Figures obtained by Corporate Watch show that 508,000 benefit sanctions were handed out in 2011, a shocking rise from the 139,000 sanctions imposed in 2009.
Sanctions, which mean benefit payments being stopped or reduced, can currently be handed out for periods between 2 weeks and six months in length. Sanctions can be handed out because an advisor decides that a claimant has not met the terms of their ‘Job Seekers Agreement’, has failed to attend an interview or meeting with the Jobcentre, has not attended workfare, or for virtually anything else a Jobcentre advisor or manager dreams up. In practice sanctions are handed out like confetti on a completely arbitrary basis. Claimants have reported being sanctioned because their advisor took a dislike to them, or for trivial, technical breaches of ‘jobseeker’s directions’ – the actions that advisors can demand a claimant take to try and find work. Last year The Guardian ran a story claiming Jobcentre staff were encouraged to ‘trick’ people off benefits and which featured a DWP whistle blower who said: “I’ve seen dyslexic customers given written job searches, and when they don’t produce them – what a surprise – they’re sanctioned. “
Whilst ministers have repeatedly lied that advisors are not set targets to sanction a certain number of claimants, recent guidelines from public sector union the PCS suggests that this is still common practice. The PCS warn their members at the DWP:
“Recently, it has come to the attention of PCS that many members in Jobcentres have again been set targets for DMA referrals. These have appeared in members’ Key Work Objectives, clearly set out as benchmarks or expectations that members hit numerical targets for DMA referrals within a set period of time. “
(A DMA referral means a Decision Maker and Appeals referral, which is the action taken when a Jobcentre advisor seeks to sanction a claimant)
With the DWP facing massive job losses, the pressure on advisors to inflict sanctions must be immense. It is a sad fact that under this pressure, some Jobcentre staff may target the most vulnerable. This could include people with diagnosed, or undiagnosed mental health problems, those with low literacy skills or English as a second language. It is very likely that people who are deemed unable to fight back are the most likely face punitive sanctions.
Welfare to work companies can also impose sanctions and over 100,000 claimants were sanctioned in the last six months of last year due to private sector poverty pimps like A4e. It appears that these profit hungry sharks are even more intent on forcing claimants into poverty than the DWP, with far more referrals for sanctions sent to the department than were granted. With the very same companies failing dismally at getting people into work, it appears they are reduced to little more than two bit snitches, paid hundreds of millions to harass and sanction benefit claimants and little else.
10,000 sanctions were also handed out to those on sickness or disability benefits last year. This figure is almost certain to soar as more and more sick and disabled people are referred onto the mandatory Work Programme. To the utter shame of the so called ‘Third Sector’, many of these claimants will be sanctioned by the disability, homelessness, substance misuse or anti-poverty charities who have signed up to lucrative Work Programme sub-contracts.
In news which will terrify most claimants, Universal Credit, the new benefit regime which begins being trialled next year, will feature far more punitive sanctions than even now. The minimum sanction for most ‘offences’ will be increased from one week to 13 weeks, whilst the maximum length of sanction is to be extended to three years. Those in receipt of sickness and disability benefit, Employment Support Allowance, will face an unprecedented regime of enforced job seeking, similar to that currently faced by Job Seekers Allowance Claimants. And perhaps most brutally of all, those with children over the age of 5 will be subject to the same sanctions and conditionality as those with no children at all.
If the current culture within Welfare to Work companies and the DWP continues than hundreds of thousands of parents could find themselves stripped of benefits and unable to adequately feed, clothe and house their children. Child poverty, the like of which have not been witnessed in this country for over 100 years, could well be the result of Iain Duncan Smith’s endless zeal in making the very poorest pay for the crisis caused by the rich.
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