> Part 93 of the ongoing Labour MPs Suddenly Discover Sanctions series….
THE cases of a Hartlepool benefits claimant whose money was cut because she missed an appointment due to roadworks and another who did not turn up for an appointment which had been cancelled have been raised in Parliament.
MP Iain Wright was speaking in a Commons debate on the effects of the DWP’s benefits clampdown on claimants across the North East, prompted by Newcastle Central MP Chi Onwurah.
Mr Wright said he accepted the need to tackle fraud, but the system had to take account of people who had genuine reasons for falling foul of the rules.
“Most people would accept the principle that if people flagrantly and persistently fail to adhere to mutually accepted requirements, they should face consequences,” he said.
“However, I have noticed a large increase in the number of sanctions imposed, often for a first or light transgression, and often with no regard to the context.”
Cases of people who had seen their benefits suspended unreasonably included:
– A man who realised he had missed an appointment, contacted the Jobcentre immediately and went in the next day, only to be informed by post that his benefits were being cut for a month;
– A woman sanctioned because she was late after her bus got delayed by roadworks in the centre of Hartlepool;
– A woman who was told her appointment for a work capability assessment had been cancelled who was then sanctioned for failing to attend;
– And a woman who was sanctioned for a month because she missed an appointment to attend her grandfather’s funeral.
“In all those cases, and in others, I have been able to get the sanctions overturned; but that itself raises some issues,” said Mr Wright.
“Is it an efficient use of taxpayer resources to apply a sanction, only for staff time to be employed in overturning it? How robust, efficient and effective is the process if that continues to be the case?”
The culture in JobCentres needed to change, he said:
“Front-line staff do not have any flexibility to determine whether a benefit claimant has failed to comply with a requirement. They have to see things in black and white and they cannot provide personalised support.
“The system is geared not to help individuals, but merely to process them.
“Claimants can suffer appallingly as a result of their treatment.”
The system was also failing to help workers whose traditional skills were not suited to the modern jobs market.
“The JobCentre is simply not interested in helping them secure a new job,” said Mr Wright.
“Through its indifference and latent hostility, it is consigning my constituents to the scrap heap long before their time.”
He highlighted the case of a former factory worker who had been told to apply for benefits on-line despite not owning a computer and never having used one.
“There are many people like my constituent in Hartlepool and the North East. The digital divide is creating social exclusion that is affecting the most vulnerable people,” said Mr Wright.
“My constituents deserve better, as do many others in the North East and elsewhere.
“They are treated shabbily and with contempt.”
Work minister Esther McVey defended the Government’s record and told the debate the sanction rate for Jobseeker’s Allowance was between five and six per cent a month and less than one per cent for Employment and Support Allowance.
> Presumably depending on what targets for sanctions Jobcentre managers have set their staff….
“In the past year, the number of people sanctioned actually decreased,” she said.
Source – Hartlepool Mail, 10 Jan 2015
The moment of truth has almost arrived for those standing in next week’s local elections across South Tyneside.
The 18 seats up for grabs in the borough will be contested by 59 candidates on Thursday.
At present, Labour dominates South Tyneside Council in what has long been been one of its traditional heartlands.
That could be about to change, though, as the UK Independence Party (UKIP) looks to gain a foothold in the region for the first time.
Just last month, UKIP leader Nigel Farage predicted a “mini-earthquake” after claiming Labour had turned its back on the North East.
Shop manager Richard Duffy, 45, says he is thinking about casting a protest vote for UKIP.
He said: “Since arriving on the scene, I think UKIP has forced the main parties to take a good, hard look at themselves.
“None of them has done anything about the level of immigration. This is an important issue and people have been feeling uneasy about it for years.”
> Some people might… the sort of people who’d like to vote for the BNP but don’t have the nerve. The sort of people who start sentences with : “I,m not racist, but…”
Ex-factory worker Valerie Storey, 63, of Boldon Colliery, has already put a cross next to a UKIP candidate on her postal vote.
She said: “Everyone I know seems like they want to vote for UKIP. People just see Labour and the Conservatives as part of the establishment, while UKIP is on the outside.
> Yeah, a party of the common man – no millionaires, desperate swivel-eyed ex-members of the Tories or political opportunists and business-orientated vested interests in UKIP.
“I think it is worth voting for a different party to see if they can make things better. If they do, great, but if not, at least I can say I have tried.”
Others, such as retired driving instructor Bill Grieves, 72, of Westoe, South Shields, simply lack enthusiasm for the upcoming elections.
Mr Grieves says he has voted Conservative in the past, but that is unlikely to be the case next week.
He said: “I have always felt I should vote, but on this occasion, I do not know who to vote for.
“I cannot trust any of the parties in terms of what they say or do.
“They do not seem to care about the common man in the street.”
“I used to have faith in politics, but not now. I think the damage has been done, for me and probably others too.”
Former secretary Denise Coulter, 54, of Whiteleas, South Shields, agrees with that sentiment.
She said: “You do not see many people from poorer backgrounds going into politics these days. It seems only to be for the privileged few.
“They do not know what it is like to live on the dole, or have very little money or even nothing at all. I find it very frustrating.”
Alice McLechlan, 85, of Brockley Whins, South Shields, is a retired factory worker. She says she will vote next week, but it will be with a heavy heart.
She added: “I normally choose a Labour candidate, but in these elections, I’ll go for an independent.
“Labour would need to do quite a lot to make me change my mind.”
One person who still has faith in Labour is unemployed Joan Merryfield, 62, of Brockley Avenue, South Shields.
She said: “I have always gone for Labour because it gets things done, but you can understand why people are not too bothered any more. They are just fed up with politics.”
Source – shields Gazette, 17 May 2014