Benefit Sanctions

For some time I’ve been concerned about the effect of benefit sanctions on some of the most vulnerable people in our society.

Before I started this blog I decided to do some more research on the benefit sanctions – it doesn’t make for pleasant reading.

Benefit Sanctions have been rolled out and incrementally increased all over Europe. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation has done a study on the short and long term effect of sanctions. (You can read their report here:

The Guardian have an article on the culture within Job Centres of each person having to sanction at least 3 people every week.  (

Some *examples of our experience of benefit sanctions from the clients of The Well:

1.  A Middle Eastern man had his benefits stopped for six months because while he was in the waiting room for a work experience interview his mobile phone rang.

2. An African woman had her benefits stopped for three months as she had not taken a 24 hour job at a supermarket. Her JSA contract said she only had to look for jobs of 16 hours.

3. A Kurdish man had his benefits stopped for 2 weeks as his job diary only had “asked friends, asked in shops”. He cannot speak much English, and can certainly not read and write English – so is definitely not going to be able to find jobs online or in newspapers.

We are finding that people are not being advised that they may be to apply for hardship payments – which are only available if they can prove they have no other source of income (ie family and friends). Any hardship payment is half of their benefit.

(Even while writing this, I’ve just had another email asking for advice about a non English speaking man who has been sanctioned for four weeks for not trying hard enough to get work & who has been left destitute with no money to even buy basic food.)

This is not a fair system, and those who do not speak English are at a huge disadvantage.

I’m increasingly convinced that we need to help raise the public awareness of what is happening, and I would certainly encourage people to contact their MPs to challenge, what is by its very nature, a discriminatory system.

*Nationalities changed to protect identities.



Every single morning before we start helping people, we meet for prayer. We regularly pray that God’s love & peace will fill The Well, that people will encounter Jesus’ love through us – that they will have a sense of His presence in The Well.

Yesterday one of our regular centre users was in the reception area. I asked if he needed help, or was he just in for a chat. He replied:

“I’m just here to visit my family. I love coming to The Well, this is such a peaceful place, with beautiful people, and I just love to come and sit a while.”

Perhaps in the busyness of each day, or is it the familiarity of the place,  we don’t always realise that God is answering our prayer and His peace and presence do fill The Well, and people are drawn to the love and peace they feel there – so much so that they love to come and “visit family”

Very humbling and very precious.


Table Top Sale

The Craft Group of The Well has organised a coffee morning / table top sale to be held on the 8th September 2012, in Cathcart Trinity Parish Church, from 10.00 – 12.00 (90 Clarkston Road, Glasgow, G44 3DA).

A wide range of crafts will be available – including: various sewn and crocheted crafts, scarves, cupcakes, home baking (delicious jams!) the work of a local artist, photographs, handprinted cloth, handmade cards, decorated boxes and lots more.

Perhaps you are looking for a unique gift? Or are starting to think about Christmas Presents? There will be some very special things    for sale.



Come! Bring your friends, have a coffee, spend a morning browsing (& buying!) in a very special event indeed.


A Volunteer’s View

I first came into “The Well” back in September ’09. I instantly loved the people I was working with, volunteers and clients.

I can still remember my first client, a gentleman who wanted to change electric companies. I used to think that was stressful!

Returning to The Well in October last year, was fantastic. It is like a big family here, and I felt instantly that I really never wanted to leave.  So with encouragement from Rhoda and a few others, I started finding out about the possibility of starting an internship at “The Well” and here we are today!

Since October, I have had some very interesting people to work with. One man came to me because his computer had been accusing him of being a terrorist, and he couldn’t understand why.  It was a virus!

To the couple who were owed money from their bankrupt lawyer. After being asked by one of the “big men” (who was very nice, I hasten to add) at the Scottish Law Society, if I was their new lawyer –  he was slightly surprised to find out I wasn’t – we finally managed to secure quite a sizeable cheque, plus compensation for them!

The sense of satisfaction from this job is something else, but the other side of that, is the connection you make with some people, which leaves you wanting to cry over what some are going through. Other times though you can be left pulling your hair out from the language barriers/cases that go round in circles/and replacing passport forms 3 times in 20 minutes because you’re using pen, and you weren’t given correct information the first time!

Anyway, I better stop my rambling and get back to work. Otherwise I’ll be here all day talking about how wonderful “The Well” is. One thing I do know though is, I wouldn’t be loving this job half as much, if the people I worked with weren’t  so wonderful!



How things change.

In 2004 when the EU accession countries were allowed to travel freely across Europe for work, many Slovakians arrived in Govanhill, many have settled here and made Glasgow their home.

Relations between the settled Asian community and the more recent Slovakian community, have at times been very strained – with neither really understanding each other, and both barely tolerating the other.

This morning I was on Allison Street – two streets up from The Well.  The Asian Bookshop was the predecessor of The Well, but was sold and The Well opened.  I could see it looked different and had flags in the window, and on closer inspection observed that the front half of the shop is now an Eastern European grocery shop, with The Asian Book Shop occupying a very small corner at the back.

I guess the current economic climate has a way of bringing people together, who would otherwise not even speak to each other.


The joys of English

Sometimes people think that they have enough English not to bring a friend to interpret for them. I have to say this happens most often with the Eastern European Centre Users more than any other group.

