Improving relationships with the DWP: Aurora's experience

Published on: 
17 June 2022
Written by: 

Aurora, Covid Realities

I have found this whole cost of living subject a difficult one for us in particular. It is topical at the moment and is a constant weight on my mind. There's no escape, everywhere I turn, it’s all around me. The TV, the news and social media. I’m tired of it and the continuous daily struggle. I feel we’ve been experiencing and have been living this for some time. Only now as more people are starting to experience hardship has the issue been spoken about and it certainly does need to be addressed. It is starting to affect more of us. In our case, the ends simply are not meeting. I cannot afford to pay my rent, have enough to pay basic bills, let alone afford food and an increase in costs atop what is already a precarious position. We absolutely cannot absorb anymore. We are experiencing deep poverty. As the cost of everything is rising we must look at using what little we do have wisely. It’s very hard when there is no money left and our benefits do not even cover the necessities. 

I once turned to an anti wastage app to feed my family. My choice was to spend £2.57 on a food bag from a local bakery. The bag contained several baked goods, as well as some expiring juice and a couple of sandwiches. Saving the sandwiches for the next day meant my eldest son acquired a bout of food poisoning leaving him unable to attend school.

We are currently capped on benefits. I am a solo parent who can only work certain hours. I continue to try to find employment to bring us out of the cap.

I have sought help from different avenues. I’m grateful for the help available to us, but this means I’ve had huge hoops to jump through. I’m still waiting on a decision several months after an application for discretionary housing allowance was made. I anticipate we’ll be homeless by the time our award is processed. People in our situation are often met with disdain by the very people who are employed to help. The front line employees of the DWP. The jobcentre is not the most welcoming of places, it can be not only daunting, but a terrifying experience. In my branch, you are met by four security people right at the entrance, and then meet a work coach, who runs through your details and job search through their system before rearranging a further appointment. Sometimes I see how overworked they are, I’ve seen them sigh at the situation they’re presented with. One work coach told me of his huge caseload. They have not been a great deal of help when it is what is required for finding appropriate employment. They are only ticking boxes, which is understandable because they perhaps don’t have the time to do anything more.

Under my circumstances I have been judged. Society sees us as a scourge, which is evident from the media and sometimes the wider public. We have received much negativity. Often from people who are processing the help we have asked for and from the very people who can help us. Take my local council for instance, who have not only made the process more difficult but their tones are condescending. I often find people like us ignored by politicians unless there has been a change in the amounts we are awarded. The benefit cap was reduced by £3,000 in 2016 and has not increased since, although the cost of living has skyrocketed and continues to do so. A change is needed so desperately!

I have been able to voice my views on Covid Realities and I’m incredibly grateful. These are some recommendations to improve the relationship between claimants and the DWP:  

  • Provide a single point of contact - that is to be seen by one caseworker
  • Give caseworkers reasonable caseloads
  • Address people with dignity and respect
  • Include first-hand experiences in staff training and take a person-centred view

There were also some recommendations to improve the systems at the DWP, which are

  • Introduce a duty to maximise income and a framework of minimum service standards
  • Simplify the processes for challenging decisions and make them more accessible
  • Provide universal access to advocacy in the case of disputed decisions 
  • Expand migrants’ access to the benefits system
  • Clarify the purpose of the universal credit journal
  • (and finally) Co-design the system and service changes with claimants

Covid Realities is funded by the Nuffield Foundation, but the views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily the Foundation.