Stop the cruel sanctions

by Daphne Liddle

NICK BOLES the Tory Minister for Business, last week called on his own government to review the “inhuman inflexibility” of the current system of using sanctions — the cutting off of benefits — to punish claimants for the slightest failing of the bureaucratic tasks placed on them by the Department of Work and Pensions.

Sanctions can cut people’s only source of income for between a month and three years. They are usually applied to people who fail to keep an appointment for whatever reason.

Sometimes they fail to turn up because they did not get the letter — this happens a lot to homeless people who have no address. One single mother was sanctioned for staying at the cot-side of her desperately ill new-born baby in hospital.

Others have been sanctioned for attending the funeral of a close family member. One man was sanctioned because he had a heart attack during a Work Capability Assessment interview because he did not complete the interview.

Many have been sanctioned for being in hospital at the time of the appointment. A government minister had to apologise to the family one woman who was ordered to come for an interview when she was in a coma. Claimants can also be sanctioned for refusing work. One single mother was sanctioned for turning down a night-shift job because she could not get childcare for her young daughter at night.

This is not supposed to happen. Technically the DWP is supposed to recognise that young children cannot be abandoned with no one to look after them while the mother either works or seeks to work.

Nevertheless it does happen. Usually it is reversed on appeal but in the meantime the young parent has to beg from friends and family so her children do not starve. And the DWP does enforce attendance at “preparing to go to work” sessions even for those with very young children.

Those hit hardest by sanctions are the disabled, single parents and the unemployed.

The rigorous imposition of these sanctions, which defy all logic and all humanity are driven by Government pressure to reduce the number of claimants — so the Government can claim they have got all these people into work and out of long-term benefit dependency.

The civil service union PCS reports that the cost to claimants of having their social security payments stopped under this Government’s controversial sanctions regime has rocketed by 3,000 per cent.

Using DWP data, the union has calculated the value of jobseeker’s allowance payments sanctioned in the year to September 2014 (the latest for which figures are available) was £355 million, compared to £11 million in 2009/2010.

This massive rise explains why sanctions have been so closely linked to the increase in the use of foodbanks, the union says.

PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said: “This Government is imposing much harsher penalties on people who rely on social security at the same time as seeking to blame and vilify them for being out of work.

“Sanctions do nothing to help unemployed people find sustainable jobs. They only poison the relationship between claimants and jobcentre staff, and they should be scrapped immediately.”

Almost 500,000 people have had their benefits suspended for a period of time, including 2,000 who have been barred from claiming for three years.

Sanctions have been associated with the rise in the need for food banks in Britain and many deaths and suicides.

Esther McVey, an employment minister, has argued that the system is “effective”, and Downing Street has ruled out any fresh review of the system. The Tories have been in denial about the existence of real poverty in Britain since the 1980s when Sir Keith Joseph claimed there was no absolute poverty in Britain.

This week a group of churches called for an urgent overhaul of the regime, describing it as inhumane. The Church of Scotland, the Church in Wales, the Methodist church, the Baptist Union of Great Britain and the United Reformed church, as well the charity Church Action on Poverty, called for the immediate suspension of sanctions on claimants who are mentally ill or have dependent children.

Niall Cooper, director of Church Action on Poverty, said: “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.”

To us sanctions are a weapon in the class war to intimidate workers and force them into the worst possible terms and conditions of work — and to cut Government spending so they can cut taxes for the rich. This level of deliberate cruelty should make all workers angry enough to take action to get rid of this Government and the whole capitalist system