This articlewas written by Randeep Ramesh, social affairs editor, for The Guardian on Wednesday 12th November 2014
A man who applied for more than 60 jobs in a fortnight while protesting against “draconian and demeaning” government policies has been sanctioned by his local jobcentre – for not searching for “broader” employment.
Peter Styles, a copywriter and public relations executive who has been unemployed for a year, says he writes up to 15 job applications a day – even applying at the request of jobcentre staff to be a “personal shopper” and “grocery colleague” at local supermarkets.
However, he said his mistake was to have “voiced my opposition to government policies which I thought were unhelpful and meant to keep you down … I have a good work record and was really trying hard. But the process is patronising and staff can be unhelpful”.
Last week Styles was sanctioned and forced to sign on every day instead of every fortnight, a “humiliating process where you often have to wait alone until staff can see you”.
“There’s no doubt that there was bad feeling between staff and me. But I had not been rude until last Friday. Daily signing on is totally counterproductive and very stressful.”
Officials say that “special action” was taken over Styles because he had not provided evidence that he was seeking jobs and that he was seen from behind a screen because he had become “volatile”.
The communications specialist put his skills to use – publicising his experience in a blog that has gone viral; registering more than 9,000 hits, over 1,000 Facebook shares and hundreds of messages of support.
The social media onslaught has concerned officials who say that staff named in his blog might mean they would have to be shifted to other offices as they may be targeted by anti-austerity campaigners. There are moves to get Styles to remove the blog entirely.
The pressure is taking its toll. Styles says he “has been signed off by the doctor for a month, and consequently have had to end my claim for jobseeker’s allowance. Currently I have no means of support whatsoever and feel in a strange limbo-like position.”
With not even the £70-a-week dole money, debts are piling up. Styles says he is “thousands in debt” and only getting by with the help of friends. In response to his complaint, the Department of Work and Pensions wrote to Styles apologising for not “seeing him on time”.
The jobcentre wrote back saying “The ‘draconian’ measures … are part of government policy … I have looked at the complaint that you have made and can assure you that we have correctly applied the policy in your case. [There] is no appeals process for policy issues.”
> ‘draconian’ measures … are part of government policy’ … yeah, we already figured that. Nice to have it confirmed officially, though.
Source – Welfare Weekly, 13 Nov 2014
A hospital trust’s decision to fine patient transport ambulances £70 if they spend longer than 20 minutes unloading patients has been criticised by a health union.
It followed the decision by bosses at the Freeman Hospital in Newcastle to extend parking restrictions around its main entrance to include patient transport vehicles operated by the North East Ambulance Service.
The NEAS declined to comment about the move by hospital bosses, but Joel Byers, NEAS branch secretary for Unison, said the decision to extend £70 fines to NHS ambulances unloading patients was “a bit draconian.”
Mr Byers said:
“You can’t just drop patients off in reception you have to take them to where they are going and that could be a ward at the furthest point from the entrance. Allowing 20 minutes to do this is not appropriate.”
The Unison official and staff side secretary added:
“If patients were able to walk or get in on their own it wouldn’t be an issue, but many need to be helped to get to where they are going.”
Mr Byers said it looked as if the Newcastle Hospitals Trust was seeking to fine people for doing their job.
“It’s a stressful enough job to start with without being pressured and worried about going over the 20 minutes. Aren’t we all supposed to be in the same Health Service?”
“Other vehicles including general public, staff, commercial suppliers and non-urgent passenger carrying, including taxis and ‘personnel carriers’ which may involve patient transport, are expected to respect the need for continuous traffic flow in this area, albeit some tend to park up when there are nearby designated patient transport holding bays that can be utilised as and when the need arises.
“North East Ambulance Service staff who utilise ‘personnel carriers’ and other ‘non-urgent’ forms of vehicles are not excluded from the restriction which is to achieve continuous traffic flow and safety as the overriding consideration. Simply to park up in restricted areas is unacceptable hence the risk of a parking charge notice.”
Source – Northern Echo, 09 Nov 2014
This article was written by Tracy McVeigh, for The Observer on Saturday 30th August 2014
Poverty is forcing people to have dangerously poor diets and is leading to the return of rickets and gout – diseases of the Victorian age that affect bones and joints – according the UK Faculty of Public Health.
Doctors and hospitals are seeing a rise in children suffering from ailments caused by poor diet and the faculty has linked the trend to people’s inability to afford quality food. Latest figures show there has been a 19% increase in people hospitalised in England and Wales for malnutrition over the past 12 months but experts say this is only the extreme end.
Dr John Middleton, from the FPH, said the calls would come in the faculty’s manifesto to be published next month and warned that ill-health arising from poor diets was worsening throughout Britain “through extreme poverty and the use of food banks”.
