Details are emerging (thanks to @refuted) of a horrifying regime planned when Universal Credit is introduced which will see emergency Hardship Payments converted into repayable loans.
These payments will be all that is available to people who have had benefits sanctioned for not meet the draconian and ever-changing conditions for claiming benefits. Claimants can face benefit sanctions for being late to an appointment, missing a meeting or failing to turn up for unpaid workfare placements. In some cases sanctions can last up to three years. Hundreds of thousands of benefit sanctions each year are now inflicted on some of the poorest people in the country by Jobcentres.
Hardship Payments, currently set at just over £40 a week for unemployed people, are not available to everyone. Claimants must show what the DWP considers to be genuine ‘hardship’, have no savings and will be quizzed about whether they can borrow money from family or friends instead.
Changes to the benefits system mean that most claimants now will have to pay Council Tax out of these meagre payments, with many also subject to the Bedroom Tax. This means that someone who doesn’t apply for Hardship Payments will not only go hungry, but may face eviction and even prosecution for non-payment of Council Tax.
Under Universal Credit all Hardship Payments will be converted into loans. An unemployed person, who is sanctioned for six months, will face a bill of over a thousand pounds at the end of it. Someone who is sanctioned for the full three years will face owing the Government over £6000.
This vicious debt trap will be virtually inescapable for many claimants. Jobcentre staff work to unofficial targets to sanctions as many claims as possible. Under this toxic regime it is often the most marginalised claimants, who find it hardest to obtain work, who are vulnerable to benefit sanctions. Most claimants on sickness and disability benefits can also face sanctions, even though their own doctors – along with the despised Atos – agree that they may not be well enough to work at present.
A Citizens Advice report warned recently that benefit sanctions have led to people attempting suicide, begging and going through bins to find food. It is hard to imagine how people in poverty this desperate can even consider looking for work – and afford the expenses which come with it such as internet access, smart clothes, stamps, newspapers and phone calls. Instead everyday becomes a desperate struggle for survival, the next meal more important than the next job application.
Benefit sanctions are the ultimate poverty trap and are causing horrific suffering. Not content with this, Iain Duncan Smith now wants to plunge this group into huge debts when the sanction is over. A near life sentence in some cases of poverty and debt. This is beyond nasty, even for the Tory Party, this is a Government out of control. And the victims, who are being kicked and kicked again, are some of the poorest people in the UK today.
Join the fight back against the war on the poor at the Welfare Reform Gathering this Saturday February 15th.
Sign the petition to scrap all benefit sanctions without exemptions: https://you.38degrees.org.uk/petitions/benefit-sanctions-must-be-stopped-without-exceptions-in-uk
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