Job Centre Plus, Job Centre minus…….

On September 29th, 2013, for the first time, CATCH’s local Job Centre, on Wind Road, Ystradgynlais, sent a client to CATCH, with a docket, and CATCH was able to give that person a food pack.

On September 26th, 2014, a Job Centre official rang CATCH to tell us that Wind Road Job Centre had been told “from on high” that they must cease this practice.

At first, the official agreed that CATCH could provide a referral form for local Job Centre officers to use to send people to CATCH. By the time we had delivered some forms to Wind Road, perhaps 45 minutes later, that decision had been over-ruled. Henceforth, there was to be no referral at all (though curiously, they did send two people that morning). And from September 27th 2014, that has been the case.

In the almost-year between those events, 39% of CATCH’s food packs were issued to people coming to us with a Job Centre piece of paper.

That piece of paper was never a ‘voucher’, in CATCH’s sense of the word, and we came to treat it as the opening of a conversation, not a voucher to be honoured. It very rarely gave any indication of why the person needed our help. On occasion, we had the sense that the docket had been given simply because the person had asked for one. In a few cases, it was not even clear what connection the person had with the Job Centre.

But in fact, in the vast majority of cases, the bearer of the docket was not receiving his or her full benefit entitlement, and CATCH was able to help them..

Sometimes it was a matter of what is politely called ‘benefit delay’ – which actually meant that for the time being they were receiving no benefit at all.

Every new claim involved ‘benefit delay’ – and every change of circumstance meant that an existing adjudicated claim became a ‘new claim’. The Department of Work and Pensions themselves did a good deal of shifting and juggling between JSA and ESA, and each shift made an existing dependency into a ‘new claim’.

In other cases, the person had been sanctioned – we’ve written about that elsewhere – at times for as long as 13 weeks. They might get an emergency payment of around half their proper entitlement. They might not.

And then there were the ‘deductions at source’, which reduce the ‘amount the law says you need to live on’, to well, LESS than ‘amount the law says you need to live on’.

Why, after working with CATCH in at least this limited way, was Job Centre collaboration withdrawn ?

No explanation was offered.

To be fair, the arrangement was always exceptional. The DWP regional office had originally refused to cooperate with CATCH, and then the local office suddenly started doing so. But CATCH knows from its contacts with other food aid programmes in Powys, that it was always the only one receiving even this degree of co-operation. So its withdrawal brings CATCH into line with the other food aid programmes.

If you consider the circumstances of most of the people who were referred to CATCH by the Job Centre (see above), you can see why the DWP could prefer not to do anything that might assist the collection of verifiable statistics.

Current DWP policy as handed down from London has a good deal in common with the old Poor Law – shame the recipient of benefit, and set benefit receipts at a level that amounts to a severe disincentive to claim.

For a time, locally, that was at least tinged with some humanity. Someone has decided that cannot continue……..