying the police. The claimants refused to give up – defying sanctions. And in the end A4e gave in.

This is what we need.  But on a much bigger scale.  We need to take direct action so that the authorities are more scared of us than we are of them.  A counter power which can fight them back, and open up the possibility of real change.

We need to realise there’s a class war going on, every day.   The rich know this.  As US Chief Executive Warren Buffet put it:  “There’s class warfare, all right, but it’s my class, the rich class, that’s making war, and we’re winning.”

The brutal assault on the sick, the disabled and the unemployed in the UK is part of this class war.  They want to make life on benefits so intolerable that workers in employment will be terrified to lose their jobs, and accept any crap wages and conditions.  The attack on benefits and claimants is an attack on us all.

Petitions, and web activism are not enough.  We could look to France (no not that minor football tournament) but the strikes, blockades, occupations and direct actions sweeping France in resistance to the le loi travail attacking workers rights are the kind of response the Tribe of Moles would love to see here.

Solidarity demo with Tony Cox Dundee Sheriff Court 23 June.

Info on your right to be accompanied at all benefits appointments.



Comments (12)

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  1. Thomas Rotchie says:

    I had similar problems at Aberdeen Job Centre in the end I stopped working at 55 and got no payment and no requirement to sign on. Before that I attended every week applied for a few jobs until after a few months I was told they did not want to see me. Considering I was an epileptic although medically controlled it was hard enough getting a job anyway but it was obvious there had been a change of attitude at the Job Centre. No one wanted to help but they wanted people off their books. This all brought about depression on my part.

  2. James Mills says:

    This behaviour by the DWP and their representatives needs to be more widely publicised ; I don’t expect the BBC or the MSM to provide any support but more people need to be aware of the brutal nature of what is being perpetrated on the weakest and most vulnerable in society .
    Remember , as of one of the great humanitarians of our time , David Cameron , put it , ” We are all in it together ” .

  3. Peter N says:

    Great article. I’m glad that someone (some media outlet) somewhere is starting to take notice of what is really happening in this country.

    What is missing from the article (though it wasn’t dealing specifically with the subject area so this is understandable) is that a great many so-called Job Coaches in Job Centres are utterly caustic towards claimants – and they enjoy, get real pleasure out of being that way. They actively try to set traps for claimants so that they can be sanctioned. This kind of activity amounts to emotional and psychological torturing of claimants not only when the claimant visits the Job Centre but every single day of the claimant’s miserable life; the effects of the harassment are always with the claimant even if they aren’t in the Job Centre, the claimant lives in a constant state of stress and fear. It is a truly shocking situation to find oneself in.

  4. Jon Buchanan says:

    Whilst I support any call to resistance and counter power in the raging class war in which people with disabilities or vulnerabilities are continuing to be seen as the easy targets, despite the disproportionate toll already taken, the ability to resist and protest is a little more nuanced for people with epilepsy, who are increasingly on the front line because of that. When protests or demonstrations are likely to act upon seizure thresholds, often having knock on or cumulative effects on the person being ‘supported’, thus making them more likely to cluster into further seizures, what then?

    With a crisis in support (Scotland currently has only half the amount of trained epilepsy nurses it should, just 34 and only 10 neurologists with an epilepsy speciality for 54,000 people with epilepsy; with a conservative 30% misdiagnosis rate and 20-30% of people with epilepsy resistant to medication, as well as charities stretched to breaking point in taking up the strain, it’s not getting any better anytime soon!), people waiting on full diagnosis, which can take months due to the pressures on the NHS systems of provision, will continue to experience the full effects of the condition whilst being among the few employees who can easily be dismissed by employers for being ‘a danger to themselves and others in the workplace’. For someone in this position, attending Jobcentres and attendant assessments becomes difficult because of the condition and the impacts on it too. The effects experienced are not just the seizures but cycles of neuropsychological issues attendant on them, where support is virtually non existent for; how do we as a polity help organise resistance and support for such exposed and vulnerable members of our communities which is as proactive and supportive as that suggested in the article for others suffering at the sharp end of austere tactics? Genuine question, whilst I run a small social enterprise trying to provide some support by people with epilepsy for people with epilepsy, wider engagement and support for those who really need it and who are facing some of the worst of the tactics deployed by the DWP and their corporate henchmen, in the ways they need it, not in the ways we are most inclined to protest and which would compound issues further, from a resistance movement which prides itself on its inclusivity and ‘support for those most vulnerable’ would be at least a step in the right direction! Anyone want to join the queue to become a warrior for epilepsy justice?

  5. seastnan seastnan says:

    Since the Scottish Government has control of policing in Scotland should the police not be enforcing the right of claimants to an advocate of their choice?

    A lot of police are being used as social workers anyway these days so would it not make sense for the advocate organisations to form a LEGALLY-based ‘arrangement’ with police to sort the obscene DWP problem of their one-sided and ILLEGAL interpretation of the rules out.

    People need to eat and people need to pay their rent. What is local crime like in the areas of heavy sanction? If I was in that position I would not hesitate to turn to shoplifting in the local food stores as I like my grub.

    If the police cells are full of arrested individuals just shoplifting to survive and the courts packed with repeat cases of petty shoplifting then would not the SCOTTISH Justice System have something to say (be forced to have something to say) to DWP on the matter?

  6. Brian says:

    what are the Dundee MSPs saying?
    Have you asked them?

  7. Josef O Luain says:

    As my father-in-law was wont to put it: They don’t shoot you in this country, the bastards starve you instead.

  8. c rober says:

    I think I mentioned before on another topic that I sent a communication to the Former Justice secretary regarding atos and its treatment of claimants , and that it was his responsibility to ensure that English law was not being practiced in Scottish benefit centres , even if a reserved matter.

    In Scotland everyone in employment is covered and protected by Scots law regardless , for the DWP to deny the rights of benefits claimants to witnesses and experts contravenes human rights , and are therefore acting unlawfully. Especially so when the information they give claimants is already lies as has also been highlighted by the author , yet do we see a single charge waged against a DWP employee? No , so why not?

    I helped someone successfully appeal a judgment , the lawyer admitted he was clueless but took the chq anyway , but the head of the appeal wasnt so clueless , and neither was I , where I had proven that the DWP were applying English law , and of course preventing the rights of claimants unlawfully.

    Afterwards I sent correspondence to Macaskill.

    His response was to forward the letter to the DWP , I hate to say it but the SNP and Holyrood are therefore complicit. They had an opportunity on a plate , long before indy , to prove their mettle , or collapse the very union that enshrines Scots Law as a condition of said Union.

    I do hope though that they will not fall into the poisoned chalice of develoved benefits , and that they move towards all benefits in Scotland being devolved. But as it stands only the lawyers , that so many SNP politicians seem to be , are prospering from Scotlands parliament created legislation , powers that aid their ilkes income over that of the poor worker , unemployed and disabled.

    Currently the DWP is a civil service , and as long as those that work in it get a bonus pay structure for removing claimants rights , then it will never ever be run fairly , and those that take that bonus through unlawful means should thus charged with criminality. Where those little books will therfore become public domain that instruct them to act illegally , thus bringing down the very ones issuing the orders in the first place.

    OF the thousands of DWP workers in Scotland , not one has came forward to admit the ongoings , those civil service pensions , and bonuses speak loudly.

  9. Mike (one of the Tribe of Moles) says:

    Thanks for the link, Sarah, the SUWN article reporting on the trial is well worth reading – class justice indeed. After this unjust guilty verdict, solidarity with Tony is now needed more than ever. And we need to continue and step up advocacy, accompanying and solidarity with and amongst claimants – advocacy is not a crime!

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