Benefit sanctions are a ‘truly shocking nightmare’

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Disabled protest against cuts to benefits
Disabled protest against cuts to benefits

CIVIL servants union PCS has slammed the increase in benefit sanctions on the unemployed, that average at 64,307 per month, as ‘truly shocking’.

PCS added that this leads directly to ‘an increase of people being forced to use food banks and loan sharks.’

Disabled people have been hit hard by the sanctions regime, with the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) calling the crisis an ‘unfolding scandal’ which it says is like a ‘Kafkaesque nightmare’.

CPAG said that due to the sanction regime, since June last year, 120 disabled people have been banned from receiving any benefits at all, for a fixed three-year period.

PCS said that it represents 80,000 staff working at the Jobcentres and other services for the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and so has first-hand experience of the problem of sanctioning unemployed people.

The union revealed that DWP staff have been set ‘expectations’ about the number of sanctions they should issue, despite MP’s denying that there are targets.

PCS explained: ‘Staff are required to do this under threat of disciplinary action through poor performance procedures if they are not seen to be meeting the “expectations” set by the DWP Management.

‘The figures released yesterday are truly shocking:

‘In the last two-and-a-half years, the number of unemployed people sanctioned has averaged 64,307 per month, compared with 27,108 per month between 2000 and 2010 – a 137% increase.

‘Employment Support Allowance (ESA) sanctions issued to disabled people have increased by 156% in the last year.

‘It is also a concern to PCS that the sanctions are now lasting for longer and at higher rates and are completely disproportionate to the so-called offence, which can be as trivial as being a few minutes late for an interview.’

Mark Serwotka, PCS general secretary, said: ‘ Yesterday’s sanctions statistics show a shocking rise in the numbers being penalised, resulting in severe and dehumanising hardship for claimants and their families.’

He added: ‘The government’s perverse and punitive approach is a collective punishment on the unemployed and the disabled for its own failure to create sufficient jobs.’

Meanwhile, CPAG spokesperson Tim Nichols said: ‘The sanctions regime is an unfolding scandal that is doing tremendous damage to jobseekers and disabled people, even when they are trying to do the right thing.’

He added: ‘The result is demand on foodbanks surging from people whose claims are stopped for weeks, months and even years.

‘Since June last year 120 disabled people have been banned from benefits for a fixed three-year period, without a systematic safeguard of full case reviews before it reaches that point.

‘Instead of helping people, many claimants are finding that Jobcentres are becoming like a Kafkaesque nightmare. The government should urgently investigate what the consequences are for the children and families of people being failed by this cruel regime.’