These letters are correspondence between me and my son on the one hand and the DSS, the NHS and our Member of Parliament on the other. The subject is my son's mental illness and his welfare.
"I was a special needs pupil at Pinewood School in Ware, from where I went to the Bishop's Stortford High School which I left in July with GCSEs in Maths and English and an Intermediate GNVQ in Business. The latter is equivalent to NVQ Level 2 and is also equivalent to 4 GCSEs. Since July I have been trying to find work. Not having a car severely limits my scope for available jobs. I am still out of work. I am presently learning to drive and am happy to keep on trying. I am trying to search out a career for myself in retailing — specifically in either clothing or capital goods — which can make use of all that I have learned in my GNVQ Business course. I know what I am looking for.
"I rely on benefit at the moment. My parents also live on benefit. They cannot finance me. I want to get off benefit and into a job suitable for my aptitudes and qualifications. My qualifications may seem lowly compared to most, but from where I started as a statemented special needs pupil, It has taken a lot of hard work for me to achieve what I have done.
"My problem is with the Jobcentre and the Careers Services people. While I am looking for the right kind of job, they are, continually pushing leads at me for lots of wholly inappropriate jobs, many of which I cannot even get to. They say that if I do not apply for them they will cut off my benefit.
"Furthermore, they say that they are now going to stop my benefit and that I have to go on a 'Work+' course in basic numeracy and literacy. This is at a level for which I already have certificates which I obtained while still at Pinewood special needs school. I now have GCSE Maths and English. What is the point? It is a complete and utter waste of taxpayer's money and will serve no purpose other than to discourage, humiliate and depress me. I simply want to be able to put my full effort into finding the right job without having my energies continuously dissipated by pointless burdens.
"I do not lack initiative. I do not lack motivation. I do not lack qualifications. I do not lack job leads. I simply lack the time and resources to do what I am perfectly capable of doing myself. Please could you enquire on my behalf as to how the Careers Service and the Jobcentre can be made either to provide practical positive and constructive help, or to get off my back so I can get on with the job myself?"
"I have recently received a letter from [name] MP concerning the letter you sent to him on 11 November 1999.
"I am sorry that you feel that the Jobcentre has not provided you with practical and positive advice.
"I have consulted with the advisers concerned and I have examined your records thoroughly. I feel you have been given a wealth of advice to date but have failed to agree on a course of action. I am aware that [client advisor] recommended a work preparation course, but you declined it.
"Also I note that you have stated on your Jobseeker's Agreement that you are looking for retail work first and then bar work.
"I am also aware that you recently started a bar job and consequently left because of the late hours proving unsuitable. Obviously because of the Employment Service rules this will have to be looked at and may be sent for a decision to be made.
"Having spoken to [client advisor] about your job search and aims I think it would make sense for you to see her again and discuss your concerns further. She will be writing to you with a new appointment for the new year.
"In the meantime I believe the New Deal Adviser has contacted you to discuss New Deal Options. I have spoken to him about your case and we have decided that a joint interview with [client advisor] and himself with you in the New Year would be the best way forward. Then you can be sure about all the information that is available and what is right for you.
"I hope that this is satisfactory for you. I wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year and luck in your job search in the mean time.
"Concerning your letter of 29 November, I do not feel the same as you do about the advice your service has provided. You say I have failed to agree on a course of action. An agreement is between two people. A failure to agree is therefore down to both people. I did not fail to agree a course of action. I refused to accept the one that was forced on me. I already have Maths and English at GCSE. I do not need to go on a complete loser's course on basic literacy and numeracy.
"I want a job in retailing leading eventually to retail management. The bar work was added because I did it part time while still at school. I do not want a dead-end bar job. It was included to increase the likelihood of you getting me off benefit as quickly as possible.
"You are right that I recently started a bar job at the pub and consequently left it. I see a subtle threat in this paragraph. I prefer people who say what they actually mean. You seem to say that because I left the job you will stop my benefit.
"If I have no job I have no wage. If I cannot have benefit I have no money. If I have no money I cannot eat. If I cannot eat I cannot live. In other words, however you wrap it up in clever words, it is a death threat. Without benefit I would have the choice of living by charity or by crime, or starving to death. This is the Sword of Damocles under which anyone on benefit has to go about seeking work.
