As you know we hold our weekly picket outside Ashton Under Lyne Jobcentre. It was non stop from the moment we arrived.
My first conversation was with a young lady who has a seriously ill husband. They’ve tried twice now to claim ESA because he is clearly unfit for work, and as result of the stress of caring for him and her family she’s become ill herself and now has to attend an ESA medical next week. I offered guidance, solidarity and compassion. My one regret is that I will not be able to attend her medical with her, but I have advised and I’m trying to sort something out.
We met a lady who has a serious heart disease. She failed her ESA medical and as a result has been forced to claim JSA to enable her to have some kind of income. She struggled coping with the interview and she says the advisor was not helpful at all and was quite rude. She said that she struggled to walk up the stairs, but they refused to let her see an advisor downstairs. Obviously there’s no lift that members of the public can use and the DWP like to make things awkward.
I talked her through it, explained her legal rights to her and informed her that she needs to appeal her ESA decision. She isn’t capable of looking for work for 35 hours a week and isn’t physically fit enough to do so. But she has no choice because a claimant who has failed their ESA medical can no longer receive the appeal rate. The government took it away, probably to stop claimants appealing. So now the DWP advise claimants to commit fraud by giving untrue statements saying that they are fit for work, and they are knowingly authorising it.
What I can advise claimants to do if in this situation, is to visit their doctor and hoping that they are sympathetic. If they are then they can write them a new sick note that differs from the original. This is not fraud, and no doubt their illness has got worse as a result of the DWP harrasment. Hopefully then they might be able to get a new ESA payment under a new claim.
We met a lovely young man whom myself and my comrade met last week. He is a care leaver and is homeless. The local authority have housed him in the local travel lodge but he has no cooking facilities. All of his income was being spent on buying ready made fast food which is expensive and has little nutrition. I introduced him to another comrade who referred him to the local homeless support unit. He got some good advice, a meal and a food parcel. This week he returned with a smile on his face and a hug. He was so thankful and now feels that people care for him. He just wanted to say thanks and he said that he would come and say hello next week.
I spoke to a 63 year old man who is in poor health. He’s lost his job and has been forced to sign on. He had also failed his ESA medical and is at the limit he says. He’s not eating properly, the Bedroom Tax and Council Tax supplement is ensuring that he struggles to eat. He started to cry saying that he can’t understand why he is having to suffer like this. No one is going to employ him. He’s right, they won’t. So I offered once again compassion, solidarity and advice. I’m determined to try and make his life a little bit better if that’s possible.
I then spoke to a man who became homeless two days ago due to no fault of his home. He needed support, but his housing association refused to help him. As a result of this, and him failing his ESA medical he didn’t realise that he could claim his rent on a zero income basis. He lost his home, and now the housing association are trying to help him. But in my eyes this should never have happened. As a vulnerable man needing support life on the streets would have been very hard for him, and I doubt that he would have survived. I introduced him to the other man and he took him to the outreach place that he attends.
I also spoke to a man who once again failed his ESA medical. He suffers blackouts and as a result his body is covered in bruises. I advised him and showed him solidarity and compassion. I hope that he’s ok, he doesn’t deserve to live like this. No one does.
What can I say? This all happened in the space of two hours. Now imagine how many people are suffering everyday at the hands of the DWP. Whilst I and the group will be there for them, there are thousands of people who have no one to talk to or to help them. I feel that the government has created an unseen so called underclass. These people are walking amongst us, you don’t know who they are and neither do they talk about it. Many are ashamed, many just want to hide away. But we need to change this, make this become the topic of government enforced destitution and poverty become as commonplace as the subject of The Great British Bake Off.
This is a definite war against the poor and disabled and we need to fight it.