He saidthat obesity remained the biggest problem of food poverty as families are forced into choosing cheap, processed high fat foods just to survive.
“It’s getting worse because people can’t afford good quality food,” he said.
“Malnutrition, rickets and other manifestations of extreme poor diet are becoming apparent. GPs are reporting rickets anecdotally in Manchester, the East End of London, Birmingham and the West Midlands. It is a condition we believed should have died out.
“The vitamin deficiency states of gout, malnutrition being seen in hospital admission statistics are extreme manifestations of specific dietary deficiencies or excesses, but they are markers of a national diet which is poor. Food prices up 12%, fuel prices up double-figure percentages and wages down is a toxic combination, forcing more people to eat unhealthily.”
He said many policy makers forgot the impact of rising energy prices on diet.
“That is the bit people dont really appreciate – a processed meal from a supermarket will need less feeding the meter as of course will a fast food take out. Poor people are having to pay out more of their income on food compared to the better off. There are difficult choices for people on low income.”
Carmel McConnell, founder of the Magic Breakfast charity, which provides a free breakfast to 8,500 British schoolchildren in need each morning, said teachers in the schools she worked in expected to see a dramatic decline in the health of their pupils as they return after the holidays:
“Teachers tell us they know even with free school meals it will take two to three weeks to get their kids back up to the weight they were at the end of the last school term because their families cannot afford the food during the holidays.”
McConnell and Middleton both welcome the Nick Clegg-led intiative to start universal free school meals in schools for younger children, although critics are claiming that schools, already facing a dire shortage of places, may find it difficult to accommodate when the scheme is rolled out later this week.
The UK has 3.8 million children in extreme poverty. Charities such as the Trussell Trust report growing need for food banks but say that some of the items donated can be of poor quality.
Dr Middleton said:
“If the nutritional diseases are markers of a poor diet, the food banks are markers of extreme poverty – the evidence from Trussell Trust suggests the biggest group of users are hard working poor families who have lost benefits, live on low and declining wages and or they have fallen foul of draconian benefits sanctions which propel them into acute poverty and hunger. This is a disastrous and damning indictment on current welfare policy and a shame on the nation. The food banks are providing a real and valued service staving off actual hunger – they are actually keeping people alive.”
Source – Welfare News Service, 30 Aug 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
A draconian rule which saw 3,600 Sandwell residents being forced to pay a higher rate in Council Tax has been ruled unlawful, Inside Housing has reported today.
Labour dominated Sandwell Metropolitan Borough Council, introduced a policy in April 2013 that prevented anyone who had not lived in the area for at least two years from claiming a reduction in Council Tax, regardless of whether they could afford to pay or not.
The policy affected around 3,600 local residents and was challenged by the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) on behalf of three claimants, two of which have been forced to leave the area due to inability to pay the higher charge.
One of the claimants is a victim of domestic abuse, while another has mental health issues. The third is said to be a widow.
Judge Hickinbottom said that the Council’s decision to strip local residents of their right to claim a reduction in Council Tax, and subsequent legal defense, was like trying to “make bricks without straw”.
He added that the Council had presented no viable defence or evidence and was acting unlawfully by failing to conduct a “race or gender impact of the residence requirement, at or before it adopted the scheme”.
Alison Garnham, Chief Executive of CPAG, said:
“This ruling confirms what should have been obvious to the Council from the start: it cannot be sensible or right to charge people on low incomes a higher rate of council tax simply because they are new to the area.
“If Sandwell Council had given any thought to this policy, or held a consultation it might have realised this earlier. Instead thousands of people have been threatened with arrears and some people, even those who like these claimants were originally born and bred in Sandwell, have been forced to move away.”
Source – Welfare News Service, 30 July 2014
On 16 March this year, around 112,000 people marched in Melbourne, Australia, against the policies of its government that are clearly against any principles of decency, fairness, social justice or just plain humanity.
It was one of many marches across Australia that day for the same purpose – some of the largest in the country’s history – yet you probably never heard of it. No surprise – even the Australian media chose to almost completely ignore the protest, focusing instead on the St Patrick’s Day revelries that took place the following day.
All the while, state governments are pushing through laws against protesting with penalties of up to two years’ imprisonment.
In October 2012, I was one of hundreds of thousands of people marching through London in protest against our own (excuse for a) government’s policies of victimisation and demonisation of ordinary people to smooth the way for draconian penalisation…
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The figures show that even after spending a year on the Work Programme, only 10.7% of people had gained a job which lasted at least six months. This is a fall of almost a quarter since last year’s high in April when 14% of people on the programme for a year had found a long term job – figures which were regarded as a disaster at the time. The Work Programme has been in steady decline ever since, with the percentage of people finding work overall – including those who have completed the full two years of the scheme – at a new low of just under 19%. This is down from 22.5% just six…
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Are we now getting to the point where the ConDems realise they’re unlikely to get re-elected next time, so are wrecking as much of society as they can, in the belief that Labour probably won’t rescind half of it anyway ?
