With the rollout of Universal Credit looming, Jobcentre staff have admitted they are all but completely unprepared to cope with it. Sources at three separate Jobcentres have painted a disturbing picture which appears to confirm the 'disaster waiting to happen' scenario - and indeed could indicate the situation might be even worse than feared.
Staff at one Jobcentre said they have received no training on dealing with the massive-scale changeover from other benefits. Asked about the rollout by one worried claimant, they said there was 'no way' their office would be ready before next summer 'at the earliest'.
Another advisor put it in no uncertain terms:
'It's going to be a nightmare, for us and for the claimants. We don't know what's happening, when it's happening, you hear one thing one day and another the next'
They had also received no training, but thought there might be some happening 'sometime in November'.
At another Jobcentre, staff admitted they were unable to give any real help when faced with queries from claimants:
'You hear politicians on the TV saying go and ask at the Jobcentre, but all we can really say to most people is call the Universal Credit centre, because we just don't know what to tell them'.
In short, many of those dealing with the first wave of changeovers will basically have no idea what they are doing. This, in addition to the already-flagged risks of delayed payments leaving claimants in poverty, with only an inadequate £150 loan offered to last them up to 6 weeks.
The 'whatever, we're right, it'll all be for the best in the long run, so we're ploughing on regardless' approach is perhaps the most callous example of the attitudes which have been fostered by years of Tory austerity - confirmation (as if we needed it) that they actually DON'T care who suffers.
The reduction of people, real people going hungry or losing their homes, to statistics has been a repellent theme as a string of MPs have been trotted out to justify their government's actions. The old '80% get paid on time so it's OK' line.
Roughly translated: '20 out of 100 people are being left without money to live on, but let's not talk about them'. People like Holly Sargent, who was forced to sell 'almost everything she owned' after waiting eight months for her Universal Credit to be paid.
Work and Pensions Secretary David Gauke has admitted today that 1 in 25 claimants are still waiting for payments 10 weeks after claiming - yet the Tory government is still refusing to steer away from the collision course they are inflicting on the most vulnerable and needy in Britain.
At today's PMQs, they showed their usual callous colours, groaning at an account of one claimant's experience with Universal Credit blundering.
The uncertainty and disorganisation of the Universal Credit shambles has created a climate of fear for claimants; fear that even when they do get their claim approved, their support will be taken away by the brutal sanctions regime.
'You read your claimant commitment, and I think it mentions sanctions on just about every page' one claimant told this blog. 'If you don't do this, your money will be stopped, if you do this, your money will be stopped. I get really panicky in the days before I go to sign on, every time, in case they don't think I've done enough or I've not done something the right way'
'It's like a physical relief when it's over, just to know that I'm going to get some money that month. It's a horrible way to live, to be scared all the time that you'll be left with nothing. It's all very well to say they don't want to encourage people to be on benefits, but to treat anyone like that, the constant threat, it's wrong'.
Surviving on state benefits has always been to live in poverty. Now, apparently, it is also to live in fear.
The Prole Star will be carrying out a large-scale survey of up to 20,000 claimant's experiences with Universal Credit, starting in November. Anyone wanting to share their experiences can contact us, anonymously if preferred, via Facebook, Twitter or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. We will not under any circumstances share your details with anyone.