“The revolution starts in the ATOS smoking area” - on welfare, addiction, and dependency

If anyone knows who to credit this picture to please let us know

A blog about welfare reform from a social care worker's perspective, and the creation of the "welfare addict" as a recession-era scapegoat. Inspired largely by today's Novara show, and the people I work with.

I've got a personal grudge against a colleague of mine. I know this is bad for workplace solidarity. A month ago I sat in the office filling out a service user's DLA1 application based on the notes I'd taken in my last hour-long session with him. My service user (let's call him Jamie) has learning difficulties, cannot read or write, is recovering from a heroin addiction that started in childhood, has chronic physical health problems as well as mental health problems. He's one of the most resilient people I've ever met. As I filled in the last few boxes on the form, writing the names of the various professionals involved in Jamie's care, I mentioned to our prescribing GP that I was putting her name down on the form.

“Oh I don't think you are, I want to see what I'm putting my name to, I stay out of all this benefits stuff”

I assured her she wasn't putting her name to anything, that I wasn't asking her for a statement, that it was me who was responsible for the form and not her.

“Well I don't know about that. I've got mixed feelings on all this kind of thing”

Oh really? Do go on...

“Well, once people get these benefits they become dependent on them, he'll never go to work”

But this is for DLA, and you can get that if you're in work or not.

“Even so. He'll become dependent on it.”

I filled in the form, silently raging about this woman, who earns at least six times what I do, and almost thirty times what Jamie was living on at that point. I imagine if she had to live at home with only £71 a week for the foreseeable future, she'd become a little “dependent” on that money too.

The DLA form submitted, next comes a date for Jamie's ESA2 appeal. Jamie appealed against the decision reached after his Work Capability Assessment which found him fit for work. But the appeal failed and he had to go to a tribunal, on the other side of town. There wasn't enough time to arrange for a representative to accompany Jamie, and he can't read directions or maps or road signs – he would never have made the tribunal alone. He phoned and asked them for a taxi, they refused. The tribunal was held in his absence, he was declared fit for work, his ESA was stopped, he was given no advice as to what to do next.

Now, I'm not new to navigating the infuriating contradictions and inadequacies of the Department for Work and Pensions, as either a claimant, a carer, or a support worker for people with complex needs. Even so, I can barely believe the words I'm saying when I explain to people that it is perfectly possible to be declared “fit for work” by one arm of the DWP, whilst simultaneously deemed “unfit for work” by another, and thus shut out of any possible source of benefits.

Jamie's 6-month sick note from his GP counts for nothing up against the health professionals3 who met Jamie for less than 10 minutes and declared him fit for work. If you don't qualify for ESA, your other option is JSA4, but you must be actively seeking and available for work to qualify. Whilst the ESA decision makers disregarded Jamie's sick note5, the note is still on Jamie's file6, making Jamie “unfit for work” for the next 6 months, and ineligible for JSA. With his DLA claim still being processed and no guarantee of future payments, Jamie now has no money coming in.

Jamie is vulnerable. He is precariously housed, he is a recovering heroin user, he is abstinent for the first time in 16 years, he lives next door to someone who sells valium for 50p a pill. His risk of relapse is pretty fucking high, and anybody who's ever experienced the cold bureaucratic violence of benefits being sanctioned or withdrawn completely can probably relate to the feeling of sheer panic and desperation that follows. Sitting listening to the holding music on the DWP phone line7 in one ear, trying to reassure Jamie while knowing there's little we can do, my call is answered, and I'm told to phone the tribunals service, after explaining the predicament. The tribunals service listen patiently before saying there is nothing they can do, and telling me to call the DWP, who tell me to call tribunals. I argue, I explain, I ask to speak to a manager. After an hour of this, we're told that Jamie needs to re-apply for ESA if he wants any money. Start from scratch, except because he's within 6 months of failing a work capability assessment (or maybe he passed, depends which side of the fence you're on I suppose), he needs to present new evidence of his inability to work – a joyless task if ever there was.

