This article was written by Patrick Wintour, political editor, for The Guardian on Thursday 8th January 2015
Pleas to the government to suspend its benefit sanctions regime pending a fundamental review of its impact – especially on the mentally ill and disabled – were made at the first session of a broad inquiry by the Department of Work and Pensions Select Committee.
In a two-and-half hour session involving academics, food banks administrators, disabled groups and employment service professionals, the select committee repeatedly heard the sanctions regime had changed over the last two years, creating a punitive culture of fear – especially amongst the disabled.
Mathew Oakley, the independent reviewer for sanctions appointed by the DWP did not join in their fiercest criticism of the system but said it would be wise for the government to undertake a general stock-take of the system in view of the extent to which it has changed over the past two parliaments.
> Matthew Oakley is the guy who in 2011 was behind a Policy Exchange thinktank report titled: Something For Nothing : Reinstating Conditionality For Jobseekers, which called for a new points based system for Jobseekers Allowance that recognises different ‘job-search’ activities that claimants are required to carry out each week.
‘Attending a job interview’, which is currently not a recognised job seeking activity, would earn a greater number of points than ‘putting together a CV’ or ‘seeking information about a job’.
Claimants would have to reach a specific number of points each week to receive their benefits. If they failed to reach the minimum target benefits would be withheld.
Or sanctioned in other words. So no prizes for guessing which side of the fence he’s on…
He was one of many witnesses that said the government lacked systematic information on what happened to jobseeker’s allowance claimants if they are sanctioned including whether they went into work, the black economy or instead disengaged, leading to the growing gap between the number unemployed and the numbers claiming JSA.
Dr David Webster, visiting professor of Glasgow University, claimed the system had a gradually parallel secret penal system – a view dismissed by one Tory committee member as ‘completely absurd and bizarre’. Webster said the DWP may now be saving as much as £275m a year due to claimants being stopped.
Tony Wilson, the Centre for Social and Economic Inclusion, said sanctions “are running so far ahead of what works we should suspend the applications of sanctions unless we have a much clearer idea of what works and the impact of sanctions”.
Paul Farmer, the chief executive officer of mental health charity Mind said sanctions amongst those on employment support allowance has risen from 1,700 a month to 4,800 a month, adding there had been a disproportionate impact on people on mental health.
He claimed 60% of those on ESA have a mental health problem, yet in only 8% of cases were GPs being contacted as required in guidance to seek their views on the pressing ahead with sanctions.
Chris Mould, the chairman of the Trussell Trust, one of the chief organisers of food banks in the UK, said there had been a radical change in the way very disproportionate decisions were being taken since the latter part of 2012 , adding it was clear some job centres were being more punitive than others. He said in too many cases it takes too long for a claimant to secure redress if they have had their benefit withdrawn.
Kirsty McHugh, the chief executive of Employment Related Services Association, the representative body for the employment support sector, also called for an overhaul including the introduction of an “early warning” system which could be used at first offence rather than imposing a sanction. She added frontline employment providers of the work programme should be given more discretion about when they should report jobseekers to Jobcentre Plus for potential sanctioning.
She also called for greater clarity across the system about which jobseekers are classed as “vulnerable” and should be exempt from sanctions.
McHugh said “For a minority of people, receiving a sanction can be the wake up call they need to help them move into work. However, for the vast majority of jobseekers, sanctions are more likely to hinder their journey into employment.”
> Yeah… that’s what we’ve been telling you for the past few years. So nice you’re catching up, but for some people its all too late.
Source – Welfare Weekly, 08 Jan 2015
Former Tory MP Edwina Currie, has once again caused fury after criticising the work of food banks, arguing that they end up making people poorer and put local shops out of business.
Writing for The Spectator’s Coffee House blog, she claims that the Trussell Trust is “having a field day”, as they do they not own a “single food bank” preferring to “merely advise” other organisations – the Trussell Trust operates over 400 food banks nationwide – citing the “170 per cent increase in people using food banks” in the previous 12 months.
Edwina Currie argues that “anyone with their wits about them can grasp” that the more food banks there are supplying free food, the more “takers” they will have queuing at the door.
