Tag Archives: benefit sanctions

The True Horrors Of In-work Benefit Sanctions Have Not Yet Been Understood

sanction-sabsSo called hard-working people will soon be abandoned to unprecedented poverty when payments intended to cover housing costs are sanctioned for the first time under sweeping reforms to in-work benefits.

When Universal Credit is fully introduced (stop laughing) part-time workers on a low income will be expected to constantly look for more, or better paid work as a condition of receiving vital in-work benefits.  Any failure on the part of claimants to prove that they carried out constant job searching in the hours they were not working will mean benefits are sanctioned.

For claimants who are unemployed the sanction system will remain largely unchanged under Universal Credit.  Those without health problems who are sanctioned will lose all of their personal benefits except what is required to pay for housing costs or children.  This will mean a childless claimant will have no money at all once they have paid their rent – although they may be eligible to apply for emergency Hardship Payments of around £40 a week.  It is this nasty regime that has led to the explosion in foodbanks and been linked to a growing number of suicides.

If this same claimant is in part time work then they may not receive any additional benefits other than the housing element of Universal Credit – the replacement for what is now known as Housing Benefit.  And so, for the first time, it is this benefit which will be sanctioned should they fail to carry out Jobcentre demands to look for additional work.

Working claimants who are sanctioned will lose the same amount as those who are unemployed  – the equivalent of a current weekly dole payment of £71.70.  That means if some is working on a low income and claiming help with their housing costs then £71.70 will be deducted from their benefit.  To see the full horror of how this will play out in some people’s lives then you have to do some sums.

Take a single, childless person in Bristol working at the current minimum wage for 20 hours a week and paying £120 a week in rent – the local housing allowace rate in the area for a claimant over 35.  Under Universal Credit this person will have a weekly income of £244 made up of £144 a week in wages and £100 a week in benefits.  Once their rent is paid this will leave them with £124 a week.  If they are sanctioned however they will lose £73.10 leaving them with just £50.90 a week to live on.  That’s over £20 a week less than the current dole and just £10 a week more than Hardship Payments.  Universal Credit will therefore not make work pay for those who have been sanctioned.  It will however make work compulsory.

The claimant will not be able to leave their job without risking a disallowance – meaning no benefits at all.  In the hours they are not working they will still be expected to carry out work related activity to look for a better job, which under current rules, could include some form of workfare.  The meagre income they receive means they will be unlikely to qualify for additional Hardship Payments.  And astonishingly they are also likely to have to pay Council Tax out of that sum.
In Bristol they would be expected to pay around £9 a week in Council Tax assuming they lived in the lowest possible band.  This brings their weekly income down to about £42 a week – and they are working.

A weeky bus pass in Bristol costs £23.80.  Claimants must be prepared to travel at least 90 minutes on public transport to their job so in most cases this will be a necessary expense.  This will mean hard working people surviving on less than £20 a week for food, clothes, basic hygiene costs and bills.  That of course assumes they aren’t subject to the Bedroom Tax in which case they will get no money at all in some cases, just a steadily increasing debt.

The only real option for most will be to dig into money intended to cover rent.  For working claimants a sanction will mean inevitable rent arrears – and as a sanction can last up to three years – for many it will mean homelessness.  And therefore eventual joblessness.  And with no benefits because losing their job will have been deemed to be their own fault.

This system is designed to ‘incentivise’ people to look for more, or better paid work.  So imagine, by some fucking miracle, that an in-work benefit sanction doesn’t destroy someone, it motivates them.  That they pull their socks up and by some other fucking miracle manage to find an additional job which doesn’t clash with their existing hours.  Let’s say they gain an additional 10 hours a week work on the Minimum Wage.  Will it make any difference?  Barely, because the sanction will still apply unless they have been working full time for a period of six months.

Much of their additional wages will be eaten up by housing costs as their already sanctioned claim is reduced the more they earn.  So somebody working 30 hours a week, with a sanction, in the cicrumstances described above, would receive a total of £207.68 a week in wages and no Universal Credit at all.  After rent and Council Tax is paid that will leave them with £77.  Less than a fiver more than the current dole.  For working 30 hours a week.