None of this should have happened. Jamie was in the support group for ESA8 until he was remanded for an offence committed by somebody else, after which he was released and had to start over with a fresh claim. The tribunals service could have chosen to postpone the first tribunal, on the grounds that there was no representative available. They could have postponed it on the grounds that the claimant was not present. When I wrote to them requesting they set aside the tribunal's decision on grounds their own policy presents as valid reasons to set aside and postpone tribunals, they could have agreed and given us a new date. Instead, they wrote back saying it was “not in the interests of justice”9 to set aside the decision, citing Jamie's attendance at his WCA last year (held just up the road from where he lives) as evidence he was perfectly capable of travelling an hour or more across town to an unfamiliar area by himself. Now we are waiting for a “statement of reason” from the Judge, after which we must apply for permission to appeal to the upper tribunal, which we may or may not be granted.

This will continue for months. This isn't my job, my job is to work on relapse prevention strategies with Jamie, but all we've been able to do for weeks is deal with his benefits – there is no one else who can do this, and as far as I'm concerned, income maximisation is a pretty good short term relapse prevention technique.

Drafting a new appeal letter to the DWP10

Let's get one thing straight. If I don't make any money today, it's my fault, not yours.

Meanwhile, my GP colleague is still concerned about the risk of Jamie and others like him becoming “dependent” on welfare. She claims to be genuinely concerned that the promise of £71 a week is the only thing standing in between her patients and a lifetime of dignified, gainful, liberating employment. As if, in its absence, her patients will finally pull themselves up by their bootstraps, get on their bikes and find one of those many, many jobs that are eager to hire adults with criminal records as long as your arm, physical and learning disabilities, childcare commitments, no qualifications, and little to no work experience. If only that “safety net” wasn't there to catch them, these most vulnerable of adults would finally be able to become economically independent, if only we let them. Fuck off with that.

But my colleague isn't alone. Liam Fox just a few weeks ago denounced Britain as “welfare dependent”, Iain Duncan Smith declared in 2011 that “it's time to end this addiction to benefits”, conflating the sneering, ill-informed judgement of those who misuse substances with the frothing demonisation of benefit claimants to form some kind of recession-era folk devil par excellence – the welfare addict that you - yes you, honest taxpayer! - are enabling. Weaved into all this hideous rhetoric that casts those on low incomes as wanting “something for nothing” or as products of “entitlement culture”, that casts “generations of worklessness” as something which actually exists11 whilst imagining away the many complex material realities which leave people with little choice but to claim benefits, there's a particular disdain for the “addict”12.

The present waking nightmare of welfare reform divides the “deserving poor”, or “people incapacitated through no fault of their own”, from the “undeserving”, with a particular emphasis on the drug and alcohol dependent. Plans to sanction claimants who do not engage with treatment for drug and alcohol problems are included in Universal Credit13; local authorities are turning to food stamp systems in the absence of the DWP's social fund, and making sure these can't be used for alcohol or cigarettes. Not only does the amount of money in claimants' pockets matter, what that “money”14 can be spent on is also now everyone else's business.

All those negative beliefs churned out again and again about “addicts” - they lie, they steal, they care only for themselves, they are bereft of any moral responsibility whatsoever, they are slamming your taxes into their femoral veins £100 at a time – this is the language being extended to anyone claiming benefits. And the cure for all these ills? Some good old fashioned work ethic, “taking responsibility”, working not begging, of course. Big Issue founder and arch neoliberal Tory-flatterer John Bird's latest publicity stunt with Saatchi includes the declaration “Let's get one thing straight. If I don't make any money today, it's my fault, not yours.”. The rhetoric of irresponsibility and dependence shifts the blame for poverty right back onto the poor, who just need to work harder. As if work was in itself a route out of poverty. As if work was in itself a solution.

“The revolution starts in the ATOS smoking area”

The extent of the impact of welfare reform scares the shit out of me. That so many people are being attacked on so many fronts, that legal aid is gone, that the help and support once available to claimants, inadequate to begin with, is being cut to shreds, that most claimants don't have a support worker or anyone else to help them navigate a system so confusing even the DWP's staff seem to be on the back foot, makes me despair beyond fucking words. It's hard to feel hopeful or optimistic when thinking of ways to fight back.

