Labour exchange employees say they are ‘depressed’ by making people destitute on the orders of Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith.
Originally posted in The Morning Star on Friday 23 May
FRONTLINE Jobcentre staff renewed their campaign yesterday to scrap Tory benefit sanctions they are forced to hand down to Britain’s worst off.
Civil servants protested at PCS conference about the impact of the government’s welfare policies they witness everyday at work.
Unemployment benefit of just £71 per week can be stopped for (*a minimum of) two weeks (*and a maximum of three years) under sanctions introduced by Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith.
Jobcentre worker Martin Humphrey told delegates about the “depressing” task of telling people their benefits have been stopped.
He said: “We have to say to people that they have to live on nothing for two weeks.
“To make people destitute for two weeks is despicable.”
Jobcentre staff exposed once again how they are given sanction targets to hit — a claim Mr Duncan Smith continues to deny.
Britain’s pensioners are also given just £110 a week while disabled people face cruel tests by private comapanies, PCS vice president John McInally pointed out.
He said the result has been soaring demand at food banks, a rise in homelessness and hate attacks on disabled people.
And he said: “As a union, we have a duty to stand up for our members and our services.
“It’s disgraceful that our members’ job to help people is being turned on its head in order to attack the most poor and vulnerable.”
Department for Work and Pensions representative Fran Heathcote said frontline civil servants had been the target for anger from disabled, elderly and unemployed people stripped of benefits.
But she said: “PCS members understand and share the concerns of the people we serve every day.
“They want to help the unemployed find work and pay benefits to pensioners, the sick and the disabled.”
Delegates resolved to fight welfare attacks alongside groups like Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC), other campaign collectives and other trade unions.
The union also committed to exploring the viability of a universal basic income to replace Mr Duncan Smith’s failing Universal Credit scheme.
Leeds delegate Annette Wright pressed the union for a campaign of non-compliance with benefit sanctions.
She argued that legal advice given to the union would allow civil servants to boycott sanctions if PCS “first of all identifies a legitimate trade dispute.”
Inappropriate sanctions imposed by Jobcentre Plus staff are one of the key reasons behind the rise in the number of people receiving help from food banks, according to a Commons Committee report in January.
The Work and Pensions select committee has called for an independent review of the operation of benefit conditionality and sanctioning to ensure that the rules are being applied fairly and appropriately. Their report states:
“Evidence suggests that JCP staff have referred many claimants for a sanction inappropriately or in circumstances in which common sense would dictate that discretion should have been applied.
“Some witnesses were concerned that financial hardship caused by sanctioning was a significant factor in a recent rise in referrals to food aid. The report recommends that DWP take urgent steps to monitor the extent of financial hardship caused by sanctions.
“These should include collecting and publishing data on the number of claimants ‘signposted’ to food aid by JCP and the reasons why these claimants were in need of assistance.”
Dame Anne Begg MP, chair of the Work and Pensions committee, said: “An unprecedented number of claimants were sanctioned in the year to June 2013. Whilst conditionality is a necessary part of the benefit system, jobseekers need to have confidence that the sanctioning regime is being applied appropriately, fairly and proportionately and the government needs to assure itself that sanctioning is achieving its intended objective of incentivising people to seek work.”
The report also said that the primary purpose of Jobcentre Plus should be to ensure that jobseekers are helped into work and not simply to get them off benefits.
According to the committee, as universal credit is introduced across the country more thorough assessments of claimants’ barriers to employment need to be introduced as the present system is “haphazard and prone to missing crucial information”.
Dame Anne Begg MP said: “People can leave benefit for a range of reasons, not all of them positive. JCP’s performance is currently measured primarily by the proportion of claimants leaving benefit by specific points in their claims. This takes no account of whether they are leaving benefit to start a job or for less positive reasons, including being sanctioned or simply transferring to another benefit. We believe this risks JCP hitting its targets but missing the point.
“JCP must be very clearly incentivised to get people into work, not just off benefits.”
Please bear in mind that this information is taken from the government site, and note that it has also been amended recently.
From 22 October 2012, new regulations introduced a regime of fixed period sanctions, which replaced the existing sanction rules and moved claimants closer to the sanction regime planned for Universal Credit in 2013.
For Jobseekers Allowance Sanctions:
- Under the new sanctions regime, introduced on 22nd October 2012, a total of 1.03 million decisions were made to apply a sanction.
- Just over half (54 per cent) of all decisions to apply a sanction were in the lower level group, and just under one in ten (9 per cent) in the higher group. (There are 3 categories of sanction – ‘higher’, ‘intermediate’ and ‘lower’ – depending on the nature of the ‘offence’.)
- Under the new sanctions regime, just under one third (30 per cent) of all decisions to apply a sanction was because of a failure to participate in the Work Programme (and other training schemes), and 19 per cent because of a failure to attend an adviser interview.
- Over one third (38 per cent) of all decisions to apply a sanction was because of a decision that the claimant was not entitled to claim JSA (intermediate level), mainly because a decision that that the claimant was not actively seeking employment.
- A total of 1.33 million decisions resulted in no reduction or withdrawal of JSA. In just under half of these (46 per cent) there was a decision not to apply a sanction; 44 per cent as a result of the referral being cancelled (results in no sanction decision being made); and just under one in ten (9 per cent) where it was decided that a sanction would be appropriate but the claimant was no longer claiming JSA (reserved decision).
- A total of 146 thousand decisions following a review resulted in no sanction being applied. This represented under half (46 per cent) of all cases that went to a decision review stage, and less than one in ten (9 per cent) of all decisions to in which a sanction decision was made.
- A total of 6 thousand decisions following an appeal resulted in no sanction being applied. This represented under one in five (18 per cent) of all cases that went to the appeal stage, and less than half of one per cent (0.4 per cent) of all decisions to in which a sanction decision was made.
- Under the new sanctions regime, a total of 633 thousand individuals had received a decision to apply a sanction.
For Employment and Support Allowance Sanctions:
- Under the new sanctions regime, introduced on 3rd December 2012, over 117 thousand sanctions decisions have been made up to December 2013, of which, 31 thousand were adverse decisions.
- Under the new sanctions regime, 79 per cent of adverse decisions were made because of a failure to participate in work related activity (this includes failure to participate in the Work Programme), with the remaining due to a failure to attend a mandatory interview.
JSA sanction statistics available via the Tabulation Tool – Stat-Xplore.
The targeting, severity and impact of sanctions on benefit claimants needs urgent review by Michael Meacher MP
Many thanks to Rob Livingstone