There is nothing particularly special about this claimant’s circumstances other than that they live in the south of England where rents are higher.  In London and other areas many will fare even worse.  There should be no doubt about what these sanctions are intended to do.  This is the bureacratic annihilation of an individual as a message to everybody else that if you do not comply – that if you do not constantly strive – the government will destroy you.  It is like nothing that has been seen in UK legislation since the horrors of the workhouse.

According to the DWP benefit sanctions are only used as a ‘last resort’.  There have been 1.6 million ‘last resorts’ since the system was toughened in 2012.  In work benefit sanctions are already being trialled in some parts of the UK with desperate results.  The extension of this brutal regime will create in-work poverty that has rarely, if ever, been seen before in the UK.  People working for pennies, with no quality of life at all. Those already living in the cheapest possible accommodation that can be found in most of the country facing homelessness.  Some of these people will be ill, wrongly found fit for work by Atos or Maximus.  Some will be left with no money at all depending on if they are subject to the Beneift Cap or Bedroom Tax.  Others will have debts they will never hope to pay back whilst sanctioned and so will just get bigger and bigger.

An in-work benefit sanction for many will be a life sentence, especially for those who are older and carry any debts incurred into retirement.  For others it will be a death sentence as the strain of extreme poverty, hard work and constant Jobcentre harassment pushes some over the edge.  DWP ministers are happy to accept this collateral damage as part of their attempt to dicipline the working class into accepting a life of hard-working drudgery for poverty pay.  The only question that now remains is will the trade unions, charities and others that have cowardly accepted vicious welfare refoms continue their co-operation when it is their own workers and members who are subject to this torment?

You can read the current rules for Universal Credit, and many other benefits at: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/advice-for-decision-making-staff-guide

This blog has no sources of funding so here’s a quick reminder that you can help ensure it continues by making a donation.

Follow me on twitter @johnnyvoid

Advertisements

Threatened With A Benefit Sanction For Going To Hospital? Now It’s Government Policy

sanction-hospitalStaff working for welfare to work companies are being advised to threaten benefit claimants with a sanction if they are unable to attend work related activity due to an emergency hospital appointment.

The above paragraph comes from the guidance handed out by the Department of Work and Pensions to the companies running the Work Programme* instructing them when to refer claimants for a benefit sanction.  According to the department, it may be possible for a claimant to re-arrange mandated activity without facing a sanction, however it warns: “not taking compliance doubt action and allowing a participant to arrange an alternative appointment on a number of occasions weakens the link between cause and consequence.” 

It then goes on to say that even if the claimant has an emergency hospital appointment, staff should process a sanction if they have ‘any doubt’.  Whether this means doubt over whether the appointment is genuine, or doubt over whether somebody arranged a medical emergency to get out of workfare is unclear.

According to te DWP sanctions should only be handed out if a claimant has previously given the same, or similar reasons for re-arranging mandated activity.  But chillingly, these rules are not just aimed at people who are unemployed, but also sick and disabled claimants in the Work Related Activity Group – exactly the type of people who might have a lot of hospital appointments.

Welfare-to-work companies do not make the final decision on sanctions – that responsibility lies with the DWP.  If evidence of a medical appointment can be provided by a claimant to the Jobcentre then it is almost certain no sanction would be imposed.  But that doesn’t really matter.  What matters is that welfare-to-work dickheads are now being given a green light to threaten people with benefit sanctions if they are unable to attend mandated activity due to health reasons or other emergencies.  And where it counts, on the front line, that will mean scared claimants missing medical treatment so they can go and work for no pay in the local Salvation Army fucking charity shop.

*This guidance only applies to claimants on Universal Credit who have been referred to the Work Programme, which is currently probably about six people.

This blog has no sources of funding so here’s a quick reminder that you can help ensure it continues by making a donation.

Follow me on twitter @johnnyvoid

 

Important Information: DWP Finally Admits To ESA Sanction Safeguarding Policy

esa-sanctionsSickness benefit claimants with a mental health condition who have been forced to attend the Work Programme should not have their benefits sanctioned without a face to face meeting first the DWP have finally admitted.

