A jobcentre security guard told a disabled man with a chronic bowel condition that he was not allowed to use the staff toilets, but that there was a bucket that was kept behind the building “for claimants to use”.
AJ* had asked security staff at the jobcentre in London if he could use the toilet facilities because he has limited control over his bowel.
They initially told him to use the toilets at a nearby station, but he said he would not be able to reach it in time.
He even showed the guards the 14-inch scar from a major operation that had left him with no stomach muscles to control his bowel, and which runs from his belly button to his neck, but he was told there were no exceptions to the rule.
AJ, who is on the waiting-list for further major surgery on his bowel, said the guard appeared to be “deadly serious”.
He said: “He even gave me directions. I was so ashamed to be told that I had to go to the loo in a bucket.”
Appalled by the “terrible” attitude he encountered, he found a nearby café and bought himself a coffee – which he was unable to drink because of his health condition – so he could use the toilet facilities, before returning to the jobcentre for his appointment.
It later emerged that the guard had been mocking AJ, and there was no bucket in the location he had directed him to and no way to access the back of the building.
The incident is only the latest example of a culture of contempt for benefit claimants within the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) that stretches back over the last decade.
It was highlighted most recently by evidence that emerged during January’s inquest into the death of Philippa Day, which included a DWP telephone agent admitting that she had failed to take any safeguarding action after the young disabled woman told her, sobbing, that she was cold, starving, and needed “a reason to live”.
And in April, Disability News Service (DNS) reported new research which showed how DWP staff and managers admitted that colleagues had deliberately inflicted psychological harm on benefit claimants, engaged in unofficial sanctioning targets, and pushed disabled people into work despite the risk to their health.
AJ told DNS that he believed the incident with the security guard, on Tuesday, demonstrated the cultural problems within the department, although he said his work coach had later been “very helpful” and supportive.
The network engineer was one of the hundreds of thousands of people who began claiming universal credit for the first time during the coronavirus pandemic.
In his case, he had to close his IT business because the lockdown meant so many people were working from home.
But despite needing the financial support from universal credit to survive, he is now reluctant to return to the jobcentre because of the way he was treated.
He said: “I am at the point where I don’t want to go back there. I am really distressed about it.”
DWP said yesterday (Wednesday) that the accessible toilet at the jobcentre had previously not been open to the public, due to COVID-19 guidance, but that the security guard had wrongly told AJ that it was not currently in use.
DWP denied that AJ was advised to use a bucket and said it was not possible for claimants or staff to access the back of the building, but that the jobcentre would apologise to AJ and discuss the incident.
A DWP spokesperson said in a statement: “We apologise to [AJ] who was wrongly told that the disabled facilities were not in use.
“Updated guidance has been issued to [the] jobcentre.
“The only alternative option [AJ] was offered were nearby railway station facilities.”
AJ told DNS yesterday that he had now received a call from the security guard, who apologised for the incident, blamed his comments on “problems with drug addicts” and promised to let him use the toilet next time he visited the jobcentre.
AJ said it appeared that the guard had invented the bucket and had been “taking the piss out of disabled people”.
*He has asked for his name not to be used.
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