A new report from a coalition of major UK Churches has revealed that around 100,000 children were affected by benefit sanctions in 2013/14.
It also shows that in the same period a total of nearly 7 million weeks of sanctions were handed out to benefit claimants.
The new data, obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, will feature in this evening’s episode of Channel 4’s Dispatches, entitled ‘Britain’s Benefits Crackdown’.
The report, entitled Time to Rethink Benefit Sanctions, is published today by the Baptist Union of Great Britain, Church Action on Poverty, the Church in Wales, the Church of Scotland, the Methodist Church and the United Reformed Church. It contains new data on the severity and length of sanctions under Welfare Reform, and on how sanctions affect vulnerable groups such as children and those with mental health problems.
It features the stories of people like James (not his real name) who have had their benefits sanctioned:
“During the first three weeks of my sanction I continued to look for work as I was required to. By the fourth week however I was exhausted, unwell and no longer had it in me. I was not eating as I had no food and was losing a lot of weight. I told the Jobcentre I was unwell through not eating but was sanctioned for another three months for not looking for work properly.”
“Those who already have the most difficult lives are those most likely to be sanctioned,” said Paul Morrison, Public Issues Policy Adviser for the Methodist Church and one of the authors of the report.
“Sanctions impact disproportionately on young people, care leavers, homeless people, single parents, the mentally ill and those with long term illness. This system causes problems for the very people that most need help.
“But sanctions don’t just have a financial impact. The people we’ve spoken to have told us of the shame, demoralisation and loss of self-worth caused by this system.
“As Christians we believe that everyone is loved, valued and made in the image of God, and we have a responsibility to challenge any structure or system that undermines that dignity.”
The Churches are calling for a full and independent review of the regime and for urgent reform of the hardship payments system to avoid the deliberate imposition of hunger.
In the meantime, they are urging the Government to suspend all sanctions against families with children and those suffering from mental health problems. Most importantly, they say, there needs to be a change of culture, from one of enforcement and punishment to one of assistance and support.
“If you commit a crime, no criminal court in the UK is allowed to make you go hungry as a punishment,” added Niall Cooper, Director of Church Action on Poverty.
“But if you’re late for an appointment at the Jobcentre, they can remove all your income and leave you unable to feed you or your family for weeks at a time.
“Most people in this country would be shocked if they knew that far from providing a safety net, the benefit sanctions policy is currently making thousands of people destitute.
“This policy must be reviewed urgently.”
The Archbishop of Wales, Dr Barry Morgan, said:
“The findings of this report are disturbing.
“It exposes a system that is harsh in the extreme, penalising the most vulnerable of claimants by the withdrawal of benefits for weeks at a time.
“Most worryingly, it appears from DWP guidance, quoted in the report, that deprivation and hunger are knowingly being used as a punishment for quite trivial breaches of benefit conditions.
“Employers would not be allowed to stop someone’s wages for a month the first time they were 10 minutes late for an appointment, but this is the kind of sanction that is being imposed on some of the most vulnerable people in our society, including those with mental and physical health problems.
“We are concerned that the problem may be even worse in Wales, recognising the higher levels of poverty in this country. No Welsh data, however, is included in the report because despite submitting a Freedom of Information request to the DWP three months ago, we are still waiting for a reply.
“There is supposed to be a 20-day turnaround period for Freedom of Information requests. We are pursuing this.”
Source – Welfare Weekly, 02 Mar 2015
The House of Bishops of the Church of England have told Christians they have a duty to vote in the general election and condemned the demonising of benefits claimants and the targeting of the least well off for cuts.
In a 52 page letter to the people and parishes of the Church of England published today, the Bishops say
“Unless we exercise the democratic rights that our ancestors struggled for, we will share responsibility for the failures of the political classes. It is the duty of every Christian adult to vote, even though it may have to be a vote for something less than a vision that inspires us.”
In a clear attack on the language used by politicians and the media about benefits claimants, they add that:
“It is particularly counter-productive to denigrate those who are in need, because this undermines the wider social instinct to support one another in the community. For instance, when those who rely on social security payments are all described in terms that imply they are undeserving, dependent, and ought to be self-sufficient, it deters others from offering the informal, neighbourly support which could ease some of the burden of welfare on the state.”
The Bishops also point out that austerity has not been experienced equally by all:
“It has been widely observed that the greatest burdens of austerity have not been born by those with the broadest shoulders – that is, those who enjoy a wide buffer zone before they fall into real need. Those whose margin of material security was always narrow have not been adequately protected from the impact of recession.”
Source – Benefits & Work, 17 Feb 2015
North East Christians are calling for an end to “political short-termism” and urge the next Government to take issues like homelessness and food poverty seriously.
A new poll by Church Action on Poverty also reveals practising Christians are frustrated by church leaders’ failure to challenge politicians.
The poll, carried out by ComRes, highlights a deep dissatisfaction with Government among the region’s congregations.
- Eight in ten (82%) Christians would vote for a party with a positive long-term vision for society;
- Nine in ten (90%) think politicians are more interested in short-term political concerns;
- 74% believe churches and church leaders don’t talk enough in public about issues like food poverty, homelessness and tax avoidance;
- Four in five (85%) say that churches and church leaders do not effectively challenge politicians to communicate a long-term positive vision for society.
Minister Simon Lawton, of Newcastle’s Elim Pentecostal Church, said:
“I’m not at all surprised by the results of this survey. I would imagine that most people would agree with its findings.
“I believe people long for a society where compassion, justice and love and respect for your fellow man is central.
“Naturally we all have a part to play in this. The coming election is an opportunity for all of us, especially Christians, to host hustings and interview prospective candidates in order to make an informed decision.
“We can make a difference and we have a responsibility to make our vote count locally.”
The charity Churches Together is now calling on church-goers to challenge the region’s would-be MPs during hustings it will organise in the run-up to the General Election to coincide with its Vision 2020 of the Good Society report.
It comes ahead of Church Action on Poverty Sunday, this weekend as the charity calls for politicians to put forward a vision for a better society and to reject negative campaigning.
Niall Cooper, director of Church Action on Poverty, said:
“As the Bible says ‘Without a vision, the people perish.’
“Christians are crying out for politicians to share a positive long-term vision for society – but politicians and political parties are currently failing to do so.
“But today’s poll is also a challenge to the churches to speak publicly about our own vision of a good society.
“By organising local hustings events, we can challenge those who want to represent us in Parliament to go beyond the usual political short-termism and engage in a positive debate about the kind of society they – and we – want to live in by the year 2020.”
Bob Fyffe, general secretary of Churches Together, added:
“The emphasis church-goers so often want is a shared vision of the Common Good. How do we build long-term sustainable communities where justice and compassion are at the centre of all that we do?
“It is having a vision for those who are on the margins and feel that there is no one there for them.
“How do we build local communities where people of faith and those of no faith can share common values and live in harmony, where everyone has a proper sense of belonging?
“Taking part in the democratic process is of fundamental importance to being a good citizen. The church hustings allow people to come together and make informed decisions which are central to their lives and prosperity.”
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 13 Feb 2015