Green Party Councillor and Parliamentary Candidate for Thanet South Ian Driver has called for an immediate end to benefits sanctions and says he will be joining a national day of action against sanctions called by UNITE the Union on 19 March. The day of action will include a protests outside the Margate Job Centre Mill Lane at 10am. Said Driver “Thanet’s Jobcentre bosses have unleashed a sanctions tsunami” against the district’s benefits claimants. During theperiod from October 2012 – September 2014, Thanet’s Jobcentre managers have sanctioned 5,718 Jobs Seekers Allowance claims; that’s an average of 240 sanctions per month which is a sanction rate 52% greater than any other district in the Kent County Council area and accounts for over 21% of all sanctions decisions in Kent (1).
Said Driver “even allowing for Thanet’s high unemployment, the number of sanctions are massively disproportionate when compared to other areas of Kent. I can only assume that the is because Jobcentre bosses in Thanet are more inclined to apply sanctions than their colleagues elsewhere in Kent. I suspect they are operating unofficial sanctions targets and putting pressure on frontline staff to sanction first and ask questions later. Either way the statistics for Thanet suggest that something very unusual and unfair is happening. The victims of this approach are most likely to be vulnerable and disabled people especially those with mental health problems and learning disabilities. I will be seeking an explanation from the Job Centre Regional Manager about this ”.
Such is the level of concern about benefits sanctions that a Department of Work and Pensions Select Committee was set up in January 2015 to investigate the issue. Detailed evidence has been presented to the Select Committee by the leaders of several influential campaign groups and charities; the Public and Commercial Services Union and former Job Centre workers which identifies a widespread regime of unofficial, unfair and discriminatory sanctions targeting; front line staff be bullied by their managers to refer claimants for sanctioning for the minor of issues.
Just last week the influential campaigning organisation, Church Action on Poverty, which represents 6 different churches produced a major report “Time to Rethink Benefit Sanctions” which has called the a major review of the sanctions regime and the immediate suspension of benefits sanctioning for claimants with children.
Said Driver “there is no doubt in my mind that some of the most vulnerable people in Thanet are being abused and forced into the most severe hardship and poverty by the insensitive and hard-line approach of senior Job Centre bosses. I sincerely hope that the Select Committee will recommend a root and branch overhaul of a system which is clearly unfit for purpose and dangerous to boot”