Monday, 14 November 2011

Chris Port Blog #320. "Kill A Bureaucrat"

For “Laura” at the Crisis Loans ‘Help’ Call Centre
(with apologies to Bob Dylan)
Love Marty x

“Kill A Bureaucrat”
© Chris Port, 14th November 2011
(To the tune of “Death Is Not The End”)

When you’re mad and when you’re hungry
And you’re living like a rat
Just remember to kill a bureaucrat
And all those slaps of workmates
Were daggers in your back
Just remember to kill a bureaucrat
Bureaucrat, bureaucrat
Just remember to kill a bureaucrat

When you’re staring at the bloodstains
On a humming railway track
Just remember to kill a bureaucrat
And all your screams are silent
And your eyes are wet dreams of black
Just remember to kill a bureaucrat
Bureaucrat, bureaucrat
Just remember to kill a bureaucrat

When the strange crowds eat their burgers 
And daylight stinks of fat
Just remember to kill a bureaucrat
And the women they look right through you
Like a cold wind though a crack
Just remember to kill a bureaucrat
Bureaucrat, bureaucrat
Just remember to kill a bureaucrat

Oh, the wind of hate is blowing
Where the sunlight never goes 
And the concrete of reality
It keeps you on your toes
When net curtains glow like fire
And you envy a pet cat
Just remember to kill a bureaucrat
If you had a pen you’d push
It slowly through her eye and snap
Just remember to kill a bureaucrat
Bureaucrat, bureaucrat
Just remember to kill a bureaucrat
Bureaucrat, bureaucrat
Just remember to kill a bureaucrat

Background to song 

Has anyone ever complained about the telephone service provided by Crisis Loans and received a satisfactory response (or any response at all)? I won't be able to eat this week... 

Despite knowing all of my personal details (and being required to shout them out into a public payphone in a windy bustling high street because you're not allowed to use the Job Centre phone) I was unable to tell “Laura” when one of their letters (out of dozens) was sent other than “between one and two months ago”.

Apparently I had failed a security question and she couldn't help any further and didnt have the facilityto transfer the call to a supervisor. All this was because DWP [Department of Work and Pensions] (despite being given the correct details) had typed in my post code asLQinstead of QL. After nearly two months, several phone calls and letters, they still havent sent out the correct forms.

I understand now why all of these public services are being transferred from counters to phones. For one brief moment I actually wanted to kill her (and then, obviously, myself). I decided to say the word “C*NT” over and over in my head and thanked her instead. From the tone of her voice, I would guess that she was doing the same. Not too sincerely, Ill admit. But it was better than pushing a pen very slowly into one of her eyes...
Background to bureaucracy
I’ll tell you a (long) anecdote about the joys of claiming benefits. Bear with me. Please enter my world…

For reasons that I won’t go into in a public forum, I now have a pathological distrust of authority and bureaucracy, and a phobia of form-filling. I would rather starve than fill in another form. This made it difficult for me to claim the benefits to which I was entitled.

After ten months of surviving on charitable food handouts, I finally got an appointment with an over-subscribed advocacy service that is able to help people with the Kafkaesque bureaucracy of the benefits system (they have a very long waiting list).

In order to receive benefits, I needed to open a post office account. Simple you might think. The advocacy service contacted the benefits office, who then contacted the post office. After about 10 days I received an envelope from the post office. Although I have difficulty opening post, and wasn’t able to fill in the form, I did manage to sneak a look at it.

The first thing I noticed was a warning that the application could not be processed if any of the details were incorrect. The next thing I noticed was that some over-worked data lackey had input my post code incorrectly (LQ instead of QL).

After another few days the advocacy service telephoned to see if I had received the form. I told them the problem. They contacted the benefits office. All I needed to do was go into the post office and ask for a change of address form. Could I do that? I said I’d have a go.

I went into the post office, explained the situation, and asked if I could have the change of address form. “No” was the immediate reply.

“No as in you don’t have the form, no as in it’s not the right form, or no as in you won’t give it to me?” I asked.

“It’s not the right form” explained the post office lackey. “It’s a change of address for an existing account. You don’t have an existing account yet, do you?”