"I must therefore make clear the circumstances which made me give up that job. You found the job. You forced me to apply for it. You forced me to accept it, if offered to me, under threat of losing my JSA. I applied for the job. It was offered. I had to take it.
"The printout said a 45 hour week. This is a long week, but almost immediately these hours were increased. I found myself arriving home at 2am, then 2:30am. I had 2 miles to walk home at this time of the night. But I was prepared to stick with it. I planned in my mind to stick with it for a year while looking for a proper job without you on my back. I did not intend to leave.
"On 18 November I arrived home at 3:30am. After a very late finish, the pub manager invited me for a glass of wine. It is not a sensible thing for a new employee to refuse. Within 10 minutes of having the wine I was violently sick. I was sick until there was nothing left in my stomach. I continued to be sick. I started home at 2:45 am. But I did not get far. I was too weak to walk. I collapsed on the ground and crawled. I was still sick. Another employee left to go home in his car. He saw what state I was in and gave me a lift. I know now that if he had not done this I would never have got home. It was a freezing night. I could not walk to my front door. He helped me there. But I could not lift the key to the lock. He did it for me and laid me down in the hall. My parents came down and saw me being sick.
"My dad asked me how much I had drunk. I told him clearly that I had 2 250ml glasses of Elm Grove white wine, and that I had had nothing else all day. He knew by the way I said this that I was not drunk. I stopped being sick at 4:30am. Nothing came up only green bile. My parents got me to bed and I went to sleep.
"My father rang the doctor. My doctor was away but his partner said it could have been a virus, but they did not normally act that quickly. My own doctor came back the next day and I went to see him. He said that it was unlikely to be a virus. He thought what most likely happened was that something had been put in my glass when I was talking to somebody away from the table.
"The drug the doctor thought it was from the effect it had was ipecacuanha. This is a drug which is not available to anybody outside the medical profession. It is used to empty the stomach instantly. The manager of the pub is a medical student. The community police officer came to see me on 24 November to take a 3 page statement. He is investigating it, but expects to be met with a wall of silence.
"My doctor also said that in any case bar work was not good for my health and that I should go back to the Jobcentre straight away. I saw Mrs Mansfield and told her I was leaving the job. She told me not to sign on the following Wednesday but to wait until I heard from the Jobcentre for an appointment. She gave me a leaflet on New Deal. I do not know how I can get my JSA if I do not sign on, but I expect you have dealt with that somehow.
"I never returned to the pub. I left without giving notice. It is almost certain that I will not be paid for any of the days I worked.
"If you had simply found the job and suggested that I apply for it you would not really be involved in this. But you forced me to take it under threat of stopping my benefit and leaving me without the means to live. This must make you at least partly responsible for what happened to me. So before you have this "looked at" or "sent away for a decision to be made", please make sure the correct reason is given.
"In the mean time, I think that my own efforts in looking for a job are about to pay off. But I am not saying anything further until I am absolutely certain. I do not want it messed up. Hopefully therefore I won't need a New Deal in the new year.
"Thank you for your letter dated 2 December 1999 concerning the reason for leaving your recent job.
"I appreciate your circumstances however the decision regarding your benefit must be decided upon by a Decision Maker. You will need to complete ES86LV and ES461LV attached for this purpose. You may wish to enclose a copy of the letter you sent to me with this. These will need to be returned, even though you have found work.
"I wish you every success and happiness in your new job."
A doubt has arisen on your claim for Jobseeker's Allowance as it appears that
You left your job voluntarily.
As long as you are still looking for work, you should continue to provide signed declarations as instructed on your ES40.
Payment of Jobseeker's Allowance will not be affected until the decision has been made.
Please see the enclosed leaflet ESL48. It is important that you read it.
"On 24th November, 1999, I attended [our address] where [my son] of that address, informed me that he had recently left employment at [the pub] following an incident in the early hours of Thursday, 18th November, 1999.
"I then took a statement from [my son] outlining how he had become very ill, following the drinking of a glass of wine, followed by 2 glasses of wine and lemonade.
