Tagged: work and pensions select committee

Benefit Sanctions Regime Must Be Changed – Churches

A group of churches and charities have called on the UK government to hold an urgent independent review into the benefit sanctions regime.

The group argue that the government has failed to heed the recommendation of the Work and Pensions Select Committee, who called for a full independent review of the benefit sanctions system earlier this year.

Dame Anne Begg, who chaired the Committee’s investigation, said:

“The implementation of the present sanction regime is controversial with the government claiming it is effective in helping people into work while many others say sanctions are causing real distress to families and are actually acting as a barrier to participation.”

She added: “If sanctions work as a deterrent, why are so many people still facing multiple sanctions?

“As there are so many questions about the effects on people who have been sanctioned, it is time the government implemented the recommendation of my Select Committee in the last Parliament to carry out a full, independent review of the whole sanction regime.

“Many believe that sanctions are being applied to the wrong people for often trivial reasons and are the cause of the increased use of foodbanks. Only an independent review can get to the truth of what is actually happening so that government policy can be based on evidence and not seen as merely punitive.”

In a 100 day period last year, 346,256 people who were on Jobseeker’s Allowance and 35,554 people on Employment Support Allowance (ESA) were referred for sanctions. These resulted in 175,177 sanctions for Jobseekers and 11,129 for sick and disabled people claiming ESA.

92,558 were blamed on a bureaucratic error.

The call for a review is supported by the Baptist Union of Great Britain, the Church of Scotland, the Church in Wales, the Methodist Church, the United Reformed Church and by charities Church Action on Poverty, Gingerbread and Mind.

Full story :  http://northstar.boards.net/thread/171/benefit-sanctions-regime-changed-churches

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Sanctions designed to ‘trip people up’

 

> It would be interesting to know how many PCS members have participated in handing out sanctions… and how many have refused to. I suspect its a lot of the former and very few of the latter. I think that if Serwotka really cared he might have attempted to oppose the sanctions regime before now.

The lovely wibbly wobbly old lady

Reposted from Public & Commercial Services (PCS) website

Evidence to MPs on benefits sanctions

Our general secretary Mark Serwotka and DWP vice president Helen Flanagan (@Shenanigans_PCS) appeared this morning before the work and pensions select committee.

The government’s controversial system for stopping people’s benefits is designed to “trip people up” instead of help them, we told MPs today.

Giving evidence to the work and pensions select committee’s inquiry into sanctions, our general secretary Mark Serwotka said this is “corrupting” the work our members are trying to do.

Mark was appearing alongside our Department for Work and Pensions vice president Helen Flanagan. The committee had previously published our written submission to the inquiry.

We live-tweeted the session, which is available to watch again on the Parliament TV website.

  1. The Guardian’s Patrick Butler is reporting today that jobcentre bosses have set up “hit squads” to target claimants for sanctions and put pressure…

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The government wants death, depression and crime for people who are out of work

The lovely wibbly wobbly old lady

Reposted from Kate Belgrave

A few thoughts as we kick into the year. Interviews from people who’ve been sanctioned at the end of the post:

As you’ll no doubt have read, the work and pensions select committee meets this coming week to hear evidence about benefit sanctions, with sanctioning connected to crime and depression.

Okay. I suppose that hearing will at least draw attention to the sanctions problem and the extent of it. It’s the What Next part that I wonder about. A lot of people know how things are. I spent many hours speaking to JSA claimants at jobcentres in 2014 (have posted some of those interviews below) and at least some of those people had complained to their MPs about sanctions and their treatment at jobcentres. Like many people, I can tell you now that there is absolutely no doubt whatsoever that stopping jobseekers’ allowance – already…

View original post 1,668 more words

500,000 Sanctioned Jobseekers ‘Disappeared’ From Unemployment Figures

Hundreds of thousands of jobseekers could have ‘disappeared’ from official unemployment figures after having their benefit payments docked, figures suggest.

According to research from the University of Oxford, up to 500,000 unemployed people closed their Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) claim soon after being sanctioned by the DWP.

Rather than moving into employment, these people are simply disappearing from the benefits system entirely and no one has a clue where they’re ending up.

