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It’s not just austerity, it’s deliberately punitive

coshIt’s called ‘sanctioning’, and it’s part of the Tory armoury designed to brutalise the poor. DWP figures, just released after being withheld for months, show that in the last year, after the Tories introduced a new tougher benefit regime last October, benefit payments have been suspended in the case of the unemployed no less than 580,000 times on the grounds that, according to the government, they either failed to look for work or turned down a job offer or missed a jobcentre appointment. This of course fits the stereotype vigorously propagated by the government and the Tory tabloids that unemployed people are shirkers or benefit scroungers, but it is a gross misrepresentation of reality on several grounds.

First, getting a job is mathematically impossible for all the unemployed when there are 2,500,000 people workless and only 400,000 vacancies. The vast majority of unemployed people are extremely keen to get work, but the jobs simply aren’t there. It’s Osborne’s economic policy which is (deliberately) keeping the jobless figures high, so why should those who can’t get work be punished, and extremely harshly?

Second, part of this brutalising of the poor is that jobcentre managers have been instructed by DWP to meet (high) targets for sanctioning, so they have been telling their staff to sanction more claimants. The effect of this can be seen from the fact that, since the new sanctions regime was introduced a year ago, the number of sanction referrals has risen by a huge 30% to 161,000 a month. What this means is that in order to prove their propaganda that the unemployed are lazy and not trying to get work, the government has deliberately inflated the figures for not trying to get work by enforcing artificial targets regardless of the facts.

Third, the penalties are wildly harsh, out of all proportion to any just response. The first penalty for failing to attend a job adviser interview is a fixed mandatory 4-weeks loss of job seeker’s allowance. If that happens again or if allegedly a person fails to take up a job opportunity, the penalty is deprivation of any benefit payments for 3 months. A third infringement leads to loss of benefit for 3 years. This is being applied against people who have been paying national insurance contributions of 9% of their gross incomes for years which entitles them under an insurance contract to unemployment benefit if they lose their job.

Fourthly, and most seriously, there are thousands of cases reported where sanctioning is clearly grossly unjust. Examples are, from my own surgery and from CAB interviews: ‘Jobcentre didn’t record I had informed them I was in hospital when I was due to attend appointment’, ‘went to job interview instead of signing on at Jobcentre as appointment clashed’, ‘had to look after my mum, she’s disabled and was very ill’, ‘I didn’t know about the interview because they sent to the wrong address’, ‘I refused a job because I was in a women’s refuge fleeing domestic violence and in the process of relocating’, ‘I didn’t do enough to find work in between FINDING work and starting it’, etc., etc.

5 Comments

  1. Ewan says:

    Please don’t use the term “workless,” it is DWP newspeak designed to imply that the fault of not having a job immediately lies with the unemployed.

  2. Jay says:

    I’ve been unemployed for 5-6 years, alternating between JSA and ESA as I’m autistic so can work but not without significant support. I desperately want to work, prior to losing my job I was known as a work-a-holic, but the longer I’m out of work the worse my autism becomes and the less people want to hire me because employers view the unemployed as ‘lazy scroungers’.

    I’ve NEVER had a sanction or been in trouble in the past, I’ve always done as I was told; gone to New Deal, gone on work placements (including a call centre despite the fact I can’t use a phone, and one placement where there was no lock or closing door in the bathroom so I had to be okay with men spying on me), and I’ve always attended sign-on days (I even left college to do so as the job centre wouldn’t change my days to allow me to continue at college). I’ve jumped through every hoop, even those which risked my well-being or health.

    I had my first sanction this month;
    ESA down to £28 per week for 4 weeks.
    My next sanction will be significantly worse, so this isn’t just one sanction but a pathway to having my benefits stopped all together – then what? This is because I didn’t attend a meeting, I didn’t attend as the company running the program had been sending me letters in error for two years, the job centre had told me to ignore these letters – although I kept contacting them to stop these letters, they ignored my correspondence. I had no idea that I had been referred to this company as no one told me what was going to happen next on ESA WRAG, so when they sent me a letter for an appointment I didn’t know it was genuine. The company just re-scheduled the meeting and so not all is well as far as they’re concerned, but DWP insist I’m not fulfilling my work-related-activity.

    Mine isn’t even the most ridiculous example you’re likely to hear, but it’s a common story – this is our total income, it’s being stopped without good reason and the effect could be absolutely devastating. This isn’t helping us get back into work, and it isn’t helping the country either.

  3. Rod says:

    @Jay

    I heard some politicians discussing how best to implement these ‘get back to work’ measures on the radio yesterday. The shortage of work wasn’t mentioned at all – only how to make life difficult for those out of work.

    Goodness knows what it will be like if Labour get in 2015 – Oxbridge educated, ex-banker Rachel Reeves (34) has promised to be even ‘tougher’ on this than the Tories.

  4. Peter says:

    well ive been alternating between JSA and ESA for 4yrs. the same problem means am back on and had to have surgery, yet i was still classed as fit for work.
    its fine for the rich

  5. FedUp says:

    I am 39 years of age, unemployed for past 3 weeks, experienced secretary/PA for over 15 years, first time unemployed, capable of conducting my own job search on far more reputable job websites than UJ – and have just been sanctioned for 13 weeks for failing to comply with a jobseeker’s direction. That being I refused to make my CV public and I refused to go to the library every day to use UJ as I don’t want cookies on my computer. I also refused to allow every tom, dick and harry (including in Utah where monster.com are based) to view my CV with my email address and contact details. So now I am unable to pay my rent, heat my house, have a hot shower or EAT for the next 13 weeks, yet I am now to sign on every week and still continue to search for work 7 days a week, writing to at least 10 employers a week, 5 on spec employers a week, hand in my CV once a week to employers in towns and go back every week requesting feedback and ask again if they have a job (I’m going to look like a stalker!) and I’m to ring at least 3 employers a week. I used to be very confident and now I’m feeling depressed and I don’t know how I am going to look and feel in job interviews if I have no hot water to shower and dry my hair, no bus/train fare to attend and I will not be able to focus on questions asked at the interview since I will not have eaten! I, like many others, would have to be into ‘self-harm’ if IDS truly believes that we love to be sanctioned, that we aren’t doing enough to find work, because we just love not eating, we love being cold and sitting in the dark, that we can’t wait to be evicted, or we relish the idea of not paying our bills and waiting for the bailiffs to come knocking or to be taken to court. IDS is a Sociopath! He should be sacked immediately. He is NOT fit-for-work!

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