At work, I'll keep doing my thing and trying to support my service users to fight their battles against the DWP, but this is no kind of solution. It's not even the tip of the iceberg, it's a tiny snowflake somewhere near the iceberg. More encouraging was the assertion of a friend of mine, after accompanying one of her service users to a work capability assessment with the dreaded ATOS, that "the revolution will begin in the ATOS smoking area". The WCA was of course horrific, with a doctor interrogating a woman on the extent of her suicidal ideation, laughing at her when she said she found his questions difficult to answer. But the tiny bit of hope came with “the feeling of solidarity in that waiting room”, with claimants swapping tips and sharing cigarettes and talking each other through the process, total strangers realising that they're not alone in this bullshit. Of course, this isn't enough. Whilst I nearly lept for joy when another service user rang to cancel his session with me so he could accompany a neighbour to an ESA tribunal, this isn't enough. As disabled people are chucked off DLA and denied it's replacement, PIP15, as rent arrears accrue and housing associations start to evict due to the bedroom tax, as more and more people are stuck in the no-man's land between ESA and JSA like Jamie, we need to do more than bitch about the present conditions in the smoking area. The Boycott Workfare campaign is claiming small victories as companies pull out, select local authorities are pledging not to evict due to rent arrears built up through the bedroom tax, but the violence of welfare reform cuts deeper than that. I'm inspired by groups like Edinburgh Coalition Against Poverty, who provide support and information for claimants in a non-hierarchical, claimant led environment, but I'm not aware of many other groups who do this kind of work. In terms of tactics to resist this, I'm drawing a bit of a blank.

  • 1. Disability Living Allowance – a non-means-tested benefit intended to cover the additional costs of having long term care or mobility needs. If you qualify for DLA, you keep it whether you're in work or not
  • 2. Employment and Support Allowance – designed to replace Incapacity Benefit and Income Support for those too ill to work.
  • 3. not necessarily doctors – ATOS employs a wide range of health professionals to carry out WCAs
  • 4. Jobseeker's Allowance – don't get too comfy with ESA and JSA however, these “legacy” benefits will be phased out from October 2013 and replaced with Universal Credit
  • 5. technically these are now called “fit notes” but just fuck off with that disgusting ideological semantics
  • 6. or database or magical dressing up box or whatever fucking ridiculous system they have to keep track of all this
  • 7. they're overhauling the entire welfare system, just not that fucking holding music, which remains the same for decades despite the grand march of economic progress
  • 8. the holy grail of ESA decisions, where you're told you are not expected to go to work and don't have to take part in “work related activity” - hardly anyone gets into this group
  • 9. a fantastically slippery and subjective statement
  • 10. painting by Royal Art Lodge
  • 11. it doesn't: http://www.jrf.org.uk/publications/cultures-of-worklessness
  • 12. Of course, the welfare addict is not a new creation, and he's invoked every time you hear someone not giving money to beggars lest they spend it on booze and drugs.
  • 13. From my own experience at work it seems nearly impossible to secure ESA for people with drug or alcohol dependencies, but under Universal Credit it will become possible to sanction claimants with drug and alcohol problems who do not undergo treatment. This is fucking terrifying. We've already been approached by the DWP at work to see if we will accept referrals from Jobcentres and report back on people's attendance, we've told them “no”, and I hope that sticks. There are many serious flaws to linking treatment for addictions with benefits payments and I'll keep that for another blog some time, but of particular concern is Iain Duncan Smith's praise for the AA/NA model, often the only game in town unless you live in a city, AA/NA offers a “treatment” model with absolutely zero cost to the tax payer whatsoever. They wouldn't accept government funding if it was offered, whilst the combination of substitute prescribing (methadone, suboxone etc), 1:1 psychosocial support and possibly residential rehab offered through statutory and voluntary service partnerships is astronomically expensive. AA and NA will also happily report back to courts and presumably Job Centres on people's attendance.
  • 14. food stamps aren't money after all
  • 15. Personal Independence Payment – more semantic fuckwittery to window dress a target of reducing disability payments by at least 20%

Posted By

Apr 2 2013 19:00


  • The present waking nightmare of welfare reform divides the “deserving poor”, or “people incapacitated through no fault of their own”, from the “undeserving”, with a particular emphasis on the drug and alcohol dependent.