This means that unemployment could be 20,000 to 30,000 higher each month than figures suggest. If true, it would mean that as many as 1,000,000 people would have been claiming JSA in August 2014, rather than the 970,000 widely reported in the press.

It’s also important to note that some groups aren’t included in the claimant count – one measure used to calculate unemployment – including sickness benefit claimants, some working age students and early retirees – among others.

Professor Stuckler, who analysed data from 375 local authorities, said:

“The data clearly show that many people are not leaving JSA for work but appear to be being pushed off in unprecedented numbers in association with sanctions.”

The death of a diabetic former soldier after his benefits were slashed sparked a Work and Pensions Select Committee inquiry. More than 210,000 people signed a petition calling for the inquiry.

David, 59, was found dead at his home in Hertfordshire in July 2013. Penniless, David could not afford money for electric to keep his insulin refrigerated and died of fatal diabetic ketoacidosis, a complication caused by lack of insulin.

At the inquiry held last week, Labour’s Debbie Abrahams MP told the Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith MP:

Hundreds of thousands of people have had their benefits stopped for a minimum of four weeks and then approximately a quarter of these people, from the research that I’ve seen, are disappearing.

“They are leaving and we don’t know where they are going. That’s an absolute indictment of this policy and it’s a little bit worrying if we’re trying to tout this internationally as a real success story.”

Iain Duncan Smith responded:

“Well I don’t agree with any of that. I actually believe the sanctions regime as applied is fair, we always get the odd case of …”

Not giving Mr Duncan Smith a chance to complete his sentence, a furious Debbie Abrahams retorted:

People are dying because of these sanctions!”

Jobseekers who fail to comply with strict requirements imposed upon them risk having their benefits docked, or ‘sanctioned’. Some unemployed people claim their benefit payments have been stopped or reduced for trivial or harsh reasons. Such as failing to turn-up to a Job Centre appointment, even though they have informed staff they were in hospital.

After the Select Committee hearing Debbie Abrahams said:

“It’s incredible that the minister can simply brush aside the mounting evidence that inappropriate use of social security sanctions is having on vulnerable people.

> Well, glad you’ve noticed it’s happening. The rest of us have known this since Day 1.

“We’ve already heard from a whistleblower who left his job as a JCP advisor because he refused to apply sanctions when people had done nothing wrong.

“And recently, over 200,000 people have signed a petition to look into the death of an ex-soldier and diabetic, from Stevenage, who died after having been sanctioned.

“He was found dead surrounded by job applications, penniless and with an empty stomach according to his post-mortem. He couldn’t even afford to run his fridge so couldn’t keep his medicines cold.

“Sanctions are being applied unfairly to job-seekers as well as the sick and disabled. And we shouldn’t forget that most people on social security are actually in work but are struggling to make ends meet.”

Source –  Welfare Weekly,  12 Nov 2014

http://www.welfareweekly.com/500000-sanctioned-jobseekers-disappeared-unemployment-figures/

Part-Time Workers Face Benefit Sanctions Under Universal Credit

Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith has confirmed that part-time workers could face benefit sanctions under Universal Credit.

IDS told the Work and Pensions Select Committee that trials were being carried out in parts of the North-West of England, on removing benefits from part-time workers who refuse to take on extra hours.

In work conditionality” within the Universal Credit system could encourage part-time workers and the low-paid to seek additional hours, said Mr Duncan Smith.

However,  Labour MP Debbie Abrahams said people were dying as a result of the having their benefits docked, a claim dismissed by Mr Duncan Smith.

Mr Duncan Smith told Debbie Abrahams that the benefit sanctions regime was “helping people focus” on finding work or additional hours, adding “a job doesn’t stay static at 16 hours – you want it to develop”.

Ms Abrahams asked the Work and Pensions Secretary:

“Can you confirm that there is an intention to introduce in-work conditionality with Universal Credit and, if so, what sanctions could be applied, and under what conditions to the 3.5 million people in work on low pay and in receipt of tax credits?”

Iain Duncan Smith replied:

“That is being investigated, as to whether we can now work to in-work sanctions – in other words, conditionality – so people get an opportunity to move up the hours if they can, and if they don’t wish to do that, we will see whether or not that system of conditionality works. We are trialling that.

