A man who has battled a debilitating illness for more than 20 years says he has gone through “hell” after he was declared fit for work and his benefits were stopped.
Cash-strapped Colin Orton, who was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease at the age of 14, was told by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) six months ago that his employment support allowance would be halted, even though he says he is not well enough to return to work.
The former labourer – who takes medication every day and requires injections every eight weeks – has submitted sick notes from his doctor but has been told he is fit and able for a return to work.
He is now in the process of appealing against the decision.
Crohn’s disease is a long-term condition that causes inflammation of the lining of the digestive system.
The 35-year-old, who lives in Lincoln Road, South Shields, with mother Margaret Harwood, 63, said;
“I went for an assessment with the DWP six months ago, and they said I am able to go back to work. My benefits were then stopped.
“I was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease when I was 14 but it has become progressively worse over the last two years. I suffer from stomach pains, and am very weak and have no strength.
“I take immune suppressants every day and require a B12 injection every eight weeks. I would love to be fit and healthy and able to go back to work, but that’s not the case.
“My mum is having to spend her money supporting me.”
“Before she was paid, we were scraping through the cupboards just to have something to eat for tea. The stress of the situation has made me feel even worse. I just feel it’s wrong.
“I used to work as a skilled labourer, but it is physical work that I can’t do now. I don’t know where to turn.”
A DWP spokesman said:
“The work capability assessment is designed to look at what work someone can do with the right support – rather than just writing people off on sickness benefits as happened in the past.
“The decision on whether someone is well enough to work is taken following a thorough independent assessment, and after consideration of all the supporting medical evidence from the claimant’s GP or medical specialist.
“Anyone who is found to be fit for work and then experiences a significant change in their health condition may be able to make or continue a claim for employment support allowance.”
> What the DWP spokesperson wont say, won’t even admit, is that even if he was super-fit, there are still not enough jobs to go round. People suffering from ill-health are now being treated like malfunctioning robots, when it’s the whole system that’s broken.
Source – Shields Gazette, 02 Feb 2015
A man who stole to eat after his benefits were stopped has been jailed.
Ian Mulholland admitted stealing three packets of casserole steak from Sainsbury’s when he appeared at Newton Aycliffe Magistrates Court .
The court heard he stole the meat to eat after changes to his benefits left him hungry.
The 43-year-old drug user, who faces amputation of his legs, apparently spent nine weeks without money when attempting to change benefits to reflect his disability.
He missed out on payments after failing to attend appointments.
Ben Pegman, mitigating, said Mulholland was unable to afford food and, because of his ulcerated legs, was unable to get to the local foodbank.
He added that the recent offending was as a result of his situation.
“He is free of heroin and in receipt of methadone but this is not offending to top that up but offending to eat.”
Mulholland, of Borough Road, Darlington, pleaded guilty to stealing the food, worth £12.60, and was sentenced to six weeks in prison.
A suspended prison sentence imposed for a previous offence was also activated, meaning he must spend 14 weeks behind bars.
Major Bradshaw is now calling for the abolishment of benefit sanctioning which sees claimants’ benefits reduced or stopped entirely if they are suspected of non-compliance.
Predicting a Dickensian future, he said:
“Sanctioning is not only forcing people into greater poverty, it is forcing people to take desperate action such as stealing food.
“Around 70 per cent of the 50 to 58 people we help at our Friday night emergency foodbank have been sanctioned – many of them over 50 years of age and all of them desperate.”
Source – Northern Echo, 22 Oct 2014
Guardian readers on benefit sanctions
Our story on David Clapson, who died after his benefits were stopped, prompted a deluge of stories from Guardian readers struggling with the benefit payment sanctions regime.
Earlier this week, we published an article highlighting the case of David Clapson, who died last year with an empty stomach and just £3.44 in his bank account after his benefits had been stopped. An online petition set up by Clapson’s sister, which calls for an inquiry into the benefits regime in the wake of Clapson’s death, has gathered 68,000 signatures.
The article also reported on the wider debate around the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP)’s sanctions regime, seen by charities and welfare advice organisations as being excessively draconian, particularly since a new, tougher regime was introduced by the coalition in October 2012. Last year, 871,000 people in the UK were sanctioned, losing some or all of their benefit payments for a minimum of three weeks, rising to three years in exceptional cases.