This morning I was trying to help a lady who had not received her tax credits yet. After two lengthy phonecalls to Tax Credits, two of which I asked for a Slovakian interpreter for, I was beginning to think this was a case for the MP and was looking up his surgeries times etc.

Then I tried Tax Credits again and decided to speak myself this time – oh if only I had done that the first time!!! He told me that his office couldn’t deal with it as it had been passed unto another office for further information.

I asked her about this, had she received a letter from them? Yes! She then produced a letter from her bag. Received on the 13th February. She had come here and was told what she had to do about it, but hadn’t done it, and now just dead frustrated and angry that she hadn’t got any money yet.

I had already been with her for almost an hour, and if she had just given me that letter at the beginning, she could have been out of here in less than 10 minutes.

That was followed by an Afghan gentleman who was adamant that the City Council had the dates wrong on a letter they had sent him. I asked him to bring the copy of his form in – sure enough the City Council had the date right.  He then tried to blame us – after all we had filled in the form. I said to him “The question was when did you start renting the house? and you have said in 2003” He said “Oh I thought it meant when did I move in.”

Then I had another Eastern European couple.

“Are either you or your husband carers for anyone with a disability?”


“Are any of your children disabled?”


“Why does your husband not claim Job Seeker’s Allowance?

“He cares for disabled son.”





Now we know.

In the second half of last year we changed the way we recorded the information about the centre users.

What an interesting revelation that has been!

For example we now know that in the last quarter of last year 65% of the centre users came to us by Word of Mouth – which is after all the highest recommendation. Only 4% came because they had been passing and so dropped in. I think the area we need to work on is encouraging other agencies to refer people to us – this is currently less than 1% of our total.

The ratio of men to women coming to The Well is very close, with the men edging the lead with 43% to the women’s 42%, and children accounting for 15%. I often smile to myself, as children who have been coming to The Well for years with their parents, then start coming in their own right, we help the 2nd generation of Well users:-) 

The largest ethnic group who used The Well last year, was once again the Pakistani Community with a total of 56% being Ethnically Pakistani. The rest of the sub-continent has been overtaken by those from the Middle East, now 8% of the total. Eastern Europeans are now easily the second largest user group of The Well with 25%.  This is probably a true reflection of the area and just how much it has changed in recent years.

The vast majority of our clients live in the G41 & G42 postcode (81%), but it’s also clear folks travel to The Well from all over the city and indeed beyond. 

So yes it’s made for fascinating reading – at least for me! And it all goes to show just how much people totally depend on The Well.



October update

Some churches joined in on Samosa Sunday, and so raised the profile of The Well in their congregations. The feedback from the various congregations who took part in Samosa Sunday has been very positive, with many people saying that they now have a greater understanding of what The Well is all about.

So far I know that well over £2000 was raised from the various offerings, so that is encouraging.

Recently in The Well we’ve had an increase in the number of Slovakians using our service. Crossroads always ran a drop-in for the Slovakian community twice a week, in the office next door to us – but that has been shut since the beginning of September. I’m not sure if it is going to reopen, and I know we certainly feel the challenge of a having a whole different language group and culture to deal with. We’ve been helping Slovakians for many years, but on a very small scale, and always the people who came to us before, could speak English, but the folks who are coming to us now have got virtually no English. There is so little you can do if someone can’t even tell you their date of birth!

The Bubbles Parent and Toddler group, which meets in Govanhill Free Church on a Wednesday afternoon, desperately needs more regular help. We are grateful that Nikki is willing to give her time, whilst she is looking for a job, but we need more women – if you know anyone who could help please do get in touch with us.

Today I met an Iranian artist, his work is beautiful and he has some displays coming up in November. If you have time to check out his web-site, I’m sure he would appreciate it:

Ok I think that’s it from here!


About four years ago a man first came to The Well very worried about an apparent overpayment that he had received from Income Support.

We followed it up on his behalf, and he was eventually able to produce evidence that he had gone to Job Centre Plus when he had said he had.  Job Centre Plus confirmed that this should close the case.

Life could now resume for the family without the stress of a supposed over-payment.

In March of this year I could hardly believe it, he had received a letter from them demanding immediate payment for the overpayment!

We have done everything that we can think of, including writing to the Secretary of State for DWP, but so far to no avail. They admit that he has the evidence that he went to the Job Centre Plus to discuss his benefits – but not that he informed them of the change in circumstances. They continually refuse him an appeal, saying he is out of time.

Finally last week, after several lengthy conversations with the debt department they agreed he could submit an appeal and they would consider whether they would allow an appeal or not. I looked back over all the information and discovered that they had changed his name and said he informed them on the 3rd June 2007 of this change of circumstances and they continued to pay him until the 25th June.

But the really interesting thing is that the 3rd June 2007 was a Sunday . . .

I await the next stage with bemusement.


Craft Group

One of the activities of The Well is a craft group for women.

A place where women can relax, build friendships, learn new skills – just generally a time for themselves.

At the craft group yesterday I was so wishing I had had my camera with me – a scene which would not be repeated in too many places, a Pakistani Muslim woman was sewing an Indian Sikh lady’s suit!  How good it was to see people who would not normally have reason to meet each other, helping each other in a very relaxed environment.