A Scottish Unemployed Workers Network (SUWN) activist, Tony Cox, went on trial on October 14th at Forfar Sheriff Court. The 51 year-old welfare rights activist and college lecturer pleaded not guilty to three offences allegedly committed when representing a vulnerable, dyslexic woman at Arbroath Jobcentre on January 29th, renegotiating her commitment so she didn’t have to use the computer-based Universal Jobmatch. Using the government’s job website - which is notorious for jobs that don’t exist or are out of date – is not compulsory, and the Jobcentre manager was wrong to claim that all jobseekers had to sign onto it.
Tony was accused of threatening behaviour - allegedly shouting and swearing, in reality wagging his finger - acting in an intimidating manner and refusing to leave the building when requested to do so, refusing to give his address, date of birth, place of birth and nationality when asked to do so by two police officers, and resisting or hindering the officers in the execution of their duty.
A SUWN spokesman said: “Welfare rights activists from across Scotland converged on Forfar to protest against the arrest of Tony Cox. This case highlights the climate of fear that is evident within many Jobcentres. It is not only benefit claimants that are treated with contempt. Welfare advisors are being subjected to bullying and intimidation. The SUWN will resist all attempts to curb the rights of welfare and citizen advocates to represent the unemployed. Advocacy is not a crime.”
Dave Coull from Radical Independence (Angus and Mearns) added: “Tony’s case represents an attack on the right of people to have a friend or advocate with them in difficult meetings with authority. That has huge implications for all of us.”
Writing in The National newspaper, Sarah Glynn, an activist with the SUWN, called for a new approach: “The devolution of employability support to Scotland presents our government with an opportunity and a challenge. As they hear evidence of the punitive system that is the current Work Programme, we hope they will realise this is not a case of a system that is badly run, but of an approach that is fundamentally misguided.”
SNP MSP Christina McKelvie has described the DWP's welfare-to-work programme as “class warfare against the unemployed.”
At the Sheriff Court on October 14th Tony’s lawyer demolished evidence from three Department of Work & Pensions (DWP) witnesses and the Procurator Fiscal was forced to drop the charge of wagging his finger/threatening behaviour. The case concerning the other two charges was heard on the 18th November. Tony was fined £200 on the charge of refusing to supply personal details to the police officers. He was admonished on the charge of hindering the officers. The Sheriff described both charges as being “very much at the lower end of the scale”.
On the 19th October, partially-sighted disability activist and SUWN advocate, Andrew Kirk, was ejected from Dundee Jobcentre by security staff. Andrew had been approached by a jobseeker who was facing a possible sanction for failing to turn up at a DWP appointment. The intimidation continues.
Update: August 2016
The Crown versus welfare activism - classic class injustice. https://scottishunemployedworkers.net/
Dr Tony Cox was arrested for 'breach of the peace' when trying to accompany a vulnerable claimant to her Work Capability Assessment, despite the woman’s statements in Tony’s defence. Tony was giving his time to help someone through the thicket of punitive government bureaucracy.
Found guilty, on July 21st 2016, he was sentenced to serve a 150 hour community payback (sic) order..