Today the Kilburn Unemployed Workers Group is saying:
- We have a right to be accompanied at Job Centre interviews
- Don't hid the funding for training and job-seeking costs
- Stop making things up: decisions should be backed by policy guidance and put in writing
- No intimidation by security guards
He carried on signing on fortnightly, discussing his job options with his advisor. They agreed that a CELTA (teaching English) course would be the best option, and Robin asked for the advisor to look in to Job Centre funds to pay for this. In August, his advisor reported that there was no funding and that he would not be able to bring a representative to his post-Work Programme interview because he spoke English perfectly well. He wrote to his advisor and the office manager, Devinia Akonor, referring them to the “Flexible Support Fund” and the “Low-Value Procurement” scheme for training, and again asking that they write down their decisions, especially about not allowing a representative to attend interviews.
He missed the CELTA courses starting in September with the delays. With the knowledge of his advisor he applied and was accepted after interview on a part-time course at the College of NW London starting in January. He was told that if he enrolled on a full-time course he would not be eligible for JSA, even though the Job Centre are forcing people on to unpaid and useless work placements with full-time hours. His advisor copied the enrolment forms to look in to funding. Since then he has been signing with other advisors.
Last Tuesday –now mid-October - after signing with another advisor, he went and enquired again about the funding for the course. She said that there was no funding available. Once again, Robin asked for this to be put in writing and to speak to the manager. This advisor, the office manager and another senior staff-member conferred in a huddle for five minutes on the other side of the room … before handing Robin an appointment letter for today, Monday 28th October, for his post-Work Programme interview! And once again the same argument about not being allowed to bring a representative, saying that if he didn’t need one because his English was good, that if he had a representative then the job Centre advisor needed a representative too, which they didn’t have the resources to provide. The office manager said “I won’t put it in writing, I don’t have to”. The Customer Relations Manager on the ground floor who deals with complaints defended this by saying local managers have no powers to write to customers, only the Belfast office did. A security guard came over and interrupted to intimidate Robin from the office.
The Kilburn Unemployed Workers Group is affiliated to the London Coalition Against Poverty. Our sister organisation in Edinburgh who were also insisting the right to be accompanied received this from a DWP official: “On the matter of accompanied interviews....Mr McGonigle and his predecessor Bill Wilson have written to Edinburgh Claimants about this and made clear the position for interviews conducted on Jobcentre plus premises. We accept that there will always be times when customers attending our premises feel the need to be accompanied by a friend or advice worker and we will always try to accommodate this where possible.” ( Letter copied to Edinburgh Claimants from Matthew Nicholas, Employers and Stakeholders Director Jobcentre Plus, on behalf of the Chief Executive Darra Singh, letter dated 15 February 2010.
We represent people regularly at the Kilburn Job Centre with no problems and 8 of our activists were given a tour of the whole Kilburn office last week to be better able to work together. Robin himself had agreed monthly meetings at Willesden on behalf of the group with the previous office manager before he moved. A Job Centre worker, explaining good practice, suggests that if a claimant needs someone present for support or simply wants a witness, the advisor should no object to a third party present, as long as they don't control the interview. Devinia, this office manager has unnecessarily dug her heels in, seemingly with support from the district office – and she refuses to be accountable. This is not acceptable.
The CAB report “Punishing the Poor” released this month explains why we need representation: “Despite initial Government denials, it is clear that recently some JobCentres have been set targets for sanctioning claimants, with DWP staff creating ‘league tables’ based on the number of sanctions issued by individual JobCentres. The effects are apparent in the dramatic increase in the number of sanctions issued: in 2009 the number of claimants sanctioned was 139,000, consistent with number earlier in the decade; by 2011 this had increased to 508,000.”