> After all, that’s the world as it appears to Tory MPs (even ex- ones). Grab anything that’s going – expenses anyone ? Here, take as much as you can carry…
In addition, she claims that as the use of food banks is equated to a rise in poverty, “well-meaning groups” are using the data as a stick to “beat the government” with. However, in their bid to “do something to help” they “may be perpetuating the problems that brought people to their doorstep in the first place”.
> Presumably by “ perpetuating the problems that brought people to their doorstep in the first place” she means by helping people to stay alive. If they were allowed to starve to death, they wouldn’t need food, would they ?
In her opinion there are three categories of people who use food banks:
1. People with long-term issues, such as addiction, alcoholism and mental illness
This category will struggle whether there was prosperity or recession she says, adding that services for them are frequently atrocious, with long waiting lists . Rather than acknowledge that it may be NHS funding that is the problem, she blames Councils saying she “despairs” when they divert money from health programmes to food banks, adding that it is a “dereliction of duty”. Using Manchester as an example, she say’s the £240,000 they have spent on food banks would be better spent on addiction clinics.
2. People with short-term problems, such as debt, or late benefit payments
Mrs Currie argues that despite food bank operators claiming it is for “emergencies only”, they continually help the “same faces” coming to claim their “free tin of soup”. She cites how Canada made the same claim “over 25 years ago” and that there is now a lot of “soul-searching about their role in maintaining people in a hand-to-mouth existence instead of confronting failure and helping them change course”.
> Perhaps those “same faces” are people who’ve been given long term sanctions as a reult of government policy ?
3. People who are not poor
Once more, Mrs Currie claims “benefits can be substantial”, arguing that this category of people make a deliberate choice to stay on benefits in order to get the “free food”.
> Really ? These will presumably be the same people who have wide-screen TV’s, foreign holidays and keep the pub trade going almost single-handidly. Strangely, I’ve never actually met one of them in real life…I’d love to find out their secrets 🙂 File under : urban myth, I think.
For Mrs Currie, the Government should “tackle this perverse incentive”. However this is easier said than done as the “kindly” food bank operators rarely have resources to visit their users homes. She believes – like herself – they would be “incensed” at the “well-fed dogs, the obligatory wide-screen TVs (aha !), the satellite dishes, the manicures and mobiles – and the car parked outside” adding “Desperate? No, not all of them”.
> So she’s advocating a means test ? No free food until you’ve sold everything you own.
For her, food banks and the free food they give, are supporting a “black economy” and pauperising those they seek to help, comparing their actions with that of giving money to ‘homeless’ beggars on the streets of London; saying it encourages “more of what it seeks to relieve”. Furthermore, she continues by saying food banks are having a “pernicious effect” on the local economy. She claims the reason why some Liverpool streets – where she grew up – have betting shops and pawnbrokers only, is because there is no need for a food store “if enough local residents can get their groceries for nothing. Adding that the absence or indeed closure of a food store “affects everyone, including those who don’t qualify for the food bank”.
These latest controversial comments come just one week after Trussell Trust Foodbank Network manager for Northern England – Anne Danks, “condemned” Mrs Currie’s claims that families were using food banks as they spent their cash on “tattoos and big screen televisions instead of food”.
She added: “Edwina Currie’s comments are just a ridiculous stereotyping of people who come to the food bank and of the people who live in poverty, and things like the Benefits Street programme reinforce the attitude of people like Edwina Currie who actually have no idea of what food banks do. It’s my job to help people realise food banks are not places used by ‘wasters’ and ‘scroungers’. The reality is our users are simply people who don’t earn enough because food and fuel prices have skyrocketed.”
Labour MP for Stoke-on-Trent South, Rob Flello said he was ‘incensed’ following a comment by Edwina Currie that she could not see how emergency food aid would provide a long-term solution.
Rob Flello said: “Mrs Currie’s remarks are outrageous. I find it astonishing that a former health minister who claims to have her finger on the pulse should express such ill-informed views that are completely divorced from reality”.
He added: “I invite Mrs Currie to spend a day with me in the Potteries talking to people who run and use food banks. Only then may she realise how out of touch she really is.”
> Another attempt to put the blame for poverty squarely on the poor, unemployment on the unemployed, disability on the disabled… it’s amazing that anyone still falls for this nonsense.
Source – Welfare News Service 29 Jan 2014