2007 - 2020

Defend the Right to be Accompanied at Job Centre Interviews

CdhgTPKWIAEfvQGOn Monday 3rd October demonstrators will be descending on High Riggs jobcentre at Tollcross in Edinburgh. From noon till 2pm protestors will be insisting that “Advocacy is not a crime” and that the DWP must recognise the right of all claimants to be accompanied at all benefits interviews. What’s this all about?

On 1st September staff at High Riggs Jobcentre not only refused to allow an Edinburgh Coalition Against Poverty volunteer to accompany an ill and vulnerable young person to an appointment, but also turned away the claimant’s own father. The result was a stand-off with Jobcentre staff who refused to acknowledge the right to be accompanied, the use of the police yet again to enforce their bad management, and the claimant being forced to complete an important hour-long interview by himself.

It began with ECAP’s latest front-line advocacy stall at High Riggs. While we were outside the Jobcentre handing out leaflets and talking to claimants, we got chatting to a man and his son who were on their way in. The son had recently had his Employment and Support Allowance application refused following a work capability assessment, and had been called in to open a claim for Job Seekers Allowance. He was clearly worried and apprehensive about the appointment. He told us that the work capability assessment had ignored a lot of what he had reported, he knew he wasn’t well enough to deal with the Jobcentre and was worried he would end up sanctioned and losing his benefits.

One of us in ECAP offered to accompany him and his father to the interview. When we entered the jobcentre, not only did we get the usual response that we had to provide proof of identity for ‘safety’ reasons (this appears to be a local policy applied only at High Riggs), but we were told that the claimant was only allowed one accompanier so one of us would have to leave. The claimant said he would go to the interview with his father, and while the ECAP advocate requested a meeting with the manager to challenge this spurious new ‘rule’.

However it was then alleged that the father had been ‘abusive’ and would not be allowed to accompany his son either. Both the father and the ECAP advocate were ordered to leave the building and surrounded by G4S security while the claimant was led upstairs to his interview. We both stood our ground and demanded the right for the claimant to be accompanied, at which point the Jobcentre staff summoned the Police. We remained calm and simply said we would stay until we were allowed to join the claimant.

BASIC HUMAN RIGHT DENIED

At this stage two ECAP activists who had been leafleting outside realised something was wrong and came into the jobcentre to find out what was going on. On learning that a claimant was being denied his right to be accompanied, the activists joined me and the claimant’s father in insisting the DWP follow their own rule and recognise this basic human right. We insisted on a meeting with the manager. Eventually, following more bluster from the G4S guards unsuccessfully ordering us to leave, a woman claiming to be the acting manager arrived.

This manager, Hazel Wright, eventually offered to discuss the issues with my colleague in the screened area of the jobcentre. He writes: “My hopes that the manager would see sense were quickly dashed. She asked why I was in the jobcentre and I replied that we were from a welfare rights group affiliated to ECAP and a vulnerable claimant had asked us to accompany him – this explanation was ignored. The manager was very agitated, continually interrupted and just wouldn’t listen. She soon got up and stormed out. I then discovered that I had been locked in the screened area, unable to return to the main jobcentre floor! Presumably they intended to keep me imprisoned there till the police arrived. Fortunately I managed to escape outside to the street….This duplicity and bad faith by the DWP will backfire on them – the lesson is that in such situations any future negotiations will be carried out in public on the jobcentre floor…”

Meanwhile, despite the fact that we were not attempting to disrupt their business, the staff insisted on locking the main jobcentre entrance and redirected people going in and out to a side entrance (it was just as well for the staff that they were not actually in any kind of danger as the police took about 40 minutes for two officers to arrive). The police then proceeded to physically push us out of the building, simply repeating the Jobcentre view that we had no right to be there. When we pointed out to the police that they were helping the DWP deny the claimant’s legal right to be accompanied, they claimed that the jobcentre was “private property”!