This important clarification, which could mean many people have been wrongly sanctioned, was finally published in an amendment to the Work Programme Provider Guidance.  This is the rule book that companies running the Work Programme must follow and last week a new chapter was added detailing the procedures for safeguarding so-called vulnerable claimants.

According to the guidance, claimants of the main sickness and disability benefit Employment Support Allowance only, who have “mental health conditions or learning disabilities or conditions affecting communication/cognition” must not be referred for a sanction without safeguarding activity being carried out.  This means a home visit if necessary to establish a face to face conversation to ensure that the participant understands the reason they have been sanctioned.  If this face to face contact does not happen, or if the Work Programme provider believes the claimant did not understand the requirement to carry out mandated activity, then a sanction referral must not take place.

These rules, which also apply to Jobcentre busy-bodies hoping to sanction sick and disabled people’s benefits, are not newHowever they were previously only published in internal Jobcentre documents and only came to light due to a Freedom of Information request.  It is likely that this is the first time many Work Programme providers have even heard of them.  Anecdotal evidence has repeatedly warned of people only finding out they have been sanctioned when they check their bank balances and find out they don’t have any money.  The number of sickness and disability claimants who have had their benefits sanctioned is soaring, with almost 125,000 sanctions applied since new rules came into place.  Some of those sanctions should not have been applied.  How many is anybody’s guess.

Whilst these safeguarding rules will mean it is now harder for Work Programme companies to sanction people’s benefits, many claimants will not relish the prospect of some A4e dickhead turning up at their front door to interrogate them about why they didn’t attend workfare.  The best piece of advice?  Never answer the fucking door to any cunt with a clipboard.

You can download the safeguarding rules at: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/427708/wp-pg-chap-4b-v1.pdf

This blog has no sources of funding so here’s a quick reminder that you can help ensure it continues by making a donation.

Join me on facebook or follow me on twitter @johnnyvoid

It Had To Happen. Soon You Could Face An In-Work Benefit Sanction … For Going To Work

ids-anyonecanlivePart-time workers could face a benefit sanction for going to work under draconian new rules which force claimants of in-work benefits to constantly look for more, or better paid work.

When Universal Credit is fully introduced (stop laughing) Jobcentres will have the powers to dictate how many hours a claimant should be working to remain eligible for what are now called Tax Credits and Housing Benefit.  Those without children, who do not have a health condition, will be required to spend up to 35 hours a week either working or taking part in work related activity such as looking for additional work or even attending workfare.  Failure to comply will result in a sanction.

The implications are chilling.  Under the new rules part-time workers will have to attend a job interview with just 48 hours notice  or their benefits will be stopped.  This is likely to mean someone required to take time off their existing employment – at short notice – to attend a job interview somewhere else.  If they go to work instead of the interview they could face a sanction.  As anyone who has ever had a real job will know, this will place claimants in an impossible position forcing to them to make the choice between risking being sacked or sanctioned.  And unfortunately their boss will probably find out they are looking for a new job  whatever they do because part of their work related activity may include being mandated to set up an online profile to “draw attention to their availability” for alternative employment.

Claimants should not face a sanction if they can demonstrate a ‘good reason’ (pdf) for not carrying out work related activity such as attending an interview.  But no-one is likely to tell them this.  Anyone who thinks that these new rules will not lead to people being sanctioned for going to work has not seen the ever growing lists of sanctions handed out to claimants for petty, inappropriate and sometimes even bizarre reasons.  Not being able to carry out work related activity because your boss makes it impossible is not even mentioned in the decision maker’s guidance, the rule book for the faceless back office Jobcentre staff who impose sanctions.

Ministers had said that people would not face a sanction if it means giving up a part-time job to attend a temporary position with longer hours.  But even the guidance on this is vague.  Decision makers are advised that someone should not be forced to leave their job to take up a fortnight’s full time temporary work but beyond this it is left to them to take a “common sense approach”.

It is astonishing, and horrifying that Iain Duncan Smith’s obsession with benefit sanctions could now actually cost people their jobs.  It is what will happen to those who are sanctioned however that reveals the breath-taking cruelty behind this policy.