Attached files


Apr 2 2013 20:41

Brilliant blog, Ramona. 'Fucking terrified' is exactly how I feel about it too, having already been down the road of appeal/tribunal once for myself and appeal for someone else.
Love the way your footnotes grow more and more angry! wall

Apr 2 2013 22:36

Yes, excellent blog!

Apr 2 2013 22:49

Thank you! I do enjoy footnotes. I'm interested in possibilities of resistance. There is so much collective despair out there about welfare reform (although I should add, the gap between ESA and JSA Jamie finds himself in isn't a product of the latest round of welfare reform, that's been there since ESA was introduced under Labour), and so much anger. Yet at the same time, people who really, really should know better (such as other claimants, or social care workers who see the reality of this all the time) still fall back on the "need" to cut welfare spending, the staggering amount of people claiming benefits they don't "deserve". It's such bullshit, but it's so pervasive.

Apr 2 2013 22:56

I forgot to link to this article by a claimant in response to IDS in the main text so I'll add it in here and I'd highly recommend reading it:


IDS is clearly trying to keep up the government propaganda that benefits are a hook that destroys lives; that they're like Pringles and you just can't stop.

Except benefits don't destroy lives, they save lives. My ability to earn my keep was destroyed by illness. If I lost my benefits, I'd lose my home. It's notoriously difficult to access medical care when homeless. Without my vast amounts of prescription meds every day I would not be able to go on living, the physical pain would be more than I could bear. People have already died after losing their benefits, people like Paul Reekie. It's not the benefits that are destructive, it's their stoppage.

Apr 2 2013 22:59

I learned more reading this blogpost than half the shite I've seen on the news!

fingers malone
Apr 2 2013 23:30

Agree, this post is excellent.

Apr 3 2013 00:19

Brilliant stuff. Thank you for writing this

Jacques Roux
Apr 3 2013 00:23

Great post!

Where's the image from?

Apr 3 2013 00:49

The DWP Gruel? I don't know, I found it a while after I wrote my last blog about food and austerity and saved it because I knew it'd come in handy but I forgot to take a note of where it came from and now all the googling doesn't seem to help :/

Jacques Roux
Apr 3 2013 01:19

No sorry, I meant FUCK OFF

Apr 3 2013 09:01

(FAO the person who down voted JR, he is asking about the "fuck off" image, not the DWP image, he isn't telling Ramona to fuck off!)

Apr 3 2013 10:06

Royal Art Lodge who are/were Marcel Dzamer, Michael Dumontier and Neil Farber.

What do people think about organising tactics? Are claimants unions the way to go, what would that look like?

Joseph Kay
Apr 3 2013 10:38

I think it probably makes sense to figure out what tactics could have leverage, and work back from there to what forms of organisation could pull off those tactics. But that's easier said than done, since claimants are structurally near-powerless. I mean in Argentina, there was the piqueteros who blocked roads to make collective demands for subsistence. But I don't know if that would work here. You'd certainly have to be prepared for either mass arrests, fighting the cops, or both.

Job Centre occupations could be disruptive, but could also get people sanctioned. And the local job centre has more bouncers than a nightclub these days, so even getting in wouldn't be easy. These aren't insurmountable obstacles, but do raise issues (e.g. the sanctions threat could mean it's action taken on behalf of claimants, rather than action by claimants). One way round that might be for claimants to leaflet outside while supporters take the building. If there's any friendly PCS reps, they may also be able to pull staff out on safety grounds with plausible deniability.

Or maybe the focus could shift from the DWP to supermarkets. They're making a killing, maybe claimants could fill trollies with staples then call the manager and negotiate discounts on mass. Kinda like an ad hoc buyers co-op, with the tacit threat of looting behind it. Might work well in conjunction with unemployed centres that have kitchen facilities, e.g. collectively preparing cheap meals with ingrediates haggled on mass. Not all that radical, but practical and lower risk of arrest.

I guess the problem is it's just an all-out assault on multiple fronts directed from the top of government. So it would have to be quite quickly a co-ordinated and countrywide phenomenon, since all the usual movement-building techniques of picking small fights, isolating and personalising vs low/mid-level officials are kinda moot. I guess the ECAP approach might be one way to mitigate that, but it still leaves the question of tactics (it's all very well having a SolNet or a claimaints union, but how does it gain leverage?).

