Single parent Alice gives evidence to the Fawcett Inquiry
Single parent Alice gave evidence to the Fawcett Inquiry about the reality of jobseeking and sanctions. This is her story.
The Fawcett Society hosted an Independent Inquiry to gather evidence about women on Jobseekers Allowance and their experience of sanctions. I was kindly invited by Laura Dewar of SPAN to present my experiences to the panel as I was one of the thousands of single mums that have been affected by the current regime. I was fortunate to have found her request for single parents to come forward with their stories on the One Space website.
The Independent Panel for the Inquiry to listen to evidence was made up of Amanda Ariss, from the Equality and Diversity Forum, Sir Keir Starmer QC, Baroness Meacher, from the House of Lords and Rosamund Urwin, a journalist from the Evening Standard. I was given a warm welcome by Ava Lee from the Fawcett Society. Before my session, I was able to listen to other evidence from charities that work with single parents (including Laura from SPAN) and from academics.
It was then my turn to speak about my experiences. It was the first time I have ever done anything like this. At first, I felt a bit daunted as the Panel members and attendees were made up of people with extensive knowledge of the law and policy. Laura very supportively sat with me and, once l started, there was so much to say. I needn’t have worried; the panel was very receptive, patient and attentive.
The Inquiry Panel was shocked to hear that I had been threatened with sanctions repeatedly by advisers, been sanctioned three times and that it had taken over six months to get the sanctions overturned. They were concerned to learn that I was mandated by the Jobcentre to attend irrelevant and unnecessary courses and a CV workshop and that any childcare issues are disregarded by advisers. The advice they provided on how to succeed in gaining employment is outdated (with a fixation on CV’s) and contrary to what employers say they are looking for.
I told the panel how I was only being offered Jobcentre appointments at school run times and was expected to attend quadruple the amount of appointments, two per week for a month, whilst under sanction – which led to the second sanction as I couldn’t afford the travel due to not having any money coming in. Not having any money also meant I could not afford to have internet access and this impeded me looking for work online.
I highlighted my concerns about the impact of the job seeking system on my son. Little account was taken of his needs including scheduling appointments so he also needed to attend. The financial sanctions also impacted my son, who, through no fault of his own, was disadvantaged.
It was hard to initially speak out about my experience to the Inquiry Panel. However, all the frustrations, irritations and disbelief of having had to deal with Jobcentre Advisors who refuse to negotiate, apply logic or reason and rely on claimers ignorance came pouring out. The opportunity to speak about my experience ended up being very therapeutic!
It was such a relief to discover charities like SPAN and the Fawcett Society who are gathering evidence and showing the poor experience of many women on jobseeking benefits. When I was dealing with the job centre and the sanctions appeals I felt exhausted, stressed out and hopeless. It was a relief to know that charities are giving a voice to the experience of women and to try to improve services; this made me feel that I was not on my own.
I received so much support and the pleasure of meeting some lovely people who really care about what they are doing and other women who are also being impacted by welfare changes. I can’t thank them enough. It is very satisfying and gratifying to feel that there is something that can be done and that the help is out there.