Unemployed people in Edinburgh have won a significant victory by forcing workfare provider A4e to recognise that claimants on their programmes have the right to take their own representative to meetings with A4e. For over two and a half years A4e have refused to recognise reps from Edinburgh Claimants, affiliated to Edinburgh Coalition Against Poverty. A4e often called the police to evict both rep and claimant from their offices in Edinburgh’s Earl Grey Street!
But now A4e have climbed down. At a meeting with Edinburgh Claimants in March 2012, Alison Nimmo, A4e manager for Scotland, and the management of the main contractors Working Links, stated they would now recognise Edinburgh Claimants representatives. Edinburgh Claimants reps are now accompanying unemployed people at A4e. Previously A4e often called the police to evict representatives from Edinburgh Claimants from their Edinburgh office
This victory has been won thanks to the courage of claimants like Peter and Ram who have refused to be intimidated. Determined to stop unemployed people standing up for themselves, A4e had raised sanction doubts against claimants who insisted on the right to their own representative. At one point Peter was facing over six months without benefits.
The DWP sided with A4e. Claimants have the right to reps at DWP Jobcentres, and A4e are contractors to the DWP. But DWP bosses such as local District Manager Jim McGonigle ignored A4e’s denial of human rights, claiming it was up to A4e who they allowed on their premises! The DWP repeatedly upheld sanctions against claimants for the “crime” of being accompanied by their own rep.
But with the backing of Edinburgh Claimants and Edinburgh Coalition Against Poverty (ECAP), each and every sanction was overturned, and all benefits repaid in full. Due to DWP intransigence, Peter’s case had to go to an independent tribunal, which ruled in his favour. Edinburgh Claimants made an official complaint to Terry Moran, Chief Operating Officer for the DWP, and the DWP awarded Ram compensation and apologised “for the distress and inconvenience” he was caused.
NO MORE BULLYING
ECAP kept up the pressure by regularly leafleting outside – and occasionally inside! – A4e’s Edinburgh offices. Demonstrations besieged A4e, e.g. on the public sector pension strike days last year. The struggle lasted over two and a half years. Earlier this year more claimants attending A4e started insisting on their right to be accompanied. Local A4e management responded by repeatedly calling the police – but their days of using the police to bully the unemployed have now been brought to an end.
Already Edinburgh Claimants/ ECAP have advocated for a claimant facing benefits cuts – and following our representations A4e have written to the DWP to withdraw both sanctions he was facing. By joining together and supporting each other, unemployed people forced to attend workfare providers can make significant gains. Not only beating threats of sanctions, but also resisting being forced into working for employers for benefits, or being compelled to constantly attend at the provider’s office.
We can resist the dehumanising and futile activity that the providers try and impose on us – if it’s not outright bullying, it’s being patronised, and told it’s our fault we’re unemployed. Above all through organising ourselves unemployed people are asserting that we have full human rights and dignity, and must be treated with respect.
Scunnered with being forced to attend A4e, Ingeus, JHP? Fed up with workfare schemes? Contact ECAP to join together with others and stand up for your rights.
Edinburgh Coalition Against Poverty firstname.lastname@example.org
Open advice and solidarity sessions at ECAP c/o Autonomous Centre of Edinburgh, 17 West Montgomery Place EH7 5HA every Tuesday 12-3pm – Tel 0131 557 6242 (Tues 12-3 only)