Or we could just start burning down job centres and Atos offices and trust they'll get the message.

Apr 3 2013 20:12

Great blog Ramona

Apr 3 2013 20:31

Wow, it's good to read a blog that actually tells it as it is. I didn't claim DLA for years because I was repeatedly put off doing so by people overseeing my mental health care. They kept saying things to me like, "the problem with DLA is people get used to having the extra money and become dependent on it" (sound familiar?!). Finally they helped me fill out the damn form when I was homeless and had no income at all. Still I felt guilty about it - from every angle that's what they tell you.

Anyway, having that DLA award meant I was able to claim for other things - it seems to be like this "gateway" benefit that opens up other means of support - and not just monetary. And eventually I was even able to work part-time, which also really helped me.

But the problem is disabled people are such an easy target. It's like kicking someone when they're down. And when you're in that position it's really hard to fight back. And i imagine it will only get worse now DLA is being replaced with PIP.

Apr 4 2013 08:12

Really great blog Ramona!

Or maybe the focus could shift from the DWP to supermarkets. They're making a killing, maybe claimants could fill trollies with staples then call the manager and negotiate discounts on mass. Kinda like an ad hoc buyers co-op, with the tacit threat of looting behind it. Might work well in conjunction with unemployed centres that have kitchen facilities, e.g. collectively preparing cheap meals with ingrediates haggled on mass. Not all that radical, but practical and lower risk of arrest.

I think this could work really well.

Also the good thing about Job Centre occupations is that often (in my experience) there are a lot of people around who are by the nature of them being there quite antagonistic toward the job centre. Though the worry would be of it turning into something destructive very quickly which although not a problem in itself (would happily see some JC+s burn) it wouldn't help the unemployed's image much...

Supermarket stuff is good though, "discounts for all!"

cardy lady
Apr 4 2013 08:52

Great blog. Echoes my experience of trying to help friends and family with this stuff, you really do feel like telling the DWP to FUCK OFF constantly and of course it is always the most vulnerable who suffer the most and end up being sanctioned. You end up feeling frustrated and hopeless and constantly caught up in their bureaucratic logic dominating your headspace, I think it purposefully creates demoralised and weakened subjects. Mutual aid, support and care is important and the Edinburgh group looks like a good model, is there anything like that in London? Perhaps it might be possible to follow that model in other parts of the country. More self organised social centres with a focus on supporting claimants and providing a caring and inspirational environment to counter all this vicious bullshit??

Apr 4 2013 09:03

Excellent blog, Ramona. You also write “What do people think about organising tactics? Are claimants unions the way to go, what would that look like?” I was involved in a claimants’ union 40 years ago, and would suggest that there are problems in going down that route again. Leaving aside the notion that they can give credence to the idea that unions are organs of defence, rather than structures that police and isolate struggles, we should be looking at how to avoid organization that particularizes attacks on claimants, as opposed to seeing them as a part of a generalized attack on both wages and the social wage. ECAP has tried to avoid this by such as leafleting DWP staff, linking their struggle to defend their wages and conditions with what is happening to claimants - arguing that the movement to private providers (A4E etc) with their crap wages and conditions, screws both workers and claimants; fighting Workfare not just as an attack on the unemployed and disabled, but also as a tool to drive down wages; showing how the coming Universal Credit will hammer both the unemployed and the low-paid with a view to further creating a low-wage precariat etc. But I know you know all this, and your question ‘how do we organize?’ is an important one.

Apr 4 2013 09:24

Fantastic blog, I really empathise as I provide assistance to clients facing social security Appeals and I know what a farce the whole process from filling in the form to the eventual Tribunal can be. I really hear what you say about the tip of the iceberg and the need for more collective resistance.

I just wanted to clarify one thing, though. Once a Tribunal has found you fit for work, you are considered to be fit for work for JSA. It sort of overrides the sick note. Of course you then have the problems of being 'actively seeking work' and 'available for work' and everything else that comes with JSA so it's often completely inappropriate for someone who should be claiming ESA, but you are not barred from applying because of the sick note. You might be able to get the JSA backdated to the date of the ESA decision, although it's unclear from your post when this took place.

