Esther McVey has once again refused to visit Holyrood to give evidence in support of cruel and callous benefit changes, it has been reported today.
It’s the third time the Tory Employment Minister has snubbed requests from the Scottish welfare reform committee to explain why the UK Government is “failing to support vulnerable people”, reports the Daily Record.
McVey’s excuse for failing to attend was that she was busy preparing evidence for a Westminster committee.
When she was last invited to give evidence to Scottish MSPs, cowardly McVey instead chose to send Neil Couling; who is now responsible for overseeing Iain Duncan Smith’s flagship Universal Credit project.
The Daily Record says Iain Duncan Smith has also refused invitations from the committee on FOUR occasions, while welfare reform minister Lord Freud has rejected one request.
MSPs have accused Esther McVey of “running scared” of the committee, and not caring about people affected by welfare reforms and punitive benefit sanctions.
SNP MSP Christine McKelvie said it was “totally unacceptable” for McVey to refuse to give evidence before the committee, on how Westminster cuts “imposed on Scotland” are affecting Scottish families.
She added: “A Tory minister has been repeatedly invited to come to Scotland and appear before the welfare reform committee to provide answers on their track record of failing to support vulnerable people, but this invite, and seven previous invitations, have all been snubbed.
“This refusal sends a clear message that McVey and her Government don’t care about Scotland.”
McVey defended punitive benefit sanctions in a letter to the committee, in which she wrote: “It is widely accepted that they play an important role in the benefit system.
“They are effective in encouraging compliance and we continue to manage the process so they are only imposed as a last resort.”
> effective in encouraging compliance – is that a chilling statement or what ? Do what we say or we will make you destitute.
Figures show the number of people affected by benefit sanctions in Scotland has rocketed since 2009, with the biggest increases occurring under the new sanctions regime introduced by the UK Government in October 2012.
The same figures also show a 65% rise in the number of sick and disabled Scots having their benefits slashed by sanctions.
Opponents of the new sanctions regime claim too many unemployed and vulnerable people are being sanctioned for punitive and unfair reasons. Such as turning up five minutes late for a work focused interview, even though they had informed the Jobcentre that they had a hospital appointment.
Source – Welfare Weekly, 07 Jan 2015
More than 60% of adverse Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) sanctions decisions made during the first three months of 2014 were against people with mental health issues or behavioral problems, new figures show.
Figures released by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) in response to a Freedom of Information Request, show that 9,851 adverse benefit sanctions decisions were made against ESA claimants with mental or behavioural disorders between January to March 2014.
This compares to:
- 508 adverse sanctions decisions against ESA claimants with diseases of the circulatory or respiratory system.
- 1,598 against those with diseases of the musculoskeletal system and connective tissue.
- 571 against people with diseases of the nervous system.
- 714 against people with injuries, poisoning and certain other consequences of external causes.
- 2,727 against those with other health conditions or disabilities.
A DWP official said benefit sanctions are used to encourage people to “engage with the support being offered by Jobcentres, by making it clearer to claimants what they are expected to do in return for their benefits”.
However, charities and medical experts say people with mental health issues, learning problems and behavioral disorders often struggle to understand what is required of them in return for their benefits. Following strict requirements can prove to be more difficult for these groups of people, without additional support and guidance.
Commenting on similar figures from November 2013, Tom Pollard, Policy and Campaigns Manager at the mental health charity Mind, said:
“We’re very concerned that an increasing number of people on ESA are having their benefits stopped, despite the fact that there are now fewer people in the WRAG (Work Related Activity Group).
“We know that around half of people in the WRAG need support because they have mental health problems, but over 60 per cent of sanctions are imposed on this group.”
“It is unjustifiable that people with mental health problems are being disproportionately affected by this increasingly punitive system. This confirms our fears that people are being pressured to undertake activities that are inappropriate for them and are not having their mental health properly taken into account.”
“As a result people often become more anxious and unwell and this makes a return to work less likely. We urgently need to see people with mental health problems placed on a scheme which recognises and helps them overcome the challenges they face in finding and keeping a job.”
In total, there were 15,995 adverse ESA sanctions decisions between January to March 2014.
A cross-party report published earlier this week said the harsh use of punitive benefit sanctions is leading to rising numbers of people turning to food banks.
Commenting in response to the report, Salman Shaheen of Left Unity said:
“Sanctions mean that tiny mistakes can see people’s benefits stopped. Often people are given unclear instructions. Sometimes the rules suddenly change or appointments are moved. One slip-up and they join the ranks of the hungry.
“Every crackdown on benefits pushes more people into the food bank queues. Abolishing sanctions is the simple answer: no one should ever be left with no income to live on.
“We also need to raise benefits from their current poverty level. And it is vital to tackle in-work poverty by ending zero-hours contracts and raising the minimum wage to £10 an hour.”
Source – Welfare Weekly, 10 Dec 2014