Details are emerging (thanks to @refuted) of a horrifying regime planned when Universal Credit is introduced which will see emergency Hardship Payments converted into repayable loans.
These payments will be all that is available to people who have had benefits sanctioned for not meet the draconian and ever-changing conditions for claiming benefits. Claimants can face benefit sanctions for being late to an appointment, missing a meeting or failing to turn up for unpaid workfare placements. In some cases sanctions can last up to three years. Hundreds of thousands of benefit sanctions each year are now inflicted on some of the poorest people in the country by Jobcentres.
Hardship Payments, currently set at just over £40 a week for unemployed…
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The shocking extent of the number of sick and disabled benefit claimants having their benefits cut, through the use of sanctioning, has been revealed in a Freedom of Information (FOI) request made to the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).
According to the response from the DWP, 172,750 Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) claimants were referred for potential sanctioning between October 2008 and June 2013. Of those referrals, 76,300 received an adverse decision, meaning their sickness benefits were cut or stopped completely. 11,600 of those benefit sanctions were in Greater London alone.
On 3 December 2012 the DWP introduced a new system for sanctioning claimants which is described by the DWP in the FOI as a ‘sanctions regime’. Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Iain Duncan Smith has repeatedly denied accusations that Jobcentre staff are being pressurised to sanction benefit claimants through the use of ‘targets’, and yet the FOI shows that the changes to the ‘sanctions regime’ has led to a startling 45,480 ESA claimants being threatened with the removal of their sickness benefit between December 2012 and June 2013. 11,400 of those people received an ‘adverse decision’, the DWP admitted.
Perhaps the most startling statistic revealed in the FOI is the revelation that 85% of ESA claimants who had their benefits axed or slashed under the new ‘sanctions regime’ have NEVER been sanctioned before. The figure rises to 89% for Greater London. This calls into question the DWP claim that sanctions are only ever used as a ‘last resort’ and only when benefit claimants repeatedly fail to ‘participate in work related activity’, which includes ‘failure to participate in the Work Programme’.
The coalition government’s Work Programme has been accused of failing sick and disabled people with only 6.8% of ESA claimants referred to the programme finding long-term employment, according to a report by the Guardian. The Work Programme has been estimated to cost the public between 3-5bn over five years.
Figures show that the use of benefit sanctions has soared under the coalition government, with the Guardian newspaper reporting last year that the new ‘sanctions regime’ had led to 600,000 jobseeker’s having their benefits slashed in just five months.
The news that sick and disabled people are also now being targeted for draconian benefit sanctions will be seen by some as not only cruel and callous but also totally unjustified. Particularly when we take into account the undeniable truth that ESA claimants have some of the biggest barriers to employment – including but not limited to mental health issues, disabilities, poor physical health and other issues – drastically reducing their employability and work capability at a time when there are still an average of five unemployed people chasing every single job vacancy in the UK. The majority of which may be fit and healthy and arguably more ‘appealing’ to employers.
Gail Ward from the Facebook campaign group Grassroots Welfare responded angrily to the revelation by saying:
“The brutality of the sanctions affecting those claimants on ESA are at unacceptable high . We have been informed by JCP staff that they are subject to targets by their managers. What is not clear is who is setting the targets, the DWP state there are no targets, the JCP say they are set targets or face disciplinary action for failing to achieve them, both sides blame the other.
“Daily in our work we are being told by claimants they were sanctioned because they did not attend an interview when the claimants claim they never received any letters advising them to attend JCP. Some are sanctioned because they arrived late due to travel problems, regardless of mode of transport used.
“These people live in the most fragile circumstances, leaving them with arrears on rent and bills and relying on Doorstep Loans/Credit Cards to survive until the decision to reinstate benefit is resolved. Where benefit is denied they are thrown into [the] abyss of debt for a number of years resulting in some losing their homes. Some are left unable to pay for care packages they need to function on a daily basis.
“The workfare programme is a cruel regime for those who are already at a disadvantage in seeking employment and the barriers that they face from employers, even in cases where it is clear that they have ‘fit/sick notes’ to state they are unable to participate reliably in the workplace due to sickness and disability, they are forced onto the programme because decision makers have decided otherwise. This clearly cannot continue.”
Linda Burnip, co-founder of the grassroots campaign group Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC), added:
“DPAC are getting more and more emails from disabled people who have been sanctioned for ridiculous offences, such as being 5 minutes late for an appointment when travelling by public transport or for going to a job interview even though they had informed DWP beforehand.”
Source – Welfare News Service 10 Feb 2014