Ms Abrahams also accused Duncan Smith of a cover-up after he said no money had been lost during the botched introduction of Universal Credit. The DWP has already been forced to write-off £40 million in failed IT software, with an additional £91 million predicted to be lost over the next few years.

Universal Credit is replacing a number of existing benefits, including Housing benefit and Income Based Jobseeker’s Allowance, and rolling them into one single monthly payment. However, the government’s flagship welfare reform has been beset with delays and costly IT failures.

Up to a million households were originally expected to be in receipt of the new benefit by the end of 2014. But DWP figures show that less than 15,000 households or individuals were on Universal Credit by the end of September – mostly single people. The national rollout is scheduled to be completed by the end of 2018.

Mr Duncan Smith said trials of Universal Credit in the North-West of England had resulted in claimants finding work more quickly or taking on extra hours, leading to “early savings to the Exchequer”.

He added that businesses were more willing to take on people claiming Universal Credit than Jobseeker’s Allowance claimants, because those people could accept additional hours while keeping more of their benefit.

“Normally in a business, a job doesn’t stay static at 16 hours – you want it to develop”, he said.

Businesses know that many people will not work more than 16 hours because they don’t think it is viable for them to do so because of all the withdrawals.

“What we are beginning to experience in areas of the North-West is they can now work to progress that individual and set training programmes around them, so it is worth investing in that individual to develop their own skills and their own productivity.

“In the North-West, many businesses are now asking to have people on Universal Credit to come and take interviews, because they know they can develop them all the way through.”

Sourc e –  Welfare Weekly,  09 Nov 2014

http://www.welfareweekly.com/part-time-workers-face-benefit-sanctions-universal-credit/

Government Criticised For Over-Emphasising 0.7% Benefit Fraud

The Work and Pensions Select Committee has accused the coalition government of over-emphasising benefit fraud in a report on fraud and error in the benefits system.

According to official statistics included in the report, of the total £5.1 billion of ‘incorrectly’ paid benefits, £1.6 billion was underpaid and £3.5 billion overpaid.

 Of the £3.5 billion in overpaid benefits £700 million was due to ‘official’ DWP or local government errors, £1.6 billion was blamed on ‘claimant error’ (unintentional errors on claim forms etc) and £1.2 billion was due to claimants deliberately seeking to “mislead DWP or local authorities”.

The amount lost to claimant fraud represents just 0.7% of the entire 2012/13 benefits expenditure and the figure has remained relatively constant for several years.

The report says that “there is a large disparity between the official estimate of benefit fraud and the public perception”.

> Something that neither the DWP or the media has gone out of its way to emphasis. Quite the opposite, in fact…

A survey by Ipsos Mori in 2013 found that the general public believed that 24% of all benefits were claimed fraudulently, 34 times greater than the official 0.7% estimate.

The Work and Pensions Select Committee, which consists of MPs from all the main political parties, say that the government’s approach to tackling fraud and error in the benefits system “appeared to place emphasis on addressing fraud”.

Minister for Welfare Reform, Lord Freud and David Gauke MP, Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury, “appeared to place emphasis on addressing fraud” in a strategy document announced in 2010. They highlighted the government’s intention to:

  • Employ private sector firms on a payment by results basis, where appropriate, to ensure the full adoption of cutting-edge private sector fraud prevention techniques;
  • Redirect resource to the front line to prevent fraud and error from entering the system in the first place, through enhanced checks and tougher sanctions for those even attempting to defraud;
  • Ensure that anti-fraud activity is protected from cuts, including through the recruitment of over 200 new anti-fraud officers to sanction a further 10,000 fraudsters every year;
  • Remove the current silo-based approach to tackling fraud, by creating new integrated cross-departmental data-matching and fraud investigation services (see Single Fraud Investigation Service, chapter 4);
  • Introduce a system for rewarding members of the public who provide information that results in significant recovery of public funds;
  • Respond to the growing threat of organised fraud through a new Identity Fraud Unit and far tougher sanctions for those involved;
  • Introduce a new mobile regional fraud taskforce to investigate each and every claim in high fraud areas, to increase the certainty of detection;
  • Address the weakness of the current penalty regime by abolishing cautions as a penalty for fraud, increasing asset seizures, and introducing far tougher one-strike and two-strike penalties, and a new three-strike rule;
  • Clean up nearly 2 million claims to remove error; and
  • Increase the frontline support provided by “Big Society partners” to help educate and support customers to get it right first time.

