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Islington Jobcentre Plus survey: Many people feel disrespected, discriminated against and pressured to take unsuitable work

PUBLISHED: 17:33 26 July 2019 | UPDATED: 09:18 13 August 2019

File image of Jobcentre Plus sign. Picture: Philip Toscano/PA Archive

File image of Jobcentre Plus sign. Picture: Philip Toscano/PA Archive

PA Wire/PA Images

Benefit claimants often feel disrespected, discriminated against and pressured to take unsuitable work at job centres in Islington, according to a survey.

The poll by London Employment Strategies asked 101 London claimants, including 45 people in Islington, about their experience of accessing Jobcentre Plus services. Women and disabled participants were more unhappy with their treatment than men and claimants generally felt "complaining was at best ineffectual and at worse could lead to reprisals", the survey found.

The Islington results were compared with the 56 submissions from the rest of London, with our borough scoring better in some areas, such as people feeling supported to fill in their online Universal Credit journal.

One claimant said: "The system makes a person more ill physically and mentally due to stress and worry from one session to the next. My sleep and appetite got worse and I used to cry a lot."

Others said they felt "patronised" and have endured "incredibly negative" experiences - for instance, one person said: "I've had an adviser criticise and victimise me". But others said "the staff are brilliant" and that their job coach "is fantastic, caring and helpful". This officer was positively mentioned three times, suggesting his methods could be a blueprint for best practice. One person said: "I felt too scared to complain in case of the comeback," a fear echoed by several others.

One respondent said: "I was criticised for not filling things in correctly, [which] caused stress and humiliation."

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A Universal Credit claimant said: "I have to visit a foodbank today and I will be in rent arrears as I won't be paid for several week."

Universal Credit is an online-only system of monthly payments, replacing six working age benefits, including Job Seeker's Allowance and Housing Benefit.

A Department for Work and Pensions spokesperson said: "The London Unemployed Strategies survey is based on a small proportion of people and doesn't give the full picture. More than 300,000 people in London are now being supported by Universal Credit, and 84 per cent of claimants are satisfied with their experience of claiming benefits."

Nick Phillips, coordinator of London Unemployed Strategies who commissioned the survey, said: "We are very concerned that, several years on from our last survey, the majority of London claimants who responded are still dismayed by the quality of support they get from Jobcentres and the DWP. The roll-out of Universal Credit seems to be making things even worse.

"Having said that, the variations in satisfaction levels, with Islington coming out of it with higher ratings than most, in no small part thanks to [the popular job coach}, shows what can be done with a bit of extra care and attention.'

In response to the DWP comment, he said: "Our survey gives a more honest picture, given that most of the people we deal with fear of reprisals from the DWP if they make comments about them - and that includes responding to surveys commissioned by them."

Nick helps to run Islington Know Your Rights, a local self-help support group for claimants which meets regularly. For more information please contact Nick on 020 7467 1283/07530 001653 or on nickplus007@gmail.com.

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