“No” I agreed.

“All you need to do…” started the lackey…

“Could I please stop you there?” I interjected. “For reasons that I won’t bore you with, I’m unable to deal with bureaucracy. Could you please stop asking me to do your paperwork for you? You were given the correct information. It’s your mistake. Could you please sort it out?”

“It’s not OUR mistake” said the post office lackey, slightly offended. “We just input the data sent to us by the benefits office. It’s their mistake.”

“Fair enough” I replied. “How do you suggest we proceed?”

“All you need to do…” he began. I looked pained. “All SOMEBODY needs to do is contact the benefits office, get them to correct their records, and ask them to ask our head office to send out a new application form.”

“Thanks” I said. ‘I can do that’, I thought. I went to the benefits office. I explained the situation to the woman at the counter. She nodded understandingly.

“All you need to do…” she began.

“Could I please stop you there?” I interjected. “For reasons that I won’t bore you with, I’m unable to deal with bureaucracy. Could you please stop asking me to do your paperwork for you? You were given the correct information. It’s your mistake. Could you please sort it out?”

She looked slightly pained. “All you need to do…” she started. I looked pained. “All SOMEBODY needs to do is telephone our office with your correct details.”

“You have my correct details” I replied. “It’s just that’s somebody’s typed my post code into your computer system the wrong way round.”

“If you could just phone them…?”

“I don’t have any phone credit.”

“If you could just write to them…?”

“I can’t deal with bureaucracy. Could you write to them?”

She gave me a sympathetic look, grabbed pen and paper, and started to write the letter. She then picked up a phone. “Have you got any ID and proof of address?” she asked.

I emptied a bag full of bureaucractic paperwork over her desk. I picked out a few forms from the Inland Revenue. “Is the Inland Revenue ok?” I asked. “That’ll do fine” she said.

She phoned the records office and explained the situation. “Yes, he’s standing here. No, he can’t phone or write. I’ll write the letter. Yes, I’m looking at ID and proof of address. Are Inland Revenue forms ok? Thanks. ‘Bye.”

She wrote a note, smiled at me, and said “It’s sorted.”

“Thanks” I said, and left.

About 10 days later another envelope arrived from the post office. I sneaked a look. It was a letter. They weren’t able to process a new account application because there was already an existing application with the same details.

A few days later I got another appointment with the advocacy service. I explained the problem. They telephoned the benefits people and explained the problem to them.

“It’s ok” they said. “They’re going to cancel both applications and start from scratch. They’ll be sending you a new application form.”

Another 10 days passed. A letter from the post office arrived. They were unable to send a new application form because there were now two outstanding applications with the same details.

Another week passed. I got another appointment with the advocacy service. I explained the problem. There was much sighing. The advocacy service then wrote to the benefits office explaining the problem and the direness of my situation. That was a couple of weeks ago. I’m still waiting for the application form…

I won’t tell you about the absurdity and insult to injury of all the other paperwork required by the system (where other people have kindly acted as my amanuensis). It’s disgusting and/or laughable. Please believe me, it’s nothing compared to the bureaucratic insanities of our education system.

I have no complaints about any of the people involved and would like to thank them for their kind help. It’s clearly the system that’s at fault. I wonder how many people go insane, become homeless and starve to death on the streets in winter while smug bankers tut about layabouts. As far as I can see, the bureaucracy of claiming benefits is a full-time job. One that I’m not up to at the moment :(
Background to the politics of bureaucracy
I’ve used some of my ‘sabbatical’ to talk to a lot of people who are familiar with how the benefits system operates in real life.

One of the system’s many tragicomic ironies is that it is a tick box points ‘game’. The skivers and the cheats are experts. They could probably teach the unaccountable City of London a thing or two about how to defraud the nation.

The genuinely disadvantaged (whom the system was designed to protect) tend to be scrupulous. The system makes no allowance for this. It just bullies and tricks and sanctions them at every opportunity.

It is an open (and occasionally laughably denied) secret that pushy managers operate a sanctions ‘target’ quota system.