The Work and Pensions Select Committee say that of these measures, “seven focus solely on benefit fraud, one is aimed at fraud and error generally, and only two appear to be specifically designed to combat error”.

> That’s because their starting point is believing that anyone claiming benefit must be doing something illeagal. I mean, its what those poor people do, isn’t it ?

Benefit fraud and error is extremely complex with many different causes and ‘risk factors’. Analysis by the National Audit Office (NAO) shows that the incorrect reporting of income accounts for 47% of all benefit overpayments.

Claims made by a single person when they are living with a partner accounts for 13% of all overpayments, whilst claims made by people living ‘abroad or untraceable’ represent 11% of benefit overpayments.

The incorrect disclosure of savings accounts for 8% of all benefit overpayments, according to official statistics.

The report says that the over-reliance on claimants to report changes in their circumstances to different parts of the DWP, HMRC, local authorities and other official bodies, means that they “aren’t always aware who needs to be told what information, and when”.

Criticising the government’s over-emphasis on benefit fraud, the Work and Pensions Select Committee recommended that:

Whilst we understand that making a distinction between claimant error and fraud is not always straightforward, we believe that DWP could be clearer about the official estimated level of benefit fraud.

> They certainly could be clearer – but that wouldn’t suit the Government’s agenda.

“We therefore recommend that DWP publish, on separate days, discrete statistical summaries of its estimated rates of a) fraud and b) official and claimant error in the benefits system, alongside its more detailed report, to reduce the risk of confusion or conflation of these statistics in media reporting and public perceptions about benefit fraud, and to emphasise the importance of actions to reduce error as well as fraud.”

Source –  Welfare News Service,  19 June 2014

http://welfarenewsservice.com/government-criticised-emphasising-0-7-benefit-fraud/

Benefit Sanctions Blamed For 54% Surge In Food Bank Demand As 20 Million Meals Given To Poorest In 2013

Oxfam Press Release: Big rise in UK food poverty sees 20m meals given out in last year

Food banks and food aid charities gave more than 20 million meals last year to people in the UK who could not afford to feed themselves – a 54 per cent increase on the previous 12 months, according to a report published today by Oxfam, Church Action on Poverty and The Trussell Trust.

Below the Breadline warns that there has been a rise in people turning to food banks in affluent areas. Cheltenham, Welwyn Garden City and North Lakes have seen numbers of users double and in some cases treble. The massive rise in meals handed out by food banks and food aid charities is a damning indictment of an increasingly unequal Britain where five families have the same wealth as the poorest 20 per cent of the population.

The report details how a perfect storm of changes to the social security system, benefit sanctions, low and stagnant wages, insecure and zero-hours contracts and rising food and energy prices are all contributing to the increasing numbers of meals handed out by food banks and other charities. Food prices have increased by 43.5 per cent in the past 8 years. During the same time the poorest 20 per cent have seen their disposable income fall by £936 a year.

People using food banks who are featured in the report spoke of the struggle to feed themselves and of deteriorating health. One woman described her situation as, “like living in the 1930s and through rationing”, while another said “I wouldn’t eat for a couple of days, just drink water”. Research shows that over half a million children in the UK are living in families that are unable to provide a minimally acceptable diet.

Mark Goldring, Oxfam Chief Executive, said: “Food banks provide invaluable support for families on the breadline but the fact they are needed in 21st Century Britain is a stain on our national conscience. Why is the Government not looking into this?

“We truly are living through a tale of two Britains; while those at the top of the tree may be benefiting from the green shoots of economic recovery, life on the ground for the poorest is getting tougher.

“At a time when politicians tell us that the economy is recovering, poor people are struggling to cope with a perfect storm of stagnating wages, insecure work and rising food and fuel prices. The Government needs to do more to ensure that the poorest and most vulnerable aren’t left behind by the economic recovery.”

Niall Cooper, Director of Church Action on Poverty said: “Protecting its people from going hungry is one of the most fundamental duties of Government. Most of us assume that when we fall on hard times, the social security safety net will kick in, and prevent us falling into destitution and hunger. We want all political parties to commit to re-instating the safety net principle as a core purpose of the social security system, and draw up proposals to ensure that no one in the UK should go hungry.”

