I have not written a blog post in a while due to the time pressures of work, a move across the country and my general disillusionment with the hardship of being a self-published author and how difficult it is to feel like you are making any progress. That is not to say that I have given up, merely that I needed a break and that I would eventually come back feeling refreshed. I shall soon finish the sequel to ‘Only an atheist’, ‘Jesus Returns’, and self-publish it along with, hopefully, a few podcasts appearances. I am also making good progress with a book of short, science-fiction stories (that I am thoroughly enjoying writing!) and shall endeavour to get these published in magazines and via the traditional publishing route. Until I give up and self-publish, most likely!
Anyway, that is not the topic of this blog post, which is how Goddamn awful and unfit for purpose the DWP is. I’m sure a great many people would agree with that perspective, having had dealings with them, but I am currently banging my head against the wall that is our social security net and getting nowhere fast. Many years ago I was very unwell for a long time and Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) helped me through this period. That was until I was sent to Atos for a physical assessment and, sure enough, deemed fit for work (which I definitely was not). I was then shunted onto Job Seekers Allowance (JSA) until I was able to get myself well enough to return to my studies, at least part-time, before finishing up my PhD in Neuroscience, as had always been my intention.
Above, Iain Duncan Smith, the previous gremlin in charge of destroying our social security net.
Now we move forward to present day. My wife and I recently moved across the country due to her job relocating and we had little choice but to move too. As a result I had to leave my job and I am now actively looking for work, with some success, in another field. I hope and expect to be reemployed soon. In the meantime I began a claim of Jobseekers Allowance to get me through the intervening period. My stamps have been paid for the past few years and, as a result I am entitled to JSA, or at least I thought I was. I put in my claim and waited for the payments which never came. Instead the awful brown letters from the DWP (that somehow seemed to be filled with dread) did appear to tell me that I would be getting nothing. Not a penny.
A conversation with someone on the helpline informed me that the reason I was not getting JSA was that the years that my current claim were assessed on were earlier than I thought and, as I had been living in Canada during one of those years, I had not paid enough stamps. Fair enough. However, the assessment years then changed when we reached the first Sunday of January 2018 and I am now eligible having paid my stamps for the appropriate years. Except the DWP will not reassess your claim even if you ask them to. They will not explain why that is the case. The only option is to close your claim and then restart it to force them to reassess the claim. All done and dusted, right? It should all be sorted now, yes? No.
Above, Esther McVey, the current minister in charge of the DWP.
As I made a first claim back in November, which I did not know would not allow me JSA, and I have now reclaimed I am being told the two claims are ‘linked’, DWP magic words for ‘we simply don’t want to pay you what you have earned’. Now, I have two choices. Either close my current claim and wait TWELVE weeks (and a day!) to restart my claim, forfeiting the NI contributions that I would get during this time and possibly jeopardise my state pension (I was a student for many years and lived in Canada for five more so I am genuinely worried I won’t have 35 years NI paid by the time I reach retirement) or I can keep getting my NI paid but NEVER get any JSA. That is despite my stamps now being paid for the relevant years.
There is clearly no justification for the position I find myself in, the DWP merely tells me this is the way things are and there is little point trying to fix it as JSA will be phased out soon and replaced with the joy that is Universal Credit. And we all know how well that is going. They have no interest in helping me and don’t care that they are not paying me what I have earned. The people I have spoken to on the phone have been very nice and helpful, explaining why I have fallen over every obstacle placed in my path that I could not see until I had fallen over them, and I bear them no ill will. But the godawful system that has been twisted by this Tory government (and by the Blair government too, they are not blameless in this situation) and now needs to be reconstructed so that it is fit for purpose when it so clearly is not at the moment.
I am lucky, however. I do not need the miserly amount of money that would come from the JSA to survive. Between my wife’s salary and our savings we will get by and I should be returning to work in a relatively decent job soon. I hope. I also would have liked to swear profusely during the conversations with the DWP and in this blog post but I did not do that. That is less effective than simply telling the story of how they have treated me and the way in which the system acts to deny the payment of money earned. So now I am able to get nothing despite having contributed for years. But then that is the point, isn’t it. This Tory government does not want us to access the social security network that is supposed to be there to protect us. Frances Ryan wrote about this recently in the Guardian (https://tinyurl.com/ycjc7pj9) and she makes the point very eloquently.
I am also acutely aware that I am far from the worst affected. I recently watched I, Daniel Blake with my wife (and I am in no way trying to compare my story with this one) but I read the news and I know that many out there have things much worse than I. It is apparent, and has been for some time, that we need this Tory government out and Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour to gain power (as a Labour party member, of course I would say that, but I do feel it is true). We need a shift away from the harmful neo-liberal policies of the last few decades and a return to social democracy where the system is set up to support those who need it and who contribute to it. Not just for those who have paid into the system, like myself, but for those who need the help, for those who are homeless through no fault of their own (blame the insane London property market) and for those struggling to feed and house themselves and their kids despite working a full-time job.
So, bring on the next election, say I. Bring on the end of this Tory government and bring on Jeremy Corbyn as Prime Minister. Because, whatever the Tory press tell us, it’s can’t be worse than this bunch of muppets!
Update: It’s always nice when things work as they are supposed to and, much to my surprise, things have now worked out. Following the DWP denying my legitimate claim, and my letter to the my local MP, they have now reassessed and decided to pay the JSA that I am owed. I suspect that, without the intervention of my local (Tory) MP, David Rutley, this would not have happened and I am grateful for his help. Of course, that won’t stop me voting Labour in the next election but I am glad that they system has worked as intended and that he was willing to help me. Cheers!
‘Only an atheist can help God save the world’ now has TWELVE reader reviews with an average of 4.4 stars and is available from all electronic retailers including Amazon UK here: http://tinyurl.com/pgjd68z. The sequel, ‘Jesus Returns: here he comes again’, will be out soon! Also check out my other “Rambling” blogs posts for articles on being an indie author, comics, politics, and reviews of books and movies! Finally, follow me on Twitter @onlyanatheist1. Cheers!