The suggestion that people dependent on Hardship Payment, which can be as little as £42 a week, are frittering away money on nights out and holidays, reveals a Government so out of touch you’d imagine they’d never set foot in a supermarket.
That these comments should come, not from a gilded toff like George Osborne, or a lying bastard like Chris Grayling, but instead from Iain Duncan Smith – who actually appears to believe this bullshit – is perhaps the most staggering fact of all.
Iain Duncan Smith is planning to scrap Hardship Payments and replace them with loans, claiming in The Sun this week that he believes the money is being wasted on “life’s extras such as nights out, holidays or subscription TV.”
Not content with this delusion, plans were also announced this week to escalate the sickness and disability benefit sanctions regime, meaning disabled claimants who are sanctioned could be left with less than £30 a week.
Perhaps IDS is so clueless that he simply doesn’t understand that many people, particularly those with health conditions, can easily spend £20 a week on fuel, and still spend half the winter feeling cold in their own homes. Perhaps he just doesn’t know that water charges can be £7 a week for a claimant living alone? It is possible that he hasn’t even noticed that due to housing benefit cuts many claimants are paying a significant sum each week towards their rent.
The meagre amount of money left to sanctioned claimants is barely even enough to pay for rent, water and fuel – let alone food, debts, toiletries or transport fares.
Benefit bashers, who no longer appear to care should disabled people or families with children go hungry, will claim that people only have themselves to blame. That if unemployed or disabled people hadn’t broken their Work Related Activity agreements then they wouldn’t have had benefits sanctioned. But sanctions are an increasingly arbitrary and over-used measure, with over half a million claims sanctioned last year. 10,000 sanctions were handed out to those on sickness or disability benefits in the same year, almost half of them aimed at those with mental health conditions.
Some benefit claimants have difficulties with literacy, others may not speak English as a first language. Many more have health conditions. All live in poverty. With informal pressure placed on Jobcentre staff, it is clearly the most vulnerable – those who can’t, or won’t fight back – who are likely to have benefits sanctioned.
Claimants can be sanctioned because they couldn’t afford the bus fare to the Jobcentre for a meeting, were too ill to attend, or simply didn’t understand the requirements placed on them by over zealous Jobcentre staff. An increasing number of people report being sanctioned because the Jobcentre made a mistake. And even in cases where a claimant has knowingly not met jobseeking conditions, is hunger and debt really an acceptable punishment for someone who missed a meeting with the Jobcentre?
When Universal Credit is finally introduced sanctions are to be vastly extended. Single parents, disabled people and part time workers will all face increasingly punitive measures should they fall foul of the endlessly complex rules. The draft regulations for Universal Credit suggest that even Housing Benefits may be stopped should a claimant be sanctioned, and that in some cases a sanction can apply for up to three years. Some claimants could be left facing debts running to thousands of pounds should their claim be sanctioned.
Iain Duncan Smith seems to think this will force people to find work, with these debts being cancelled should someone stay in full time employment for six months. Yet with soaring unemployment, despite what the manipulated figures might say, there are simply no jobs available. For those with children, health conditions or disabilities, the situation is even more acute. Even the billions currently being handed to welfare to work parasites, the so called experts in finding people work, are being squandered as long term unemployment continues to rise.
Just as importantly, for those forced to live on hardship payments, is where the money is supposed to come from to go out and get that job. IDS, having never known poverty himself, simply cannot understand that when you’ve only got £20 left for the week then every pound counts. Things like new clothes, bus fares to interviews, newspapers, stamps, internet access, even basic hygiene, can go out of the window. There is almost no better way to ensure that someone won’t find a job then forcing them into extreme poverty, meaning they spend time walking to food banks rather than trying to find work.
Perhaps most shocking of all is that when changes to Council Tax benefits are introduced, many claimants will find a significant portion of their income is now demanded as Council Tax. Claimants already pay VAT on essentials such as fuel, sanitary products, clothes and children’s safety equipment. With Hardship Payments to be converted to loans, claimants will now be forced to borrow to pay these taxes. That’s right. People with absolutely nothing, forced to borrow from the government, to pay tax. And that, is just fucking medieval.