I hope that's of some use. Solidarity.

Apr 5 2013 11:49

I'm really saddened to see that some health professionals (not all of them obviously) are so closed-minded.

I myself am questioning the standard of health care. Why? Because although I'm supposedly receiving the right treatment for my illness, I still feel like I slept on a bed of my own personal kryptonite. Now that I'm diagnosed, there seems to be this assumption that nothing else could possibly go wrong with me.

However in the last month I've noticed that after waking and meals I'm particularly drowsy. It's enough to make me unproductive and lazy for much of the week, much to my annoyance. Indeed, on some of my productive days I skip a meal and just have coffee and a biscuit. A dark chocolate biscuit, don't ask me where that craving came from, I have no idea. I don't know where to even begin discussing this with a doctor, never mind coax them to run more tests.

I'm not a doctor, but it strikes me that having someone take some blood and ask a few questions at a routine screening doesn't seem to provide a wealth of vital data. Especially not when your condition is variable - in other words, you feel fine when you're in to get your arm poked with a needle, but tomorrow you could wake up with that arrgh argh kryptonite feeling again.

My point is, if they can be wrong (or not particularly helpful) about stuff that is supposedly in the realm of their expertise, they can be dead wrong about things that the government has been singing about with a brass band accompaniment.

Apr 5 2013 15:09

This was a really interesting read, especially being from the perspective of someone going a wee bit further than the remit of their job description to try and tackle and get in about some of this bullshit.

Pretty shocked at the attitude of the GP. In terms of supporting people through limited capability for work questionnaires/assessments, likewise it's something I occasionally get involved in, similarly in circumstances where it's basically filling a gap as there's no-else doing it. I've found from experience that the most valuable thing is trying to support the person in gathering as much documentary evidence supporting the validity of their claim (i.e. medical letters, from psychiatrists, GPs, CPNs, consultants of any sort, even at times OTs, ward managers, basically anybody. The more the better) and faxing it directly to ATOS with a covering letter as far in advance of the hearing as possible. In many cases I've seen this resulting in them having enough info to cancel the assessment and let the claim continue.

It's better to try for this for a number of reasons, but primarily because they are getting opinions form medical professionals, and because there must be countless people who turn up at these things on their own, without talking it through with someone first, perhaps unaware to get support and advice and not giving a fair account of their circumstances/conditions/diagnoses/how they are affected/knowing to talk from the perspective of their worst day etc., giving an inaccurate account of themselves or playing things down inadvertently and subsequently having their claim stopped, subsequently being plunged into the Kafkaesque world of series' of appeals, council welfare rights officers they've never met turning up on the day of the hearing to represent them etc., or worse, being unaware of their rights or too despondent to assert their rights and ending up inappropriately on JSA or worse.

ATOS employees must know this, it's blatantly clear, and the fact that they go on with doing it, disallowing claims day in and day out is frankly abhorrent.

I've never come across anyone in this ESA/JSA gap, if that's happening routinely, it's a disgrace. The attitude of the GP is a disgrace as well. As noted above I often find myself petitioning medical professionals for supporting letters, and have only once in my recollection come across resistance, which was swiftly mitigated by a reminder of how the person's benefits being abruptly halted or being pushed into work related activities would affect their state of health generally.

Also shocked at the poster above who noted that he was discouraged from applying for DLA by support workers? OK, so you shouldn't claim what you are legally entitled to, make things a bit easier on yourself, be able to pay for things you need to mitigate difficulties specific to your health problems... Really quite mind boggling...

I'm quite convinced a lot of this stuff varies by prevalent cultures in different regions. I live and work in another major city in Scotland, but one with a historically much more left leaning local authority (far far from ideal, but that's another story), and while I do come across some bad situations, I find myself reading accounts from other places which really call into question my faith in humanity.

Anyway like I said, good blog, it's always good to read accounts from the trenches to keep a handle on what's actually going on and the impact that the policies of these morons are having on people.

