Have you ever considered how having absolutely no money and no food could be the positive incentive you need to transform your life?
Incredibly that is what the UK Tory Government asked us to believe when the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) produced a leaflet containing examples of unemployed people talking about how being deprived of all income was just the thing they needed, and that benefit sanctions are a positive and successful innovation.
People looking for work can be sanctioned if they “don’t meet a requirement” set-out by the DWP in terms of a ‘Claimant Commitment’. For example, the DWP leaflet received by new jobseekers states that not meeting a requirement includes failing to carry out “an activity you have been told to do by your adviser, or someone else acting on behalf of Universal Credit”. Sanctions can also be applied if someone does not “attend and take part fully in appointments” or “give information when required”.
People have been sanctioned for things such as arriving a few minutes late for a Jobcentre appointment, irrespective of issues beyond their control.
Sanctions mean all income is instantly withdrawn – resulting in no money to buy food or pay bills - and they can run from a few days to three-years. In the most recent year for which figures are available (2013/14), almost 3,000 sanctions were imposed on benefit claimants in the local area (people who make their claim at Saltcoats Jobcentre). Across the UK, the use of sanctions has soared over the past few years, a situation that has seen claimants and their dependents instantly deprived of the very basics needed to live.
The DWP leaflet issued to new Jobseekers - ‘My Work Search’ - has one-page describing the ‘Claimant Commitment’, two-pages showing how to complete a ‘work search record’, and three-pages setting-out ‘Sanctions and Penalties’.
Sanctions are a drastic punishment for often minor administrative breaches of a ‘commitment’ made by an unemployed person attempting to find work. They leave people in a truly desperate situation. I have personally witnessed a man on the brink of a breakdown as he remonstrated with a member of staff at a Jobcentre after he had been sanctioned. The man asked what he was meant to do, how he was supposed to feed his children after all of his income had been stopped because of a sanction being applied. “Will I just go and kill myself,” he cried, “is that what you want? That would reduce the unemployment figures, eh?”
Despite this reality, the Department for Work and Pensions recently published a leaflet showing named people talking about their positive experiences of the welfare system, including ‘Sarah’ and ‘Zac’ who described being sanctioned and how it helped them focus on finding a job.
Last week it was revealed that the DWP leaflet was a total fabrication, a lie. ‘Sarah’ and ‘Zac’ are, in fact, actors.
After being caught-out, the DWP issued a statement, admitting, “The people in this factsheet aren’t real. We’ve used these stories to show how sanctions can work in practice. The photos used are stock photos and along with the names do not belong to real claimants. The stories are for illustrative purposes only.”
If an unemployed person told their Jobcentre advisor that they hadn’t actually applied for any jobs and that the ones listed in their ‘Job Search Record’ were for illustrative purposes only, they would be sanctioned and would have all of their income stopped. Should not the same ‘logic’ be applied to Iain Duncan Smith MP, the Tory Cabinet Secretary with responsibility for the Department of Work and Pensions?
Duncan Smith is also responsible for the introduction of Universal Credit, which has replaced individual benefits, such as Jobseekers Allowance, Working Tax Credits and Housing Benefit. According to the Tory Government, Universal Credit makes things simpler and more efficient, combining benefits into one payment. Other changes include the unemployed now only receiving one benefit-payment a month, instead of fortnightly, which, the government argues, teaches people how to budget and pay bills. Clearly, the Tories believe the unemployed have always been without work and have never actually been in the position where they earned a wage and paid their bills.
Iain Duncan Smith, who lives with his wife in a home located on the Buckinghamshire country estate owned by his father-in-law (the 5th Baron Cottesloe), does not have a clue how the unemployed live or how his ‘welfare reforms’ are impacting on people already struggling on inadequate benefits.
Before Duncan Smith’s changes, Housing Benefit was paid directly to landlords, which meant rental payments were made and accommodation secured. With Universal Credit, though, the housing element is now paid to the claimant and they must pay rent to their landlord. That may sound like a sensible arrangement, except that, if a claimant owes money to the bank – and most people struggling to get by owe money to the bank – then as soon as the Universal Credit payment is made into their account, the bank takes what it is owed. This means that, immediately, there is not enough money to pay the rent and arrears begin to accrue.
It is also the case that new claimants are informed they will not receive a benefit payment for five-weeks from the date of the claim. It is impossible to survive for five-weeks without an income, so people end up having to borrow money, often from high-interest loan companies, which results in debt being accrued.
With benefit payments being delayed for five weeks, and only one payment being made per month, bills cannot be paid as they become due, including rent, further leading to arrears being accrued. In fact, most private landlords are not sufficiently tolerant to accept tenants who are constantly a month in arrears with rent payment.
Iain Duncan Smith and his Tory colleagues are out of touch, they don’t know what it is like to find oneself without a job and struggling to survive. What is worse, they simply don’t care.
Duncan Smith’s ‘welfare reforms’, including Universal Credit, are a disaster: they have made even worse what was already a very bad situation for the unemployed.
Of course, the Tories have no mandate to impose their policies on Scotland: they have just one MP in this country, secured on a majority of around 800 votes, yet they form the government because a 10% majority of Scots decided we should remain within the United Kingdom.
Hammering the poor and then blatantly lying to portray soul-destroying sanctions as a positive situation: is that really what people thought they would get by remaining within the British Union? Is that really evidence of us being ‘better together’?
At the UK Election earlier this year, 95% of the MPs returned from Scotland represent the SNP: they oppose the British Union and the austerity being imposed by a Tory Government we rejected at the ballot box.
Is that really what passes for democracy in the British State?