It was at this point that the claimant himself emerged somewhat shaken, having completed his interview alone. We assured him that we would continue to support him, accompany him if he wished. and we were able to advise him on what to do next.

ACTION ESSENTIAL

This latest denial of rights follows the recent conviction of Scottish Unemployed Workers Network activist Tony Cox following his arrest for accompanying a vulnerable woman to a Maximus disability benefits assessment centre in Dundee, and G4S guards assaulting an ECAP accompanier at High Riggs in February<http://www.edinburghagainstpoverty.org.uk/node/194> – the High Riggs bosses subsequently backed down and allowed the same ECAP advocate access when over 50 demonstrators from all round Scotland besieged the jobcentre a fortnight later<http://www.edinburghagainstpoverty.org.uk/node/195>.

At the consultation on the Scottish Social Security Bill on 19th August, organised by the Scottish Campaign on Welfare Reform, Scottish Government Cabinet Secretary for Communities, Social Security and Equalities Angela Constance MSP declared – in response to questions from ECAP and SUWN activists – that all claimants had the right to be accompanied by the advocate of their choice. “Dignity and respect is at the heart of what we do… It is up to an individual to decide who supports them…”, the Cabinet Secretary stated.

Will Angela Constance now do something to back up these fine words? Will the Scottish government now act to end the culture of intimidation and bullying in jobcentres and disability benefits assessment centres? Will the Scottish government stop the use of Police Scotland to uphold breaches of claimants’ human rights? If not, then the SNP’s anti-austerity rhetoric will be exposed as mere hollow words.

ECAP knows that in the end winning rights is achieved by action from below. To challenge the power of the state bullies and lackeys we need to build our own counter-power<http://www.edinburghagainstpoverty.org.uk/node/30>.

ECAP and our sister groups round Scotland in the Action Against Austerity network<https://www.facebook.com/actionagainstausterityscotland/?ref=br_rs> have called for solidarity action for Monday the 3rd of October, 12pm to 2pm outside High Riggs jobcentre to ensure that the basic human right to be accompanied to any benefits interview by the person of your choice, is respected. An official complaint is a given, but experience shows that direct action speaks louder than words.

This is a fight for all claimants, for all who care about human rights and for all working class people. The assault on benefits is central to the whole austerity attack – the ruling class want to make life on benefits intolerable so workers will accept any old crap wages and conditions. But the bosses forget – we are many and they are few.

Join us on 3rd October!

Solidarity action will beat the bullies!

ADVOCACY IS NOT A CRIME

NOTES

Info on right to be accompanied<http://www.edinburghagainstpoverty.org.uk/node/32>

Excerpt from DWP Guidance <https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/461988/working-with-representatives-sept-2015.pdf> on the right of claimants to be represented:

“Customers have the right to ask a representative to help them conduct their business with DWP and it is important that DWP balances this with our duty to protect the personal information we hold. This is particularly important for customers with any disabilities or conditions that make it difficult for them to express themselves adequately. Representatives can also be helpful to DWP in helping us to obtain the information that we need. It is important that we have good working relationships with representatives, whether they are from the advice organisations or are simply family members or friends so that we can give our customers the best possible service.”

Comments (9)

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  1. Tess says:

    Can I share this please?

  2. TOM1 says:

    Of course u can share and if you can go to high riggs tomorrow that s even better!

  3. Peter C says:

    Good article on an critically important matter. I’m wondering if Bella will pick up on some of the content of this piece at CommonSpace: https://www.commonspace.scot/articles/9426/outrage-campaigners-benefit-denials-suicide-risk-claimants

    It seems that the DWP is now attempting to set up a situation in which assessors are to be encouraged withhold benefit awards if the claimant is known to be suicidal. Boy, I thought the DWP couldn’t become more malignant than it already is, but it seems I was wrong.

    1. Thanks Peter – our point this out to our group the Tribe of Moles who are covering austerity Britain and DWP actions and benefit attacks

  4. Elaine Fraser says:

    I can’t begin to describe how angry this makes me feel. Im sorry I can’t be there today to support. New (?) language in tory conference today speaking about ‘workless’ not unemployed or job seeker. This is war.