Somebody working 16 hours a week on minimum wage and paying £90 a week in rent (around the average Housing Benefit award) will receive £104 a week in wages and £111 under Universal Credit, a total of £215.  If they are sanctioned they will lose the equivalent of a Jobseeker’s Allowance payment, currently £72.40, for each week the sanction remains in place.  Depending on where they live they will almost certainly have to pay some Council Tax from that sum, around here that would be £8 a week for someone living in the cheapest band.  After paying this, and their rent, the claimant will be left with just £44.60 a week to pay for food, clothes, bills and fares to work.  This sum will be enough to disqualify them from claiming Hardship Payments or any other form of additional help.

It is difficult to imagine how someone could maintain the level of health and hygeine necessary to hold down a job on such a paltry income, unless they stop paying their rent.  Homelessness or unemployment will be the stark choice facing sanctioned working claimants – although if they leave their job they will be sanctioned again, or possibly disallowed any benefit completely.  Even if they are able to increase their hours it will barely make a difference.  For every pound they earn they will lose 65p of what little benefit they have left whilst their Council Tax liability may also rise as they earn more.  Working another four hours a week would still not give them an income above £50 a week according to the turn2us benefit calculator.  There will be no escape.  People who are working will be condemned to desperate poverty and the longest sanctions can last for three years.

All of the main political parties support the principles behind Universal Credit, even if they are sceptical about whether the IT necessary for the system is genuinely achievable.  Few of them seem to have looked into the details of what they are supporting – and what will happen to people who are self-employed is even worse (watch this space).  These rules are aimed at people with jobs, not the unemployed.  The DWP is out of control under Iain Duncan Smith and the suffering that is yet to come unless someone puts the brakes on will dwarf anything we have seen so far.

This blog has no sources of funding so here’s a quick reminder that you can help ensure it continues by making a donation.

Join me on facebook or follow me on twitter @johnnyvoid

Current Benefit Sanctions Policy Is Bonkers Says Workfare Industry’s Top Spokesperson

sanction-sabs3Aspects of Iain Duncan Smith’s brutal benefit sanctioning regime are bonkers  according to an astonishing diatribe from the workfare industry’s top spokesperson Kirsty McHugh, Chief Executive of the  Employment Related Services Association (ERSA).

ERSA are the trade body established to lie on behalf of the welfare-to-work companies like A4e and G4S who hold lucrative contracts to run workfare and forced training schemes.  In a frank statement on their website McHugh says that the use of sanctions is based on sending political messages rather than evidence of what works and that a more humane system is needed.

According to McHugh, current rules which mean welfare-to-work companies have no choice but to refer people for a benefit sanction for not carrying ‘mandated activity’  are ‘bonkers’ and that this causes inappropriate sanctions to be applied.  She also backs the recent call for an urgent review of the sanctions regime made by the Work and Pension Committee saying that current policies have been introduced “without a huge amount of reflection”.  This is about as close as an industry spokesperson can come to calling Iain Duncan Smith a fucking idiot without losing their job.

Claimants should not be fooled, ERSA have not suddenly developed a conscience, this is about money.  According to McHugh, ERSA still believe sanctions “play an important role” although this is based on a “hunch”.  What the welfare-to-work industry wants is the power to make sanction decisions themselves, along with new rights to snoop on medical information the DWP hold on those in receipt of sickness or disability benefits.  This is a cynical power grab from an industry that has realised the more adminstrative roles they can seize from Jobcentres then the greater the prospect of the entire social security system ending up in private hands.  Their hands.

There is another reason however why these companies are now lobbying for a less draconian system – and McHugh even suggests a voluntary approach might be more appropriate for some claimants.  Welfare-to-work companies get paid when someone finds a job.  People who are hungry, anxious, or can’t afford to maintain personal hygeine do not perform well at job interviews.  McHugh’s comments are an admission that sanctions harm rather than help people’s prospects of finding work, something that has long been obvious to claimants themselves.  That it is now being said by workfare companies, who were previously Iain Duncan Smith’s best friends, is a damning condemnation of the coalition government’s bungled welfare reforms.

