In my last post I explained why I felt the need to document my experiences with the DWP and Universal Credit. In this post I’ll take you through the interview and the form which triggered those thoughts in the first place.
A reminder of some caveats before I begin:
- I will report the truth of my experiences, where good or bad.
- I will provide evidence wherever possible, and where I have no evidence I will note that plainly. When evidence comes from elsewhere I shall link to the original source.
- I have no particular agenda beyond documenting my experience, but in the interests of full disclosure my politics are left-wing/liberal and I voted against the current UK government. These politics will show in my writing, and I make no apologies.
- I am claiming no benefit beyond jobseekers’ allowance.
- I’m not writing this to vent or moan. At time of writing I have nothing to moan about per ce. Again, I’m merely documenting.
So, let’s talk Universal Credit.
At time of writing I attended my Universal Credit induction meeting/claim completion meeting yesterday afternoon, at my local Job Centre Plus. My advisor, Anna, was terribly lovely and very patient with me and my questions – and I had quite a few over the course of the meeting. Unfortunately whilst I was very comfortable with Anna herself I was far less comfortable with the things she had to tell me, for reasons that will hopefully become apparent.
Disclaimer: I have no evidence for the contents of our meeting. I can only assure you that I am reporting what was said truthfully and accurately.
After confirming a number of my answers from my original online application, Anna then generated my Claimant Commitment – “Very similar,” she explained, “To the one you had to sign for JSA.” It was explained that whilst I would still be expected to attend meetings at the Job Centre Plus once per fortnight, there would no longer be a “signing on” process; instead, we would review what I had recorded via Universal Jobmatch – the DWP’s entirely unfit-for-purpose1 job hunt monitoring system, which masquerades as an inept job search tool – and discuss whether I’m doing everything I can to hunt for work.
“And that’s the first change from JSA,” Anna explained. “The government now expects you to spend a minimum of 35 hours per week looking for work.”
When Anna saw the look on my face she quickly said “Don’t worry, you’d be surprised at what counts. Prep work and research count towards that too. If you, say, spend an hour rewriting your CV, or two hours researching a company website to prep for an interview, that all counts. Just pop it into your history on Universal Jobmatch.”
35 hours per week. Does that figure sound familiar to you? If not, you’ve probably not held a full-time job in while, because that’s exactly what that figure represents; a standard, full-time job. 35 hours per week, or 7 hours (hooray! I get a lunch break!) per day five days per week.
You can immediately see where the logic stems from; if you don’t have a job, why wouldn’t you make finding a job your full-time job in the meantime? It’s also, I suspect2, a figure that’s been chosen by the DWP for very deliberate psychological purposes – not in relation to the claimants, but to justify to the middle classes and Daily Mail readers that the Conservatives are “making work pay”, and to continue feeding the demonisation of those people who need and claim benefits. After all, if those lazy scroungers are truly looking for work and truly happy to work, why would they baulk at spending regular working hours – working hours that the good, hard-working, tax-paying people of Britain3 work every day – looking for that job in the first place?
Well, if you don’t immediately see the problem there you probably haven’t been jobhunting for a very long while. Certainly when you first start jobhunting those seven hours a day will fill quite quickly – after all, you have to write or rewrite your CV, prepare cover letters, register with agencies and job sites. You’ll be invited to attend meetings with some of those agencies, and you’ll spend hours looking over the job listings which match your criteria. But once you’ve been going for a few days – and certainly if, like me, this isn’t your first time job hunting in the last few months – you will run out of things to do unless, unlike me and this Reddit user, you engage in pointless busywork.
The next thing that Anna explained about Universal Credit – in fact, the thing she was most keen to emphasise, and not for the DWP’s benefit but for my own4 – was that the DWP were getting tougher with sanctions.
“You’ll see this phrase over and over again in your Claimant Commitment,” she said, pointing it out with the tip of a biro. “If, without good reason, I don’t do all of these things, my Universal Credit payments will be cut by £10.40 a day for up to 3 years.”
Yes, we’ll get to that last part in my next blog. Trust me.
“The government want to get tougher with sanctions,” Anna continued. “It’s very important that you stick to your work plan, and if for any reason you can’t do any of the things that you say you will – say you’re ill, or you missed an interview due to public transport – that you call the helpline number. That way if they agree with your reasons you won’t be sanctioned.”
- My job-hunting is now expected to be a full-time job, despite the fact that this is unsustainable.
- I’m expected to call in if I’m sick or late.
- Not yet mentioned, but true nonetheless: I’m paid my benefit monthly.
Is it me, or is this sounding even more like a job? Albeit one with no perks, a terrible boss and an even more terrible pay grade?
The rest of my meeting was taken up with going through the Claimant Commitment, which I will detail in my next blog, and was largely uneventful. But hopefully now it’s clear as to why I got a distinct sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach once I understood Universal Credit a little better.
- In my opinion. And in the opinion of everybody I’ve ever spoken to who’s used it.
- I have no evidence for this. This is just my theory/supposition.
- Like I said before, she really was a lovely person.