Chris Mould, Chairman of The Trussell Trust said: “Trussell Trust food banks alone gave three days’ food to over 300,000 children last year. Below the Breadline reminds us that Trussell Trust figures are just the tip of the iceberg of UK food poverty, which is a national disgrace.

“The troubling reality is that there are also thousands more people struggling with food poverty who have no access to food aid, or are too ashamed to seek help, as well as a large number of people who are only just coping by eating less and buying cheap food.

“Trussell Trust food banks are seeing parents skipping meals to feed their children and significant repercussions of food poverty on physical and mental health. Unless there is determined policy action to ensure that the benefits of national economic recovery reach people on low-incomes we won’t see life get better for the poorest anytime soon.”

The report will feature on tonight’s Dispatches, to be broadcast at 7.30pm on Channel 4. The documentary, Breadline Kids, will follow three families in their daily lives as they struggle to feed themselves.

In total, Oxfam and Church Action on Poverty estimate that the three main food aid providers – Trussell Trust, Fareshare and Food Cycle – gave out over 20m meals in 2013-4, up from around 13m, a year earlier. The Trussell Trust, the only robust source of statistics showing how many people actually visit food banks, reported in April that 913,138 people were given three days’ emergency food between April 2013 and March 2014 – the equivalent of over 8 million meals.

Benefit sanctions is one of the major factors contributing to the increase in food bank usage. Since the new sanctions policy was implemented in October 2012, over 1 million sanctions have been applied.

A recent report by the Work and Pensions Select Committee recommended that “DWP take urgent steps to monitor the extent of financial hardship caused by benefit sanctions (http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201314/cmselect/cmworpen/479/479.pdf; p.29)

Oxfam, Church Action on Poverty and The Trussell Trust are calling on the Government to urgently draw up an action plan to reverse the rising tide of food poverty and to collect evidence to understand the scale and cause of the increases in food bank usage. The organisations are also calling on all political parties to re-instate the safety net principle as a core purpose of the social security system.

Source – Welfare News Service,  09 June 2014

http://welfarenewsservice.com/benefit-sanctions-blamed-54-increase-food-bank-usage/

423,000 Single Parents Face New Benefit Sanctions Threat

Single parents with children under the age of five face the threat of ‘punitive’ benefit sanctions, due to the introduction of tough new rules and over-stretched jobcentre’s, the charity Gingerbread has warned.

Jobcentre staff have been given new powers to remove benefits from single parents with young children in receipt of Income Support, otherwise known as sanctioning, should they fail to adhere to strict new requirements which may include attending more jobcentre appointments, participation in training programmes or work experience placements, depending on the age of their child(ren).

Gingerbread say the new rules ‘focus too heavily on sanctions’ in what the charity has described as a ‘tick box exercise’, rather than providing single parents with tailored support which would enable them ‘to get work ready’.

 Single parents with a child aged one or over will be expected to attend a higher number of work-focused interviews at their local jobcentre office, while those with a child between the ages of three and four will be required to attend courses or undertake work-related activity, such as volunteering or government backed work experience programmes.

Failure to comply could result in single-parents having their Income Support payments cut by 20 per cent a week for an ‘indefinite period’. Sanctions will be lifted if and when those parents comply to the requirements imposed upon them or are able to prove their benefits should not have been cut in the first place.

Gingerbread claim that they are already hearing from single parents with children as young as six months who have wrongfully had their benefits sanctioned after being told they must begin looking for work.

The charity has drawn attention to the number of Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) claimants who have wrongfully been hit with benefit sanctions and are having those decisions overturned following appeal (nearly four in 10 or 38%). Gingerbread has expressed concerns that 423,000 single-parents in receipt of Income Support could be subjected to the same fate.

Gingerbread chief executive Fiona Weir said:

“Many single parents do want to work before their child reaches school age, some decide that’s not right for their family, and others have little choice financially. Whenever parents decide they’re ready to go to work, they should get support that helps them do just that; but we’re concerned that the new rules will become little more than a tick box exercise with punitive sanctions attached.