"As a result of this illness, [my son] had attended his GP the following day and, following an examination, the doctor felt that some form of drug had possibly been slipped into his drink.
"On Thursday, 25th November, 1999 I interviewed the licensee of the Public House, who fervently denied that any drug had been placed in [my son's] drink. Her comments were endorsed by other members of her staff.
"This incident has been passed to the Licensing Sergeant."
I have cut out real identities from the police letter. This is not because I am unsure of the truth of what I have said. It is because those who have the power to do so may take retribution by due process of law. And we all know who wins by due process of law: those with money and influence.
The ES86LV form with covering letter and associated documentation was received on Monday 13 Dec 1999. The envelope it came in was post marked 10 Dec 1999 (a Friday). On the form it is stated that it must be completed and returned to the Jobcentre 7 days after a date specified in a date field at the top of the form. This date is given as 8 Dec 1999. This makes the deadline for the return of the form to the Jobcentre 15 Dec 1999. This allows only 2 complete days to turn it round, as it was not received until late on Monday 13 December. In view of the fact that I have to request — and wait for — a police report, as well as write my own report, and post them all back to the Jobcentre, this amount of time is unreasonably short, particularly since I am now working from 10am to 4pm. An extension is therefore required.
I seem to be hearing different stories from different people at the Jobcentre concerning my status at different times.
On Friday 19 November my client advisor said that my benefit would continue as normal over the period I worked at the pub and that if and when I was paid by the pub it would be deducted from my benefit. She told me not to come in on the following Wednesday (my usual signing day) but to wait until I heard from the Jobcentre by letter. My father thought that this was not right since, if I did not sign, no evidence would be entered on the DSS computer and this would be automatically flagged as a 'no show'. My mother came with me to see my client advisor. She heard everything. She was also adamant that my client advisor had told me not to sign on as usual the following Wednesday. That is why I did not show.
On Monday 6 December another client advisor rang and spoke to my father. He said that, in view of my letter to the MP and my subsequent letter to the Jobcentre manager of 2 December, my benefit would continue uninterrupted and adjustments would be made if I received payment. He said that I must have misunderstood what the first client advisor said, but that nevertheless I should come to the Jobcentre on Wednesday 8 December and I could sign for both the preceding periods.
On Wednesday 8 December I went to sign off. I was dealt with by a front line operative. I told her all the circumstances. She seemed unsure what to do and consulted a fair haired woman in a white blouse and suit who was wearing ear rings and had a hearing aid in her right ear. This woman made a telephone call, supposedly to the DSS, to ask how my case should be treated. She did not mention any of the particular circumstances, so presumably they were aware of the situation. After the call she said that I would not be paid for the week during which I did work for the pub, and that if the pub did not pay me I would have to take it up with them.
It appears from this that a decision had already been made and that my claim had already been terminated. I was given a vast labyrinth of documentation to fill in all over again to claim for the week following my time at the pub. This is not what I had understood was going to happen from the two client advisors.
On Monday 13 December I received the ES86LV from you. This implied that a decision had not yet been made as to whether or not I receive benefit for the week within which I attended the pub. Later on Monday 13 December I received a P45 from the Inland Revenue saying that my claim ceased on 10 November 1999. Then on Tuesday 14 December I received another letter from you telling me my claim had already been terminated on 10 November 1999 giving the final statement of what I had been paid for the year. What on Earth is going on?
The calendar of relevant events in this matter is as follows:
On my Jobseeker's Agreement I did not, nor was I required to, agree to work late hours. Requiring me to take the pub job was not in accordance with my Jobseeker's Agreement. Nevertheless I was made to take the job. I agreed to work until 11:30pm. But this never happened. I normally finished at 1:30am. On the last night I worked there I was asked to stay behind for a drink with the management. That went on until 2:50am. This was certainly contrary to the demands of my Jobseeker's Agreement.
On 18 November I arrived home at 3:30am. After a very late finish, the pub manager invited me for a glass of wine. It is not a sensible thing for a new employee to refuse. There were 6 of us:
They gave me a 250ml glass of Elm Grove white wine. Then I had another half 250ml glass of white wine topped up with lemonade. Then I had a further half 250ml glass of the same wine. Within 10 minutes of having the wine I was violently sick. I was sick until there was nothing left in my stomach. I continued to be sick. When I looked up I noticed that everybody except Alan had left the room. Alan was the only one who appeared surprised when I was first sick.
