Just last week, the Government, in the guise of Iain Duncan Smith, responded to the Work Pensions Committee Report saying that it had no intention of setting up an independent review into whether sanctions are being applied “appropriately, fairly, or proportionately”. Bearing in mind the nature of the evidence which the Work and Pension Committee had considered, this decision was utterly amazing. Witness after witness demonstrated beyond reasonable doubt that an unfair, unjustifiable and wholly disproportionate sanctions regime prevailed within the Jobcentre service. Evidence was presented which revealed that senior Jobcentre managers were operating “unofficial” sanctions targets at offices across the country. Frontline Jobcentre staff were being bullied and cajoled by their bosses into meeting these targets for fear of disciplinary action and poor work appraisals. Furthermore, some of the most vulnerable benefit claimants, those with mental illness, learning disabilities, poor literacy, or substance addictions, were being singled out for sanctioning because they would be soft target who would be unlikely to fight back against the punishments.
It was revealed that sanctions were being imposed for the smallest of offences such as being just a few minutes late for an appointment and that appointment dates and times were being deliberately manipulated so that it would be difficult for claimants to attend, providing another excuse to sanction. There was also evidence of massive discrepancies between the sanctioning rates of different Jobcentres indicating that managers were applying the rules inconsistently. In short, the Committee’s findings revealed that within the Jobcentre system there is a powerful culture of sanctioning in which claimants are deliberately targeted and set up to fail and that a disproportionate number of vulnerable claimants fall victim to this bullying and vindictive culture. I can vouch for this being true as I had personal experience of an effort to sanction me after losing my job in 2013. Thankfully it failed.
But if this isn’t bad enough the Committee also heard evidence from charities and churches about the appalling human impact of sanctioning. Especially how already extremely poor people were being forced into destitution and hunger when their meagre JSA was stopped. How many of those sanctioned were not told about how to appeal or the fact that they could claim emergency help to tide them over, and how many people faced bailiffs and eviction because housing benefit payments were often (and unlawfully) stopped when JSA was sanctioned. But worst of all is immeasurable despair and anxiety that was heaped upon the shoulders of hundreds of thousands of, often vulnerable, claimants who wondered how they would get by without any money. And sadly some of these people took their own lives as a result of the brutal treatment meted out to them by a Government department.
So for Duncan-Smith to say on behalf of his Government that there will be no independent review of a system which is clearly rotten to the core and causing significant financial and emotional pain is a fucking disgrace. But there again why should I be surprised. The ongoing tax credit scandal, which I have been writing about, shows the Tory Government to be heartless, cruel and vindictive towards the poorest and most vulnerable in society. It is they who are being forced to pay the price for the greedy and reckless actions of well-heeled bankers and speculators who were insufficiently regulated by successive Conservative and Labour Governments.From a Thanet perspective I posted a blog about benefit sanctioning in September where I reported that during the 2.5 year period, October 2012 – March 2015, 6,342 JSA claimants from Thanet were sanctioned; an average of 49 sanctions per week. This figure is much higher than any other district in the Kent County Council (KCC) area and accounts for 21% of all benefits sanctions decisions in the KCC boundaries. I said that “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 stand by these words, but sadly the Government’s refusal to launch an independent review into the appropriateness, fairness and consistency of the benefits sanctioning system will give a green light to the bosses of the Ramsgate and Margate Jobcentres to continue to operate their nasty bullying and vindictive sanctioning system with impunity.
Last but not least in my previous sanctions blog I said that “I also think that the Government should be forced to reveal how many people have died following the sanctioning of their benefits, just like the recent figures related to deaths following work capability assessments”. This is something which the Work and Pensions Committee also asked the Government to do. Well surprise, surprise, just like the request for an independent review of the sanctioning system the Government have said no. Why because it would quickly be established that through their enthusiastic, huntsman-like pursuit of vulnerable benefit claimants, Jobcentre bosses have bullied and hounded people to their deaths. Tally-ho you fuckers.