There has been a blistering assault on the government for using hunger as a penalty for people claiming unemployment benefit, using benefit sanctions to berate claimants who miss meetings or who neglect to look for employment is amounting to a policy of calculated destitution.
The Government is presiding over a benefits system that places a harsher punishment on people who have the misfortune to be unemployed, than those found guilty of committing a crime.
The maximum punishment for missed meetings or not looking for a job, or not having enough Universal Job matches is the removal of living expenses and housing benefit for three years, in which benefit claimants will lose £11,000, but with the greatest fine levied by the criminal justice system, it’s only £5,000.
The use of hunger as a punishment is just unacceptable, and it’s extraordinary that our government would choose to penalise lateness to appointments or sub-optimal job seeking in such a way because there is much more fairness in the Criminal Justice System, when it fines or incarcerates criminals, at last they ensure that they meet a person’s basic needs because when a person who perpetrates an offence, ends up behind bars, is given food, clothes and water, they are the basic requirements of mankind, in whichever form it comes.
Sanctions have left some people unable to purchase food for more than a week, and it has led to shoplifting, isolation and physical and mental health troubles. The human cost of the sanctions system is exceedingly high, with some people even taking their own lives.
Sanctions have a ravaging effect on a claimant’s ability to look for work because those that have got a sanction dramatically shrink to enter their attention on the immediate problem of where they’re going to get their next meal, and not about looking for employment.
The Department for Work and Pensions declared that there were only a really small percentage of benefit claimants who were being sanctioned. Nevertheless, there are large numbers who are sanctioned, and go on to face long term blocks on their benefits, and last year more than 800,000 claimants were sanctioned for a month or longer.
Benefits are frequently withheld on bogus grounds, and food bank charities like the Trussell Trust support people who have their benefits docked for failing to go to a course, or they had really turned up to, and others had been sanctioned for going to a funeral, rather than going to a routine Jobcentre meeting. A Jobcentre meeting can be set up for another day, however, a funeral can’t be rearranged, and there needs to be a little compassion because without empathy it becomes a really savage world that we appear to now be living in.
It is far more probable to get someone back to work if they have a good relationship with the Jobcentre. Once a claimant gets to the point where they believe that they can get work, that they want to work at, then the job is almost done. They have to be given a feeling of self-worth because some of these people have been out of work for so long that they start to believe they are not employable, if they feel they are not worthy of a job, then they will believe it, and their enthusiasm to work will evaporate. The Jobcentre needs to construct a claimant’s confidence and determination to work. The threat of a sanction is really going to block that happening, and can be really counterproductive.
There are some people who have been sanctioned again and again, and there doesn’t seem to be a process to examine what is going on.
The Jobcentre needs to find out if that person is really working, so consequently they don’t really care if they get sanctioned. Perhaps that person might have a mental health condition, or that they are living a really disorderly life, and if they are being sanctioned repeatedly, then understandably something is wrong, and it needs to be looked into straightaway. There could be mitigating circumstances that are beyond the claimant’s control because we all have different things going on in our lives, particularly when we have children to take care of.
We are not robots, and we do not function on automation, and people cannot be available at the drop of a hat because some have to obtain childcare, and not only find it, but salary it as well. Some people will not even profit from working, and that is the sort of financial impediment people find everyday because going to work should be an asset above and across the scale.
Younger claimants are put into really humble jobs with really low pay. On a minimum wage, a person of 21 years and over is, probably, before Tax and National Insurance contributions are even taken out, they will likely get £227.50 a week, after Tax and National Insurance, it will be a lot less.
By the time they have paid out for rent, sewage, water, gas, electric, and extra costs such as bedroom tax, they are left with barely anything for food. And it appears that there is not enough money to even buy luxuries, which a person should have. Taking into account, they have been working their backside off all week just to make ends meet.
The minimum wage for a person of 16 to 17 years old will be £3.79 an hour. That’s a £132.65 a week, less tax and National Insurance. Not much is it? And Apprentices get even less than that. Admittedly, most of these teenagers will still be living at home, but there is a majority of teenagers in this age bracket that don’t have that luxury for some reason or another, and most live alone in affordable housing given to them by their local council or housing association.
I’ll grant you that £132.65 is more than they would get on benefit, but of course on benefit they would not have to worry about paying their rent or council tax. And of course, there are other bills that have to be paid for, and of course food.
In another incident Esther McVey, the Employment Minister, was given a picture of David Clapson, the man was found dead in his flat from diabetic ketoacidosis, two weeks after his benefits were suspended.
A diabetic can’t wait two weeks, which is the amount of time David Clapson, who had been sanctioned had to wait to receive a hardship payment.
When David Clapson’s body was found in July 2013 by his sister, his electricity had been cut off, meaning the fridge where he stored his insulin was no longer operative.
No one should die like that in this country, alone, hungry and penniless. The government, and the Jobcentre should know that sanctioning people with diabetes is life-threatening, and the system is processing everybody as a statistic, and everyone is just a number.
Esther McVey declined to comment on single instances, but stated that none of the reviews had established a connection between benefit sanctioning, and the death of a claimant. That’s a cover up, and it disparages everything our society stands for, because it’s as clear as day, that if a claimant that is a type 1 diabetic is sanctioned, and has no money, and can’t pay for their electric because the Jobcentre has stopped their money, then of course, their insulin will have spoiled, which signifies that the claimant cannot take their insulin, and will finally go into a comatose state and die.
Esther McVey is allegedly off her trolley, and has no clarity into what goes on in the world around her, and I’m certain that if it were one of her family members that was in the same position, there would be no sanctioning for them, or would there?
Esther was in the opinion that this incident had been stirred up, and that all procedures had been pursued correctly, well clearly not in this case, otherwise David Clapson would still be very much alive.