“We know that single parents are already often wrongly sanctioned and, based on the calls our helpline is already getting, we fear that this situation will only get worse as these new rules are introduced.”

Gingerbread have called on the coalition government to ensure that jobcentre staff fully understand the new rules to reduce the probability of single-parents wrongfully having their benefits slashed. They are also urging the government to consider investing in ‘voluntary tailored support and training for single parents’.

The Work and Pensions Select Committee has recently recommended that an independent review be carried out in order to determine whether some benefit claimants are having their payments docked inappropriately.

Referring to the use of benefit sanctions against JSA claimants, chair of the Work and Pensions Select Committee Dame Anne Begg said:

“The number of JSA Sanctions are at a 12 month high, and probably the highest ever on record. Yet, we don’t even know if these Sanctions are working. There have been many examples of people being sanctioned and not knowing why. If the aim of a sanction is to change peoples’ behaviour then people need to know why their benefits have been stopped otherwise it is just a punitive punishment which is trying and save money.”

Source – Welfare News Service   29 April 2014

http://welfarenewsservice.com/423000-single-parents-face-new-benefit-sanctions-threat/

The Shameful Role of PCS Union Members In the Widespread Bullying of Benefit Claimants

> A masterful summing up of the current situation, by John Wight.

Members of the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) are engaged in the widespread bullying and intimidation of benefit claimants in Jobcentres up and down the country.

The evidence can no longer be denied and the union’s leadership must now take steps to educate its members that solidarity is more than just a word on a leaflet during a PCS pay dispute, or else face the accusation of collaborating with the government’s vicious assault on the most economically vulnerable in society under the rubric of austerity.

The upsurge in the number of claimants having their benefits sanctioned for increasingly minor infractions correlates to the upsurge in the demand for the services of the nation’s food banks. This shocking revelation was contained in a report by MPs in January, the result of an investigation by the Work and Pensions Select Committee, which called for an independent review into the rules for sanctioning claimants to ensure that the rules are being applied “fairly and appropriately“.

Among its findings the report stated: “Evidence suggests that JCP staff have referred many claimants for a sanction inappropriately or in circumstances in which common sense would dictate that discretion should have been applied.

The report continued: “Some witnesses were concerned that financial hardship caused by sanctioning was a significant factor in a recent rise in referrals to food aid. The report recommends that DWP take urgent steps to monitor the extent of financial hardship caused by sanctions.”

The majority of Jobcentre staff are members of the 270,000 strong PCS, the sixth largest trade union in the country, which represents the majority of Britain’s civil servants and public sector workers.

The union’s general secretary, Mark Serwotka, has been a high profile and strong critic of the coalition’s austerity policies in recent years, appearing on numerous public platforms and a ubiquitous presence in the mainstream press making the case for an investment led recovery from recession and calling for mass opposition to the cuts that have ravaged the public sector and been accompanied by a concerted campaign of demonisation of the unemployed and economically vulnerable that is unparalleled in its viciousness.

It is a campaign that has largely succeeded in diverting the blame for the worst recession to visit these shores since the 1930s onto the poor. Meanwhile the rich, whose greed lies at the root of the nation’s economic woes, have seen their wealth and incomes increase over the course of the recession, evidence that austerity and economic and social injustice are one and the same.

It is unconscionable that any self respecting trade union would allow its members to engage in the wilful and systematic sanctioning of benefit claimants without meaningful resistance. It flies in the face of the very principle of social solidarity that is the cornerstone of a movement founded on the understanding that the interests of working people – employed and unemployed – are intrinsically the same.

The human despair not to mention humiliation being inflicted on people in the nation’s Jobcentres is evidence that the Tory campaign of dividing working people section by section has borne fruit. It has reached the point where the oppressive atmosphere found in your average Jobcentre is on a par with the oppressive atmosphere associated with a district or sheriff court.

Jobseekers are not criminals and those sanctioning them so readily are not parole officers, yet you could be easily mistaken in thinking they are after spending just a few minutes in a Jobcentre in any town or city up and down the country.

Enough is enough.

This shameful culture of bullying, harassment, and intimidation against the unemployed must be confronted by the leadership of the PCS as a matter of urgency. By no means are all PCS members working in Jobcentres guilty of this shameful behaviour and treatment of claimants – indeed many are low paid workers reliant on various benefits to survive themselves – but enough are involved in the practice to leave no doubt that we are talking about an institutional problem rather than the actions of a few rotten apples.