  5. John says:

    It’s important that everyone should have access to a public office to get the help they need in whatever circumstances they find themselves in. It’s important that they have help there with them too. It’s important also to have some respect for the low paid, trade union members who work in UK govt offices who have to deliver regressive Tory policies. People are people – you’ll get back what you give out.

  6. c rober says:

    Where is our Glorious ministers at Holyrood , and exactly what are they doing about this , especially considering the devolved benefits coming in March.

    All speeches , no actions , where is our MSP dedicated to benefits on investigating this , or our justice minister ? But considering that when MCaskill just passed the buck to the DSS upper civil servants at Westminster , then I suspect this is now the normal operations procedure.

    Holyrood have the power to declare what is a crime , thus punishable and what is not.

    Benefits funding may be a devolved matter , but the definition of criminality in Scotland is not , and that includes where police , civil servants , in the process of DOING their JOBS deny the civil rights of others. Simply following orders is no excuse , if we want change , then we cannot expect any without putting civil servants in the dock – rather than claimants.

    IMO in this instance the groups should pursue that direction legally , and start holding those to task that call a BO private property , there is no trespass law in Scotland never mind in a civil office open to the public – hence the use of BOTP as a coverall in such situations , however the weight of witnesses are a good byproduct regarding BOTP – if they state there was no “fear or alarm” and are in the larger numbers and more so with video evidence. But also where our unelected power in Scotland fail to act in the correct implementation of the law , they too should be removed from being our countries Judges.

    They are ALL therefore aiding and abetting a crime in allowing the use of English law in Scotland , the very rules that are applied in BO across the lands.

    If they , the SNP , want people to back INDY then they should use the powers they have , to be a fly in the ointment of Westminsters wealthy enacting austerity upon our poor. Where this is especially poignant is that the benefits devolved may well see the SNP in a downward spiral electorally – as a result of the poison chalice , while acting on the behalf of Westminster in applying their rules.

    It is time to wise up to the SNP , to Holyrood , on their blaming of Westminster.

    They have had long enough to use the law to dig at Westminster power, to win little battles in order to win the war within the Scottish Courts , but have yet to do so. You would expect better of a party of accountants , private land lords and lawyers, all of whom are promising a future they cannot supply….unless its towards those like them.

    Scotland will never be free under the SNP , I have came to that conclusion recently , despite being a pro indy campaigner my long life. I have realised they will never supply such a thing…. and are in power as a result of the promise of hope , not by a proven act of supply , that is unless they FIGHT Westminster – rather than to simply blame it.

    Until the poorest and weakest in Society are aided by the SNP , all we do is give them power to ignore us until the next election , and thats a long 4.5 years before they are interested in your vote. Well its a long time in some of these claimants lives – some which may not even see the next election through illness , or suicide – due to the treatment received by the usual culprits going unpunished by Holyrood . But we are not allowed to mention the suicides , unless its to only accuse Westminster of actions that caused it , without highlighting Holyrood inaction’s while using Pontius’ soap and towel politics.

    Those that should be holding them to task should be very ashamed to call themselves the deliverers of Scottish Empowerment.But as long as they have tartan sheep , just like labour had until recently , then they will continue to be employed as a result.

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

    A report on the successful demo at High Riggs jobcentre in Edinburgh on 3rd October here, it was great to see folk from Dundee, Glasgow, Fife, Stirling as well as locals.
    http://www.edinburghagainstpoverty.org.uk/node/220
    The Jobcentre manager for Edinburgh, no doubt “encouraged” by the demo, has now offered to meet the Edinburgh Coalition Against Poverty-affiliated welfare rights group involved – we will post updates here.
    In the meantime, vitally, the front-line advocacy stalls at High Riggs and other jobcentres continue, and we encourage as many as possible to get involved in the fight back against the inhumanity of the benefits system.

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