Jimmy Stirling's DWP Diary: I don't deserve my integrity being questioned by the DWP

In his latest diary update, 63-year-old Jimmy Stirling is feeling pressured by the DWP despite searching for work

I AM Jimmy Stirling, a 63-year-old unemployed graphic designer, photographer and musician, single grandfather and social housing tenant living in Glasgow.

I receive Jobseeker's Allowance of £50 per week and have a very small pension payment of just under £25 per week. I do voluntary work for my neighbouring community.

I was recently conscripted to take part in the UK Government's Community Work Programme, where I would be forced to work for my Jobseeker's Allowance, which I see as slave labour. This not volunteering, this is not being paid a wage, this is conscription.

I am against this terrible programme and this is my experience in trying to avoid a six-month, 30-hours-per-week sentence just to juggle the government's statistics to make them look good.

Below is my latest diary update. You can read the others here.

27 September 2017

I was expecting a heavy signing session as my work coach was due to talk to me about self-employment. As it turned out, after just a few questions about my situation, it proved to be futile as I would be worse off and would have to lose some parts of housing benefit and council tax benefit.

I told him that you used to be able to get grants, in the past, to start up a business but now it was loans, so anything made would have to be paid out in recompense of these. I also told him that I was out of circulation of any sort of network. He agreed that the idea would not work for me.

Thanks again to Radish for your comments and concern on my recent diary updates. I can assure you that I am onto this and all your suggestions I have already put into place. I appreciate your comments. I don’t see myself as a brave man to bring these stories to CommonSpace, I see it more as educating and informing people who may be unaware of what can happen in the DWP minefield.

I forwarded the letter from the DWP to HMRC regarding missed national insurance payments and await their reply.

11 October 2017

An odd thing - the night before signing on, I didn’t get much sleep. The thought of signing on would not leave my mind.

Then when I arrived the next day, my work coach went through the pension date site and it seems, as I surmised all along, that the day that I am to receive pension tax credits is also the day that I retire and can claim a pension.

My work coach asked me what kind of work would I like to do. I told him what I was best at, plus I could also do administration and clerical work and that I was also a musician. He asked me if I could make a living playing music. I asked if the DWP would buy me a sound system, give me driving lessons, and buy me a car or van to take me to possible venues which were not guaranteed? 

He wondered why I had not got any work since 2008. I told him that I wish I knew. I told him it could be on account of my age, or my CV not being updated to suit the flavour of the month, or maybe I didn’t have the buzzwords that recruitment agencies look for in a CV, or maybe it was just that nobody wants to employ me. If I knew, I could do something about it. 

He soft soaped me, saying that I was intelligent and educated and wondered why I never managed to get a job. "Maybe the face," I said. "Maybe I just don’t have what people are looking for, I don’t know," I told him. He said that if he was an employer, he would see no reason why not to employ me. I told him, who knows, but you are not an employer.

I was feeling pressured. I told him that I get nervous coming to the Jobcentre as I never know what they are going to hit me with. I said that this was one of these days and I didn’t like the feeling. 

He then started asking me about working in a call centre, as the criteria for this was classed as administrative, which was part of my search. I told him that I had never considered call centres. He told me that I should. Then he called a number to speak to someone who specialised in call centres. 

He spoke to the woman and then passed the phone to me. She asked if I had ever considered call centres and I told her I hadn’t. She told me that she couldn’t help me as it looked as if I hadn’t been interested in applying.

My work coach then told me that I would have to start applying for call centre posts as it was classed as administration and I should also apply for jobs in places like warehouses and cut price outlets as there were "hundreds" of jobs in these fields. I told him that I had no experience of these. 

As I checked my universal job match (the government’s online job portal), I noticed that there were a lot of NHS jobs. Could I apply for them? Yes, I could, but I have no qualifications as a nurse or a specialist.

He asked me if really wanted a job or if I happy to just come down and sign on. A leading question. If I said I was happy just to sign on then I wouldn’t be actively seeking work. I told him that I was not happy being unemployed and that I apply for jobs daily. Again, this did not seem to be good enough. 

He asked me if I was happy with my lifestyle. I told him that I wasn’t but I had to adapt my to get by on what I get from the DWP. He asked if was I happy to live off the £73 that I get from the DWP. I corrected him and told him it was only £50 I got from the DWP because I get penalised for having worked before and have a small pension payment deducted. 

I was angry at having my integrity questioned, it annoyed me as I stomped home, with my head reeling and hoping that I managed to avoid the hidden tripwire of DWP questioning. 

I told him that my lifestyle changed enormously, I had to give up many things, I started growing my own vegetables to help see me through the winter months. I can’t network with people because I can’t afford to go out and socialise. I had to adopt the mental posture of keeping my head above the possible Corryvreckan of depression or anxiety that the DWP has forced upon people.

He then told me that I would have to start applying for jobs like call centres and others, otherwise he may be forced to report that I was not actively looking for work even in sectors where I have no experience at all. 

This could lead to sanctioning, so there was a threat of that possibility as far as I understood. He suggested I could even do work experience where I could sign off and if I was not successful, I could do a rapid re-sign. 

Having experienced the so called rapid re-sign, it is certainly not what it says on the tin.

I was feeling pressured. I told him that I get nervous coming to the Jobcentre as I never know what they are going to hit me with. I said that this was one of these days and I didn’t like the feeling. 

He said that it was not meant to be like that, and I asked, if that's really the case, why I am feeling this way. He told me that the Jobcentre was there to help people into work. I told him that after nine years and being sent to various agencies that were supposed to do the same, it didn’t seem to be working.

READ MORE: Jimmy Stirling’s full diary

I was a bit flustered but I kept my voice low. I told him that he had pointed out that I had to start applying for jobs where I have no experience, and I said that I would comply. I certainly didn’t want him to get the idea I was just wanting to sit at home and sign on every two weeks. My hands were tied.

Before I left, I pointed out that there was a small sign on the wall informing me that my Jobcentre will be closing on 16 February 2018. I told him that it was very small and hard to see it stick out from the other signs dotted around the Jobcentre. 

Had the DWP sent out any letters regarding this, I asked? "Not yet," he said. "Maybe you could get me a job designing posters that people can actually be drawn towards," I said. He shook my hand as I left. That is a new one on me.

I was angry at having my integrity questioned, it annoyed me as I stomped home, with my head reeling and hoping that I managed to avoid the hidden tripwire of DWP questioning. 

It was so fast paced that it was difficult to remember all that was said, but the gist is there.

The good news to report is that my daughter has signed a contract for a job as a radiographer in Australia. Her mother is contributing towards my wee family’s air fares.

Unfortunately, I can’t do that. My daughter and her family are hoping to fly to a new life around December or January. All I can give them is unconditional love and the hope that everything works well for them.

Picture courtesy of Jimmy Stirling

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