People in North Ayrshire are being plunged into deepening hardship as a result of sanctions imposed on benefit payments by the UK Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).
Local MP Katy Clark spoke-out this week on the struggle many of her constituents are enduring because their already inadequate benefits have been slashed, with some people reporting 13-week sanctions, which will mean a very poor Christmas in households across the district.
Staff in the Department for Work and Pensions have been given targets to meet in terms of the number of benefit claimants sanctioned, which has resulted in people losing desperately-needed benefits for reasons such as missing a Jobcentre appointment when they have been attending an interview with a prospective employer or failing to show they have ‘looked for work’ by entering an activity in their Job Diary for every day, including weekends.
Official DWP figures show more than 2.5million people have had their benefits cut for fixed periods since the Tory-Lib Dem Coalition Government took power in 2010.
Katy Clark said, “It is worrying that my office continues to see a steady stream of constituents coming through the door who have had their benefits sanctioned and face real financial hardship as a result.
“Most recently my office has been approached by constituents who have received sanctions of up to 13 weeks, some of which will last right up until Christmas day. This is a very serious matter for these constituents and the consequences could be dire.”
Ms Clark said the UK Government needs to understand that their sanction regime “comes at a very significant human cost,” adding that “leaving someone with no income whatsoever for 13 weeks before Christmas is scandalous and certainly shows one of the reasons why so many people in this country are turning to foodbanks.”
The Labour MP for North Ayrshire & Arran noted, “The DWP claim that safeguards are in place with hardship payments but these are discretionary and at 40-percent of a claimant’s normal benefit they are nowhere near enough to cover the cost of living under David Cameron’s government. The long-term effects are also dire, with the removal of a person’s Housing Benefit and Council Tax-reduction leaving them with debt at the other end of the sanction.”
Ms Clark said, “This should not be about whether we are tough or soft on benefits but rather a basic debate about decency.”
The MP indicated she will raise the plight of her constituents with UK Government Ministers.