This blog has no sources of funding so here’s a quick reminder that you can help ensure it continues by making a donation.

Join me on facebook or follow me on twitter @johnnyvoid

There Is No Such Thing As A Fair Benefit Sanction And They Are Not A Tory Invention

sanction-deaths

A pregnant women who was sanctioned in disguise at a recent protest so Jobcentre staff don’t recognise her. From The Poor Side Of Life

Iain Duncan Smith’s mass use of benefit sanctions is driving people to their deaths.  But it began under Labour, and was not opposed by most trade unions or charities established to support people living in poverty.

In 2008 the Labour government published a green paper entitled ‘No one written off: reforming welfare to reward responsibility’ (PDF).  Gordon Brown himself wrote the forward to the document pledging “tough responsibilities that respect tax payers” for all of those on some form of out of work benefit.

Even for a Government which had already introduced workfare and the despised Work Capability Assessment, some of the measures proposed were shocking.  These included mandatory work related activity – a vague term that often means workfare – for both sick and disabled claimants and lone parents with children over 5.  Other proposals included a policy that long term unemployed people should be sent on workfare for “as long as needed”.  Those with a drug problem would be required to undertake mandatory treatment regimes and possibly even drug testing.  Benefit sanctions would be strengthened. A new and privatised ‘Fit For Work’ service would be introduced to encourage people to go back to work quickly if they became ill.  And all those currently claiming sickness or disability benefits would be ‘frequently’ re-assessed at the notorious Work Capability Assessments which were being run by French IT company Atos.

Atos were far from the only private company set to rake in huge sums from Labour’s savage attack on the poor.  The green paper proposed that private providers would be able to bid for any welfare-to-work service.  This was based on a recommendation from David Freud, now better known as Lord Fraud, the current Tory Minister for Welfare Reform.

Except for mandatory treatment for drug users, all of these measure were eventually introduced, some by Labour and some by the Tories.  Many of Iain Duncan Smith’s most vicious policies were actually first proposed by Labour.

The consequences of Labour’s welfare reforms were devastating. 52,399 benefit sanctions were inflicted on Jobseeker’s Allowance claimants in March 2010.  This was twice the number from just two years earlier and more than the 51,142 sanctions handed out by the Tories in September 2014, the most recent month for which figures are available. 

In March 2010 the number of people on sickness benefits who had their benefits stopped for failure to carry out ‘work related activity’ hit a high of 3,673.  This is just slightly below the 3,828 sanctions handed out to this group in September 2014.

To hear the current rhetoric from the TUC, you would think that mass benefit sanctions were a Tory invention.  TUC General Secretary Frances O-Grady recently released a statement saying “Under this government the sanctions system has become a cruel maze in which it is all too easy for claimants to lose cash for minor breaches of rules and random decisions.”  This was in response to a report showing the desperate toll that sanctions were taking on lone parents and most importantly their children,  As far back as 2008 the government’s own experts, the Social Security Advisory Committee, recommended that lone parents should not face sanctions.  The Labour government rejected this advice (PDF).

The TUC’s position is that some sanctions are acceptable.  Most charities share the same view.  The Labour Party have merely said there will be no targets for sanctions should they win the election.  Iain Duncan Smith already claims there are no benefit sanction targets.

Yet again this week coroners found that benefit stoppages had been a factor in two tragic suicides.  Leaving someone with no income at all, in one of the richest countries in the world, is inexcusable and inhumane.  To do this to people who can’t find a job, when we know there are not enough jobs to go round, is dystopian.  In the UK today, if you are poor, then you live under a regime of state inflicted terror.

Jobcentres have no idea what is going on in people’s lives when these sanctions are handed out.  They often do not know if someone has a mental health condition, or if they are homeless, a victim of domestic violence, or even just in the midst of a personal crisis.  Perhaps they are already desperately trying to avoid eviction by paying off rent arrears out of meagre benefits.   Perhaps they are about to have their gas or electricity disconnected.  Benefit claimants are already desperately poor.  No matter how ‘fair’ or ‘proportionate’ sanctions are claimed to be, no matter how many so-called safeguards are introduced (and ignored), benefit sanctions will always destroy lives.  For a small few they will be the tipping point that turns this so-called ‘help’ from the Jobcentre into a potential death sentence.

