The number and length of benefit sanctions has risen hugely under the coalition. Two and a quarter million JSA claimants have had their money stopped, and since October 2012 sanctions are for a minimum of four weeks and a maximum of three years. ESA claimants can have 70% of their benefits stopped indefinitely. Imagine being without any income for a month, when your annual income is less than £4,000 a year – no chance of savings to fall back onto. Claimants go into debt, go hungry and use foodbanks, go into rent arrears or don’t turn on the heating when it’s cold. Now imagine being without any income for three years and what you’ll do then. On twitter next week, various CAB branches will participate in #CABLive, if you want to see the reality of life for many people at the moment, follow the hashtag.
Sanctions targets at the jobcentre are combined with a culture oozing out from IDS down to middle management to shopfloor staff that demonises claimants as lazy, shirkers, scroungers, wasters who will only get into work if they are forced. This combination creates a toxic situation where jobseekers are sanctioned for the most bizarre of reasons by advisors under pressure to reach targets – or some chasing them to win an easter egg, or those few who think the same as IDS or are on a powertrip and sanction just because they can. Here we present a few cases we’ve come across online, in newspapers and parliamentary debates. Remember that sanctions are supposedly there both to “incentivise” claimants into work (by making them starve) and to punish those who flagrantly break rules.
- You work for 20 years, then because you haven’t had the process clearly explained to you, you miss an appointment, so you get sanctioned for 3 weeks. (source: Councillor John O’Shea)
- You’re on a workfare placement, and your jobcentre appointment comes round. The jobcentre tells you to sign on then go to your placement which you do. The workfare placement reports you for being late and you get sanctioned for 3 months. (Source: DefiniteMaybe post on Mumsnet forums)
- You’re five minutes late for your appointment, you show the advisor your watch which is running late, but you still get sanctioned for a month (source: Clydebank Post)
- You apply for more jobs than required by your jobseeker’s agreement, but forgot to put down that you checked the local paper (which you’ve been specifically instructed to do via a jobseeker’s direction) so you get sanctioned (source: Steve Rose on twitter – part 1 . part 2)
- You’re on contributions based JSA (which is JSA paid on the basis of National Insurance you’ve paid in, not on your level of income) and get your appointment day wrong and turn up on Thursday instead of Tuesday so you get a four week sanction (source: Cheesy Monkey comment )
- It’s Christmas Day. You don’t do any jobsearch, because it’s Christmas Day. So you get sanctioned. For not looking to see if anyone has advertised a new job on Christmas Day. (source: Poverty Alliance)
- You get an interview but it’s on the day of your nan’s funeral. You have 3 interviews the day before, and you try to rearrange the interview, but the company reports you to the jobcentre and you get sanctioned for failing to accept a job. (source: @TSAAPG on twitter – part 1 . part 2)
- You get given the wrong forms, get sanctioned for not doing the right forms. (Source: Adventures in Workfare blog )
- You’re sick and miss an appointment, but you’ve already missed one so you get sanctioned (Source: @thinktyler on twitter. Rules actually state you can miss a grand total of two appointments for illness each year – particularly harsh if you’re sick and have been wrongly kicked off ESA by ATOS)
- You don’t apply for an IT job that needs skills you don’t have so you get sanctioned. (Source: Geminisnake on Urban75 forums )
- You volunteer in a youth club. For some reason the jobcentre thinks this is paid work so they sanction you. (source: @ukeleleKris on twitter )
- You attend a work programme interview so you miss your jobcentre appointement and get sanctioned (Source: CAB )
- You’ve got no money to travel to look for work so you get sanctioned (source: CAB)
- You have an interview which runs long, so you arrive at your jobcentre appointment 9 minutes late and get sanctioned for a month (source: jsdk posting on Consumer Action Group forums)
- You’ve been unemployed for seven months and are forced onto a workfare scheme but can’t afford to travel to the shop. You offer to work in a different branch you can walk to but are refused and get sanctioned for not attending your workfare placement. (Source: Caroline Lucas MP)
- You attend a family funeral and miss your jobcentre appointment so you get sanctioned. (Source: Derek Twigg MP)
- You have a training appointment at the same time as your jobcentre appointment, you tell the jobcentre you won’t be coming but they say you have to, and to get a letter from your new training organisation. Your training organisation says they don’t provide letters. (Source: Russell Brown MP)
- You are easily confused or have poor English language skills, you will be disproportionately targetted for sanctions (Source: Fiona Taggart MP)
- You retire on the grounds of ill health and claim ESA. You go to your assessment and during the assessment you have a heart attack, so the nurse says they have to stop the assessment. You get sanctioned for not withdrawing from your assessment (Source: Debbie Abrahams MP)
- You get a job, isn’t that great? The job doesn’t start for two weeks, so you don’t look for work in those two weeks, and get sanctioned for it. (Source:The Guardian )
If the consequences of this madness were nil then it wouldn’t be a concern, but the consequences are huge for those affected. Some of these sanctions will have been overturned on appeal, months after the person has suffered as a result of having no money. Whilst many people support the principle of sanctions to remove benefit payments for people they think really aren’t trying to find work, the examples above are the direct result of having such sanctions available to be used and then pressuring staff to use them.
Sanctions are no help for jobseekers. They target the wrong problem. It doesn’t matter how hard you look for work when you are one of 2,500,000 unemployed people and there are only 400,000 jobs available. If we want to help people into work we need to create jobs, not punish individuals for being out of work during the worst recession for over 100 years.
What is to be done?
If you are sanctioned you should ask for a review and then appeal if the review is not successful. You should get advice – in Birmingham you can go to the CAB, the TUC centre for unemployed workersor contact the Birmingham Claimants Union. You can join Unite Community Union or SolFed. Unfortuantely with cuts in funding and legal aid, combined with a huge rise in the need for their support, many advice centres are struggling and Birmingham Law Centre has closed.
If you find your housing benefit stopped this is wrong, you need to file a nil income claim. A Birmingham charity, Sifa Fireside, says that “housing benefit is increasingly suspended if people are being sanctioned by Job Centre Plus”
As a community we can fight back against the regime running the DWP. Join Boycott Workfare today who are taking action around the country against workfare and the work programme, where many sanctions originate from, and helping to build up a movement to return welfare to social security.
Courtesy of Birmingham Against the Cuts