Apr 13 2013 10:49

Good post, glad to hear Ramona's taking this on rather than trying to look the other way. Heard the quip the other day: 'if you only had £53 to live on, you certainly would be pretty dependent on that!' One thing which has been ignored in all this is the amount of support people need to get through the maze, even without any addiction, mental or physical health, homelessness issues to contend with.

I work in a general advice centre (not CAB) in London and we are increasingly finding this kind of resistance from GPs to dealing with the all the letters needed now for people's various claims. Some even have started charging for them. While I'm sympathetic with how dreary this paperwork must be for doctors, it's hard to see how they can deny that whatever the problem, the roots are in poverty, and more poverty is not going to help their patient get better.

What we're seeing now is welfare conditionality taken to its sadisticly logical conclusion. However relatively 'easy' Nu Labour's regime was, we shouldn't forget that they tightened the screws on people even more than Thatcher dared: demanding proof of 'enough' jobhunting, switching the free benefit awareness telephone line to a shop your local benefit fraud line, making DLA/AA and pension credit some of the most complicated and demeaning benefits to apply for, cutting off unconditional income support for mothers when their children are only 7 and as a last hurrah, introducing ESA with the ATOS tests. And then cut the numbers of Job Centre staff meant to deal with all this.

If it weren't causing such tragedy in people's lives: unnecessary arguments, retreats into addictions, overwork, depression, undernurishment at every level, the Kafkaesque sanctions regime - the current welfare reforms would be a farce on the order of Swift's Modest Proposal.

I don't know about other people but I'm fed up with having to defend something which is shit against something which is even worse shit. And we keep losing.

Recently I've got involved with the demand for an unconditional basic (or citizen's) income for everyone, and it has felt liberating. It's an old idea - Thomas Paine proposed a form of it in 1797, as compensation for people in cities not having the use of their own land, to be paid for by aristocratic rents. And over the last 150 years basic income has been linked with other ideas about monetary/banking reform and land value tax, as well as the job (and c'mon let's face it slog) destroying power of machines. I think it would be a good demand for unifying claimants and JCP workers - who grows up hoping upon hope to work in a JCP, or one of the call centres? BI would give them more leverage in demanding a proper wage - or the necessity for their job altogether along with their need to do it, and the rest of us the security to be able to think about what we actually want to do with our lives.

It also gets to - are we really out to defend ALL jobs? I certainly am not, and the first job I'd like to see disappear is my own. The necessity for someone to do it, as well as my wanting perhaps to do a few other things in life myself. As skilled as I've become at wringing blood out of the DWP/HMRC/Council stone, I'd rather just see that stone turn to water, and everyone drink when they need it. Above all, though, I'd like to see an end to the sheer terror in people's faces as they come through our door.

The left will have trouble not only with an unconditional basic income's refusal of what some call jobism, and some with the fact that unconditional basic income can be argued for from almost any political/economic viewpoint, even right-wing libertarian. Some say it will be the saviour of their idea of capitalism, others say it will be the death of it. I just want it to secure everyone's right to have enough to live on, whether that's in the form of collectively organised services, housing, or cash. I think we can invent new, more democratic ways to deal with these needs, but first we need to establish in people's minds everyone's right to a materially secure existence, no matter what their circumstance. The thing is while all these formerly necessary jobs are eliminated, isn't it better that people have some breathing space to think about what actually does need to be done, and what they want to do - what kind of lives they want for themselves, their families and communities, without the immediate fear of penury, hunger, ill-health and homelessness?

As for the 'dependancy' argument, this entirely discounts the amount of time it takes both to claim and stay on most current forms of benefit, to seek out the cheapest food and other necessities, the stress of meeting fuel and other bills. To say nothing of having some fun in life. Is it any wonder that some seek a permanent state of 'fun' rather than face all this in the 'healthiest' possible way? Doctors by and large have never had these particular problems, or felt those particular fears. Some get it anyway, thank goodness, but they should be campaigning for an end to this system's conditionality, not merely slogging through the endless sick-notes and appeal letters on behalf of their patients.