The article received over 2,000 comments, including accounts from readers who have been sanctioned by the DWP. Below are a selection of their stories
“Staff make you run around in circles”
With hardship payments, it isn’t just that people don’t know, but even when you do know they exist, staff make you run around in circles to get them.
I was sanctioned over Christmas 2013 for 4 weeks. The way DWP did it in my case was my claim was suspended for two weeks (the time they said it took to come to a decision on the sanction) and sanctioned for a further two weeks. During the suspension Jobcentre staff told me I could not apply for hardship, although after a quite tense conversation a staff member gave me the forms. I was told I could not apply until I was actually sanctioned. However, nobody would tell me when that happened despite phoning them every day.
It took me so long to find out if I had been sanctioned that when I eventually was told I could claim, I was turned down because DWP said I was not now in hardship because my JSA had been reinstated.
It’s also worth mentioning letters.
The letters from DWP are sent second class and in my case, take 6-10 working days to arrive. In one example Jobcentre advisers sent me on a one-day course that started on the same day as the letter arrived. It was only by sheer luck that I caught the postman early and was able to attend. The letter was dated eight days before I received it, so as far as my adviser was concerned if I hadn’t turned up it would have been my fault.
From what I am told from other claimants the exact same thing happens to them with some saying they have missed appointments because letters arrive so late. I have heard that too many times for it to be an excuse.
“It is very counterproductive with regards to actually finding work”
I have just been sanctioned for 3 weeks for missing an appointment. Although they say missing, I was actually there, but five minutes late. You get a letter asking you to explain your reasons: obviously mine wasn’t a good enough one so I got sanctioned.
Ironically the past few days I have spent far less time actually looking for work, as I am frantically calling up energy suppliers and those I have payment plans with , asking if I can delay payment for a month. As my housing benefit only covers 60% of my rent (no property in the area can be paid in full with housing benefit alone, or even up to 70%), much of my jobseekers’ allowance is used to pay that off.
It is very counterproductive with regards to actually finding work, and just places those living on their own in further debt.
“For the crime of being unemployed, you can be sentenced to 780hrs of work punishment”
Around two years ago, when the new harsher sanctions were announced, I read in a local paper of a court case involving grievous bodily harm. For repeatedly sticking a glass in someone’s face, a man was fined £200 and given a community service order of 100 hours. For the crime of being 10 minutes late for an appointment, you can be fined £1,000+. For the crime of being unemployed, you can be sentenced to 780hrs of work punishment. Welcome to ToryWorld.
“When I saw what was happening, I was horrified”
I worked in advice for five years on the frontline, dealing with people who were claiming benefits and helping people to move forwards. In all that time I never had a single person come to me about sanctioning until after this government was elected. When I saw what was happening, I was horrified because the Tories also removed a lot of the free schemes to help people, while sanctioning them. The Conservatives also prioritised giving advice contracts to private companies, over FE, community and charity organisations, and the system became fake target- and profit-driven over actual results.
Labour were tough too, but they put in place a lot of support and free training and access to education.
“My nephew was initially too proud to tell anyone what had happened”
My nephew got sanctioned for turning up seven minutes early for his appointment. He was, apparently, supposed to turn up 15 minutes early, but he hadn’t understood that. He tried arguing with them, pointing out that he was still easily in time for his appointment, but they called the heavies over and made him leave. He’s got a wife and child, and none of us knew a hardship payment even existed, so the rest of the family just had to stump up cash for the next month to make sure they were OK. My nephew was initially too proud to tell anyone what had happened, we only found out when my mum found his wife crying. They had been trying to live without food, in order to feed their child with what little was left in the house.
“People with more money than most people can dream of, making up rules to take those with nothing into minus nothing”
A friend of mine was sanctioned last year. She had applied for everything she could and was one job short of her weekly quota. Shamefully, if the government hadn’t moved the goalposts on retirement age she wouldn’t even have been searching for work.
Sanctioning never works – people with more money than most people can dream of, making up rules to take those with nothing into minus nothing. I don’t for one moment believe the DWP’s talking head that says people are informed that they are being sanctioned. Everything I have read points the other way.