This is what the TUC and some charities support and it is fucking vile.  Benefit sanctions need to be stopped without exceptions.  It is way beyond time that those leading the trade union movement, and those in charities that claim to care about people in poverty, were brave enough to take a meaningful stand against the horrifying regime inflicted on those unable to find work.  Their current whining from the sidelines is both incoherent and ineffective.  Their cowardice makes them complicit in killing people.

On the 19th March the community section of UNITE Union will be holding a day of action against sanctions.  This will include protests outside Jobcentres across the UK.  Many have been organised by unemployed people themselves and they deserve support.  But even UNITE have doggedly refused to answer the question of whether they are opposed to all sanctions.

The PCS Union, who represent Jobcentre workers, have  commited to this position, although they refuse to do anything much about it.  Both UNITE and the PCS should be ferociously lobbying the TUC leadership to take an urgent stand against all benefit sanctions.  It is the very least they can do after all.  Now these sanctions can also be inflicted on low paid part time workers.  A trade union movement that doesn’t just tolerate this cruelty, but endorses it in some circumstances is worse than negligent.  It is a trade union movement that is actively attacking the very poorest working class people.  And for that the TUC leadership should hang their fucking heads in shame.

For a list of the protests called so far as part of UNITE’s day of action against sanctions visit their website.  Please help spread the word.

This blog has no sources of funding so here’s a quick reminder that you can help ensure it continues by making a donation.

Join me on facebook or follow me on twitter @johnnyvoid

Are The DWP Following Their Own Safeguarding Rules When They Sanction Sick and Disabled Claimant’s Benefits?

sanction-sabs1People with a mental health condition claiming out of work sickness benefits may have had their benefits wrongly sanctioned due to the DWP not carrying out correct ‘safeguarding’ procedures.

Over 100,000 sick and disabled people claiming Employment Support Allowance have had their benefits stopped or reduced for not carrying some form of ‘work related activity’.  A report released recently by the Methodist Church found that around 100 people a day with a mental health problems are currently having their benefits sanctioned in this way.  There is growing concern however that many of these sanctions could have been incorrectly applied due to the DWP failing to carry out home visits to assess the impact on the claimant of stopping their only source of income.

The Jobcentre guidelines are clear“If a claimant has a condition that could affect their ability to understand and comply with conditionality, a Core Visit to their home must be arranged before any sanction decision is considered. “

According to the DWP these visits should be carried out before sanctioning anybody with a “mental health condition or learning difficulties, or conditions affecting cognition such as stroke, autistic spectrum disorder or attention deficit disorder that might affect their understanding of mandatory interview requirements and the consequences of failing to comply.”

The guidelines state that two attempts must be made to visit the claimant at home and if contact is not made then “every attempt must be made to ensure the claimant’s welfare … the HEO must attempt to contact the following sources to establish the claimant’s welfare: Claimant’s Appointee/POA/next of kin, 
Claimant’s Community Psychiatric Nurse, Social Services, Police.”

These rules only apply to people on Employment Support Allowance (ESA) and there is reams of anecdotal evidence that they are being flagrantly ignored.  One reason for this could be because the guidance is only published in internal Jobcentre documents and not routinely made available to the general public or their advocates.  Were it not for a Freedom of Information request then this information would probably have never seen the light of day.

If you are an ESA claimant with a mental health problem and you were sanctioned without these guidelines being followed then this may be a legitimate reason to have the sanction overturned. According to Disability Rights UK, who have called for the little known rules to be extended to people on Jobseeker’s Allowance, “If the DWP stop benefit for a customer without applying Mental Health Safeguards then, according to the guidance, they must reinstate benefit.  If the DWP do not have information about the customer’s mental health at the time that they stop benefit but later receive this information then they must reinstate benefit.”

Let’s make sure everyone knows about this, the safeguarding guidelines start from paragraph 95 in this document (pdf).

This blog has no sources of funding so here’s a quick reminder that you can help ensure it continues by making a donation.

Follow me on twitter @johnnyvoid