Following redundancy after six years at a local authority, last summer I had to claim Jobseekers’ Allowance (JSA), and discover first-hand the inequities of the benefits system.
The process begins with demands for various forms of identification, including a tenancy agreement and proof of redundancy that put you at the mercy of landlords and HR departments. DWP staff now have stringent targets aimed at reducing the number of claimants. As a result, there’s often an assumption that every claimant is a potential criminal or fraudster. There are constantly insinuations that you may have alternative sources of income.
Only a minority of landlords are willing to accept benefit claimants, despite that housing benefit guarantees rent paid on time. I had to challenge attempts at eviction. Almost permanently engaged Shelter and Citizens Advice Bureau phone lines tell tenants ‘if they want you out, you will have to move out’.
Constant and emphatic lobbying via my MP and ward councillors narrowly averted an eviction. But many people have neither the knowledge nor resources to write, email, or seek outside help.
Due to the failure of my landlord to provide a tenancy, I lived without benefits for most of the year, watching my redundancy pay disappear. Eventually my benefit started to arrive in slow dribs and drabs, with housing benefit eventually being paid just before I was due to be taken to court.
The £67.50 a week that a Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) claimant receives is impossible to live on. If you decide to eat, you won’t pay any bills, or bus and tube fares, or get your hair cut, or anything else that a functioning human being needs to do.
Bills pile up, unpaid, with a likelihood of the gas and electricity being cut off. If the companies decide to install a top-up meter, you will pay higher prices to heat and light your home, and, when out of cash, stay cold and remain in the dark.
The final indignity for me came when the post office shut down my account after I accidentally used an incorrect pin number. Unbelievably, the post office will not give you access to your benefits if this happens. This meant I faced two weeks with no money and no food.
The Jobcentre offers anyone without access to income a voucher to a food bank on a Sunday evening – even if that means waiting several days. You may receive life-saving essentials such as jam, biscuits and tinned pudding.
Publicising the plight of the unemployed, and the many different ways in which they are left vulnerable to homelessness, hunger and denial of basic rights and dignity, should be central to socialists in our opposition to cuts. I also believe that private tenants must be organised with the assistance, advice and guidance of socialists, in order to fight evictions.
We also need to counter the propaganda spread about claimants, and bridge the gap between the unemployed and employed to support each others’ struggles.