Central government, with its city blinkers on, has no idea how expensive it is to get to one of the ever diminishing jobcentres. If you live in a rural location, the bus fares are exorbitant.
I also have never understood forcing people to apply for jobs they have no experience or hope of getting. It is demoralising for them and makes the search all the more difficult.
“There’s some good people in the system”
[Having been threatened with sanctions twice] the only advice I can give is as soon as your adviser informs you that your claim will be looked at, ask what the process is, and before leaving the jobcentre, go to to the front desk and pick up a hardship payment form. Assume you’ll be sanctioned and ring up before the letter arrives to confirm it, ask for a mandatory reconsideration and explain why you think it’s unfair. Someone called me back the next day and overturned it. There’s some good people in the system. If the worst happens, make sure your hardship form is completed and filled in ASAP and hand it in to the jobcentre, so you get at least some money to live on. It’s a percentage of what you’d normally get and it may take two to three weeks, but at least you’ll have something at some point. Also ask about being referred to a foodbank in the meantime
“We got him a lift to the hospital pronto and he came back voluntarily”
Last year, I taught a course where some learners were mandated to attend. One guy was clearly not happy with the ground rule of turning mobile phones off so I took him aside to talk to him. Turned out that his son was having surgery that day and the jobcentre had refused him permission to attend the course on a later date so that he could be with his son while he was put under and brought round. He wanted to keep his phone on in case there was news from the hospital. Needless to say, the official record shows that he attended the course, which he did because we got him a lift to the hospital pronto and he came back voluntarily to do the course the following week.
“The thought of JSA sanctions makes my stress go through the roof”
I’m going on to jobseeker’s allowance soon and I’m very scared of sanctions. I’ve been on employment support allowance and my medical issues have been improving. I’m really happy about this, looking forward to being classified as “normal” again, looking forward to hopefully finding work.
Stress has been a problem for me, in addition to other physical medical issues and just the thought of JSA sanctions makes my stress go through the roof. I know how easily it can happen. I phoned up the jobcentre this year, wanting to know when my next ESA appointment was. I was told it had been that morning. But I’d never received the letter. The woman I spoke to was pleasant and believed me that I’d never got the letter but said that if I’d been on JSA instead of ESA, I would have been sanctioned.
“He’s applied for 500+ jobs and has had not a sniff”
In a day centre now. Fifteen people in now. At least half of them have been sanctioned in the past two years. It’s crazy. Guys come in for some grub who are on government-sponsored back-to-work schemes. Steve has been spending four hours a day, three days a week filling in application forms for jobs. For 18 months. He’s applied for 500+ and has had not a sniff. He’s been sanctioned. Lorna missed an appointment – removed from JSA, her benefits cancelled. She is 18 years old, both parents dead and a 16-year-old brother in tow. Mark: three heart attacks, a couple of strokes, a big drink problem, yet expected to be able to work, apply for work or face penury.
“Then started the Kafkaesque battle with the system”
The jobcentre has always been an incompetent joke. When I was unemployed they wanted to sanction me for missing an appointment. Fair enough, except the jobcentre had told me to stay at home while an investigator came to my house.
They thought I had some hidden bank account, this turned out to be complete rubbish, but they stopped my payments anyway for missing my signing on. Then started the Kafkaesque battle with the system. The department that told me stay at home – despite me telling them I was signing on at that time – refused to contact my jobcentre to explain the situation.
I tried ringing the jobcentre, but of course you can only contact the national call centre, who gave me the wrong number. I ended up talking to a rather confused shop assistant. Eventually got through, was told to come in that afternoon.
Eventually, they gave in after I argued with them face-to-face. Since I was polite, refused to shout, swear or get violent, just sat there in a kind of defiant middle-class way, the poor sod at the jobcentre couldn’t find an excuse to get rid of me and simply gave in.
“Even the sight of a CV would give me an anxiety attack”
I was once sanctioned for attending a job interview and moving my signing to another day. I didn’t bother appealing because I got the job. Not long after, the job came to an end unexpectedly. A few months down the line, I was sanctioned for turning up on my signing day, rather than for an inexplicable appointment the day before, this time for much longer because of the previous sanction never having been appealed.