Making matters worse is the fact that many of those being sanctioned are being trapped due to mental health issues or language issues making them more vulnerable to violating the plethora of rules regarding the obligations they must fulfil when it comes to searching for work. Many are being sanctioned for turning up five minutes late to a scheduled appointment, regardless of the reason why.

The sheer barbarity of this is staggering, plunging people who are already living on the margins into extreme poverty and destitution. In some cases suicide has been the result.

Those PCS members involved would do well to imbibe the words of the American union leader Eugene Debs: “…years ago I recognized my kinship with all living beings, and I made up my mind then that I was not one bit better than the meanest on earth. I said then, and I say now, that while there is a lower class, I am in it; and while there is a criminal element, I am of it; and while there is a soul in prison, I am not free.”

Any trade union member who allows him or herself to be used as an instrument to attack the poor and the unemployed is deserving of contempt. And any trade union leadership that fails to act to prevent it happening is reactionary.

Source –  Huffington Post,  25 Feb 2014

http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/john-wight/benefit-reform-pcs_b_4851675.html

Record Number Of Sanctions Made Against Benefits Claimants In 2013

This article  was written by Patrick Wintour, political editor, for theguardian.com on Wednesday 19th February 2014

The total number of sanctions against benefit claimants in the year to September 2013 was 897,690, the highest figure for any 12-month period since jobseeker’s allowance was introduced in 1996.

The figures published by the Department for Work and Pensions cover employment support allowance and jobseeker’s allowance.

The number of JSA sanctions in the year to 30 September 2013 was 874,850, the highest since JSA was introduced in 1996. It compares with 500,000 in the year to 30 April 2010, the last month of the previous Labour government.

In the year to 30 September 2013 there were also 22,840 sanctions imposed on claimants of ESA – the chief benefit for the sick and disabled – in the work-related activity group. This is the highest for any 12-month period since sanctions were introduced for such claimants in October 2008.

The figures are derived from the latest quarterly set of sanctions totals published by the DWP.

The large numbers come before the government introduces its tougher claimant commitment that will require claimants to do more to prove they are actively seeking work.

Asked if an excessively punitive approach to sanctions claimants had contributed to the latest fall in unemployment, Esther McVey, the employment minister, said the DWP had brought the same clarity of requirements to those out of work that applies to those in work.

Critics, including members of the work and pensions select committee, will claim those on ESA and JSA are likely to be more vulnerable and chaotic than those in work. There is also criticism from charities about the way in which sanctions are administered and communicated.

The archbishop of Westminster, Vincent Nichols, the leader of the Catholic church in England and Wales, has also suggested something has gone wrong with the welfare state, prompting David Cameron to restate the moral case for his reforms.

Ministers have set up an external inquiry into how sanctions decisions are communicated to claimants, which is due to be published next month.

Analysis produced by Professor David Webster at Glasgow University of the latest set of statistics shows in the year to 30 September 2013, JSA claims were being sanctioned at the rate of 5.11% a month, and in the three months to 30 September 2013 at a rate of 6.00% a month. These are the highest rates recorded since the start of JSA in 1996.

Over the whole period of the coalition government, JSA sanctions have run at 4.42% of JSA claimants a month. This compares with approximately 2.46% during the Labour government from May 1997 to April 2010.

In the period 22 October 2012 to 30 September 2013 (a period of 49 weeks), 527,574 individuals received a sanction. The highest published number for any 52-week period was 528,700 in the financial year 2010/11.

The figures also show a large increase in sanction activity. A total of 560,371 decisions were taken in three months to September, of which 236,786 were adverse and led to some kind of benefit withdrawal, a further 157, 633 were non-adverse and 138,554 were cancelled.

The number of decisions is up from 513,327 in the same three months of 2012 when 217,871 were adverse and 137,713 were non-adverse.

This represents a doubling of sanctioning activity since the last full year of the Labour government. In the same three months of 2009 121,584 adverse decisions were taken and the total number of decisions was 237,622, less than half the activity of the same period in 2013.

Source – Welfare News Service   19 Feb 2014