Government admits Jobcentres set targets to take away benefits

Tell us your story about benefit cuts

“I am aware that in a small number of cases, the purpose of the benchmarks had been misinterpreted and some Jobcentres Plus offices had set targets for the number of sanction referrals. These targets were immediately removed. Jobcentre Plus is clear that there is no wrong or right level of sanction referrals an office should make, and that a sanction is only applied where people have not adhered to their jobseeker obligations.”

Jobcentre Plus Unlawful Sanctions scandal row continues

Jobcentre Plus Targets To Impose Sanctions On Claimants

Jobcentre Plus staff must sanction 3 people per week, targets to save public purse,1402,621,02.html

Unlawful Sanctions

Target setting for benefit sanctions

Job Centre DWP admits targets


  1. Interesting article in "Psychology Today" for those pondering whether bureaucracy should be "tempered by assassination" (or as Boutros Boutros-Ghali, the sixth Secretary-General of the United Nations, put it: "The only way to deal with bureaucrats is with stealth and sudden violence."

    "When Bureaucracy Kills Leadership (and Your Organization)"

  2. [Extract from summary of communications with Basildon Benefit Centre in August 2011].

    “… However, it became apparent (only after several very lengthy calls, over a number of days), that the Benefit Agency’s computer database has a ‘file-marker’ on it, showing … an existing claim.

    Although it was accepted by the Benefits Agency call-centre staff that this was incorrect and, therefore, the file-marker should have been removed last year, the presence of the marker prohibited the claim being processed over the telephone. It is understood this problem is not uncommon, and affects approximately 3 to 5 calls, from would-be claimants per day - within the daily volume of calls taken by each call-centre adviser. This problem, with NOT updating the database, has also been raised weekly and at national level by the call-centres - but, to-date, no resolution has been secured…”

    * * * * *

    During one of these telephone calls the claim assessor demanded to know why I had not claimed benefits before that time.

    I started to explain the bureaucratic problems at their end and that I had been suffering from an illness over the last ten months.

    She then noticed from her records that I had suffered from the same illness prior to that time.

    “So!” she snapped, “Your statements are inconsistent! On this basis I am unable to proceed with your claim!”

    I tried to explain that my statements were not inconsistent. One bout of illness does not contradict another - and it was actually a relapse of the same illness due to the attitude of people like her.

    She didn’t want to listen, saying “I’ve made my decision”.

    I then passed the phone over to a friend who tried to explain the situation but she didn’t want to know. She put the phone down on him.

    * * * * *

    [Extract from a letter sent to Basildon Benefit Centre by my Advocate on 12th October 2011]

    “Dear Sir

    Reference number ** ******* Mr Christopher Port

    My name is *** ********, I am an Advocate and at this moment in time I am supporting Mr Port. The issue of having a Post Office account opened for his *** money to be paid into is becoming impossible to accomplish.

    Since the 12th September 2011, when I spoke to **** at your Office who assured me that an account would be set up for Mr Port, I have been in weekly contact with your Office.

    On the 23rd September the wrong address and postcode were on the application form.

    I telephoned the post office who told me that the account had to be set up by the benefit office and suggested that Mr Port may be able to use form P6166. Unfortunately this did not work.

    Mr Port then went to the Job Centre in Southend and a member of staff there went onto the system and put in the correct information.

    On the 3rd October I made a call to Job Centre Plus who were going to cancel the original application and told me that they would process a new one for Mr Port.

    On the 5th October Mr Port received yet another letter from the Post Office advising him that they still cannot open an account for him.

    I am enclosing photocopies of the letters from the Post Office and I am requesting in writing that an account for Mr Port be opened as soon as possible…”

    * * * * *

    After a follow-up telephone call by the Advocate to the Benefits Agency on the 9th November (when they confirmed that they had taken no action over the letter dated 12th October) they promised to resolve the situation immediately…

    Letter received from Post Office today (15th November):

    “Unfortunately, we cannot open a card account for you at the moment because you already have a Post Office card account and each person is only allowed one card account for their benefits/tax credits to be paid into.”

    Whose head should I smash against a brick wall? Mine or theirs?