I fell into depression. I felt persecuted and unable to make sense of the world. My ability to job search suffered because even the sight of a CV would give me an anxiety attack. To try and appease the Jobcentre and to gain free bus travel out of my village, I asked them to put me on an unpaid work placement. Through people I met there, I managed to get a job (through my own initiative).
I have now been in that job one year next month, but some of the financial issues caused by my sanctions followed me for months and if it weren’t for my family and friends I’m not even sure I would be here today.
“To have the threat of sanctions hanging over you for so long is frightening”
Not entirely true that you aren’t told about sanctions, at least I was in my current situation. Four months ago due to a mix up I missed a Friday appointment. I managed to contact direct the Jobcentre on the Monday, saw my advisor an hour later and we sent a statement to DWP although he did say that I could be sanctioned for up to four weeks. What was worrying was that it took the DWP five weeks to write to me saying they accepted my explanation. To have the threat of sanctions hanging over you for so long is frightening.
These sanctions are designed to scare people and save the Government money and will get harsher as Universal Credit is introduced. I have been told by my advisor that the new rules are four weeks sanction for a first “offfence”, two months for a 2nd and six months for a 3rd with no right of appeal. Also under the new rules you will have to have internet access to even claim Universal Credit.
“Even getting a CV printed becomes a monumental task if you have absolutely no resources”
In 2011 I was starting my life over, again, with what little I could carry, again. Complicated by an intensified bout of depression, bereavement and other things. Having gone from the upper end of the games industry to washing cars was bracing, but I managed for a few months and even enjoyed it. But I felt the itch and left that job to try and pursue a few projects which had been forming in my mind during this time.
Unfortunately, they didn’t work out. As I lost steadily more ground I wound up entirely homeless, between periods of decorating guest houses in exchange for lodging.
When I came to sign on, I found it particularly difficult during 2012, as the rules were changing almost fortnightly.
As an example, job search criteria changed regularly, adding to the list of punishable offences. Keeping meeting appointments became difficult as their frequency proliferated, although these meetings served no purpose and the topics discussed seemed arbitrary from session to session. Living out of a borrowed rucksack was difficult, you have to carry it every where you go. Often, to find somewhere I could sleep without being punched or kicked awake, I’d walk miles outside the city and have miles to walk back in the morning in order to attend a purposeless meeting the next day. Being without food or sleep, often for several days at a time is disorienting. Some periods I had maybe a few hours sleep in the space of two weeks. Often the only food I could find was windfall, but I had already learned where the fruit trees were within a wide radius around the city. Which doesn’t help before season.
My first sanction came when I missed an appointment because I’d mistakenly tucked the notification letter in the bottom of my rucksack. Everything had to be meticulously packed, rolled up, jammed in precisely, in order to fit, and unpacking it is no small pain in the ass, especially if it’s cold, wet and raining. But generally I didn’t know date it was anyway. So I took to frequently asking people what day it was to be sure I wouldn’t miss a meeting.
But all of that was after I’d spent the best part of a year existing without signing on, because I felt like a scrounger, but also without work. I’ll be frank, eventually I was too despairing to give a shit. After constant petty fogging rule changes and pointless obligatory activities. Now I’d have to sign on until the last judgement, jumping through all the hoops, before I’d be be eligible for any kind of payment.
Atos recently disqualified me too, I’d been claiming Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) after my doctor diagnosed depression, so I am entirely out of the system, and ineligible for benefits.
There are no longer any phones in the job centre. If you don’t have phone credit, several services – which you have to be pushy to even discover – require non-free phone numbers. Even if the most vulnerable can find out what they need to know, and what is required of them, they can’t always make the call. Especially if too confused, weakened or despairing to make use of the Citizens Advice Bureau.
The increasing load of obligations actually gets in the way of finding work. The help aspects have been dramatically scaled back: clothing allowance for interviews, travel allowance etc. Even getting a CV printed becomes a monumental task if you have absolutely no resources, and the job centre doesn’t even provide for that.
If the government were serious about helping people back to work, there are dozens of small, relatively cost effective things they could do to help the most vulnerable. But that isn’t the purpose of job centres. The truth is, they exist to ration access to benefits, despite the best efforts of staff.
Source – Guardian, 05 Aug 2014