Victoria B on 12 July 2021

This is a diary entry in direct response to an email about DWP and reopening of job centres. Unsurprisingly I'm happy to share my opinion... I feel fortunate to have a work coach who is polite and respectful of individual circumstances, but I'm aware that they only have so much freedom to be respectful of individual needs as eventually I'll have to start going to the job centre again. I'm dreading it. My coach is currently happy to continue appointments via the phone, so that I don't have to drag my children down to the job centre, exposing them to Covid risks and triggering their anxieties (job centres are terribly designed for persons of any age with sensory processing needs and/or trauma triggers). Now bare in mind, I like my work coach. He's understanding, professional and, while occasionally says things that reveal how out of touch he is with the struggles of low income households, he seems to have a genuine interest in helping people find work. All this said I still have panic attacks every fortnightly phone appointment, one before and one after. This is not my UC coaches fault, if anything he actually take a moment every now and then to try to ease my anxieties. It's a systematic issue. The threat of sanctions hang over every task, every job search, even phone call or email. It's scary. And invasive. Every job search is checked, every task must be completed and evidenced. We're treated as if we are criminals, as if we're automatically in the wrong and must prove why we deserve to eat each month. That's very stressful. Not only do I have to worry about trying to find work, which in itself is emotionally difficult as rejection is never fun and there are more no's than yes' in job searching. But I have to worry about proving I've done the job search. And worry I've not made any mistakes, however minor, in case I'm sanctioned. Plus I've the added stress of risking my ex finding me, the more jobs I apply to the more likely my details will be easier for him to find (e.g. companies I apply too may sell my details to third parties or I might send a CV to a company where someone from my ex's family works). The system is stressful, every process is stressful, even without my additional circumstances. Stress kills productivity, it increases mental health difficulties. It's traumatic.

The universal credit system, as a whole, is abusive. The process as a whole triggers me because of how similar it is to how my ex controlled, manipulated and shamed me for every action or inaction on my part. Though when my ex husband withheld money I needed to feed my kids, that was illegal. But if the government does it, that's the victims fault. It's unjust and amoral. Being on benefits is not a career choice, no one willing puts themselves or their children through the psychological torture of dehumanising and demoralising forms and tasks and punishments willingly. For most of us on benefits, be it UC or legacy benefits, it's because the alternative is homelessness and hunger. And benefits don't even solve those concerns adequately (if it did we wouldn't need school meals or food banks!). For me the alternative was watching my ex hurt my children if I didn't submit to him enough. Now I'm reliant on benefits that, while in theory I can spend how I want without needing permission (in practice it's scarcely enough to cover rent and bills), still come at the risk of someone punishing me and my kids with hunger if I don't do everything exactly as someone tells me too.

The idea of having to take my children to the job centre where they'll be triggered and be stressed, while I'm panicky and stressed, fills me with utter dread.

I heard a story a few weeks back, about a man not far from my area who committed suicide because he was sanctioned on UC, for missing an appointment, and he saw himself as a burden on his family, his children. I read that story and I could relate. I understood. I could empathise with the family but also with the man. No I'm not suicidal, but if the UK benefit system is so bad that death seems like an understandable option then the whole system is flawed beyond comprehension.

In conclusion, jobcentres should only be open to those that want and/or need them. Phone appointments should continue for those that want and/or need them. And sanctions must be stopped, stop punishing the poor for being poor, we'd be much more productive if given the freedom to be.

Contributors featured in
More media logos