And if we're talking about 'dependancy' how about the fact that we're all dependent on each other? Show me a 'I've made it on my own from nothing' bootstrapping 'striver' and I'll show you all the family, friends and community who worked for nothing to help get that person There. How about all the things people do for each other for free - whether that's the obvious care we give our families and friends in whatever form, volunteering and campaigning for our communities, half the stuff on the internet (like this site for example) or the kind of extra work for people taken on by Ramona and others like her to improve the immediate situation they, their friends or clients find themselves in. This is what's keeping society at all together right now, not anything else.

Fear of hunger or homelessess is the most debilitating situation one can be in both mentally and physically, topped only by the actual experience of it. An unprecedented number of people are now having to face both of these, not just in the UK but throughout the world. Basic income needs to be argued also as a global benefit. If the global GDP in 2011 were spread equally amongst everyone in the world, each man, woman and child would have $10k to live on.

Why is poverty never seen as a situation which could be resolved by simply giving everyone enough to live on? Fuck this micro-management of the poor and the jobs it creates without getting anyone anywhere. Fuck the cart-blanche given those who 'earn' more than anyone could spend in a lifetime.

And with a basic income we need the infrastructure throughout the world to cut down a lot of (especially women's) unnecessary work making up for the general lack of water, sewers, money, affordable health, transport and education systems. Reparations, decided locally. There's plenty of work to do, but we should be choosing what it is, not Goldman Sachs.

The endless amount of money for wars, the endless amount for banks, must give lie to the idea that there's any chance of it actually running out if it were spent on other things. At the moment we treat money, an entirely human and immaterial concept, as though it is scarce, and the planet's and humanity's resources and labour as unlimited. I think it's time to flip this habit over. Everyone 'deserves' an equal slice of the pie from the get-go, make of it what they will.

And then there's the growing list of people I'd happily pay to go and sit on their yachts forever as long as they left the rest of us alone...

Currently there is a petition to get the EC to at least look at the idea of an unconditional basic income, across the EU: EC Initiative for Basic Income I think it's something people should be talking about while we do whatever else comes to hand and mind resisting this most sadistic assault on poor people in the UK since the 1834 Poor Laws.

cardy lady
Apr 6 2013 13:12

amen to that!

Jun 29 2013 21:00

Wow, great blog
I'm not from the UK so I had to look up all the abbreviations.
Now I totally feel smarter than when I started reading this.

Jun 30 2013 20:46

Hi There just read your article.

My story is not really similar except that the Work Programme is our next fear. I have just been ejected from my WP provider Cheshire Training Associates under G4S its Prime Provider in the Northwest, but in order to do this six months early they tampered with my start date on the internal DWP computer systems. How do I know this?

Well one day I rang my JCP Manager to ask him if when I completed the WP still with a probability of being unemployed of 96 %, could he assist me in setting up a Work Skills Job club voluntary. But to help pay for a free community centre room once a week.

No need to yet was his reply. Let me have your NI number would you to check the system? I told him and he logged in. No need yet. But you started on the WP in January 2012 so off will be 2014. Two years. His words not mine.

Then a few days later I got an unsigned official letter from the JCP DWP manager without a signature or a pp in absence. Nobody wanted to be associated with my letter. It said now that your time on the WP has completed attend the DWP for 9am sharp 1st July 2013. How odd thought I.

I rang the JCP but this time spoke to any random adviser and got them to check my computer inputted information. Sure enough it was now dated started June 2011 and Jan 2012 had been changed. I then rang the Manager who's personal direct number this person had given to me. I think even he thought it might be worth a direct question.

Well I rang the Manager later and sure enough he'd forgotten having spoken a week previously to me. I caught him unawares. He said that it wasn't down to him the Providers get to decide if you stay or are removed. So they have to fraudulently change official DWP data to do this do they? No answer was forthcoming from Wayne the Manager, anxious to get off the phone by now.

Tomorrow is July 1st, so my appointment at JCP. Why do I think they have done this. Because CTA owes me £300 plus in interview travel expenses since this January. I did get some Voluntary work experience set up by a lovely G4s Manager here. But CTA were useless and PARKED me. It was only because she texted and emailed me to check up on CTA that I even got any help to better my CV. The G4S Manager once texted to me last November. 'I had the week from Hell!'.

It had been their job to kick ass with all the secondary providers such as CTA. I have since written to lots of MP's explaining what they are up to.