I started home at 2:45 am. But I did not get far. I was too weak to walk. I was still sick. Alan left to go home in his car. He saw what state I was in and gave me a lift. I know now that if he had not done this I would never have got home. It was a freezing night. I could not walk to my front door. He helped me there. But I could not lift the key to the lock. He did it for me and laid me down in the hall. My parents came down and saw me being sick.
My dad asked me how much I had drunk. I told him clearly that I had two 250ml glasses of Elm Grove white wine, and that I had had nothing else all day. He knew by the way I said this that I was not drunk. I stopped being sick at 4:30am. Nothing came up only green bile. My parents got me to bed and I went to sleep.
My father rang the doctor in the afternoon of Thursday between 2 and 3 pm. My doctor was away but his partner said it could have been a virus, but they did not normally act that quickly. When people have been drinking heavily and are sick, the one thing they crave afterwards is water. The alcohol dehydrates the body. The thing that my father noticed immediately was that although I had vomited everything from my stomach, I did not ask for any water. Nor did I want to take any when offered it. This is wholly inconsistent with having been drunk. He told the doctor who said that I should be made to take a desert spoon of water every 15 minutes, and as soon as I could stand it, to increase that to two desert spoons. I could not actually get out of bed until 8pm that day, and was not fully recovered for several days. My recollection of the whole incident is crystal clear. My mind was not impaired in any way. This is also wholly inconsistent with having been drunk.
My own doctor came back the next day (Friday 19 November) and I went to see him. I described to him what happened as above. He said it was too long after the event to gather any tangible evidence by examining me. However, he said that, based on the symptoms I had described, it was unlikely to be a virus. He thought that it sounded like the effects of somebody having been given a drug called ipecacuanha, and discussed the various ramifications.
He told me, that it is a drug which is not available to anybody outside the medical profession. It is used to empty the stomach instantly. The manager of the pub had told me that she is a medical student. I am not necessarily asserting that it was she who put anything in my wine. Nevertheless, whatever happened, happened on the pub premises. She is therefore responsible. My doctor is willing to speak to you by phoned on this matter.
Before this incident neither myself nor my family had ever heard of ipecacuanha. I simply described what happened and the way I felt to the doctor. I would have no way of fabricating a description of the effects of a drug I did not know of if this had not happened to me. Furthermore, I had no motive for doing so. My father said that I had commented to him the day before that I thought it would be good to remain at the pub for a year while I searched for the kind of job I really wanted without having the Jobcentre on my back. It was all very convenient having Mondays and Tuesdays off so I could make contact with companies and go to interviews during normal office hours.
The community police officer came to see me on 24 November at 7pm to take a 3 page statement. He is investigating the incident, but expects to be met with a wall of silence. I am awaiting his report which should be delivered any time. If, in order to meet your unreasonable deadline for submitting the ES86LV, I have to submit it without the police report then no adverse decision must be made before the police report is received and has been considered.
My doctor also said that in any case bar work was not good for asthmatics like myself because of the smoky atmosphere and suggested that I should go back to the Jobcentre straight away. I saw my client advisor and told her I was leaving the job, and the reason. She told me not to sign on the following Wednesday but to wait until I heard from the Jobcentre for an appointment. She gave me a leaflet on New Deal.
I never returned to the pub. I left without giving notice. And with very good reason. I am not prepared to work at a place where I am concerned about what may be in my drink, be it a glass of wine or a cup of tea. It is almost certain that I will not be paid for any of the days I worked.
If you had simply found the job and suggested that I apply for it you would not really be involved in this. But you forced me to take it under threat of stopping my benefit and leaving me without the means to live. This must make you at least partly responsible for what happened to me.
Finally, if I do not get benefit for the fortnight from 10 Nov to 24 Nov 1999 I will be deficient in contributions and this will have permanent consequences regarding sickness benefit and ultimately my state pension. What is being done about this?
[Nothing further transpired.]