Friday, 4 July 2014

MP's concern over benefits sanctions

Katy Clark MP has spoken of her “deep concern” over the impact benefit sanctions are having on local people.

Ms Clark referred to a new report from Citizens Advice Scotland (CAS), which highlighted that many people are forced into poverty and ill health, often having to rely on foodbanks when their benefit payments are stopped (sanctioned).  The CAS report also reveals that many benefit claimants are not told why their payments have been stopped by the Department for Work and Pensions, or how to appeal against a sanction.

The UK Tory-Lib Dem Government introduced a new sanctions regime that has seen the sole income removed from thousands of Jobseekers, often for relatively minor breaches of Jobseeker Agreements.  At Saltcoats Jobcentre alone over the past 12 months, a total of 1,309 local unemployed people had their benefits stopped as a result of a sanction.

Figures from the Department for Work and Pensions reveal that, across the UK, there were 874,850 Jobseeker Allowance sanctions in the year to September 2013, the highest figure for any 12 month period since the unemployment benefit was introduced in 1996.  Sanctions can be applied for anything up to 3 years.

Katy Clark said, “This report from Citizens Advice Scotland charts the human cost of the [UK] Government’s cruel and punitive sanctions regime.  Many of those sanctioned are being forced to go to foodbanks and, even more worryingly, 99-percent of Citizens Advice advisors have seen individuals going without food, while 97-percent have seen individuals going without gas and electricity as a direct result of being sanctioned.  This cannot be an acceptable way for a developed nation to treat its citizens in the 21st century.”

Of the finding that many claimants were not being told why they had been sanctioned, Ms Clark said, “Citizens Advice Scotland is currently running a ‘Challenge It’ campaign, encouraging those sanctioned to challenge decisions.”

The Labour MP for North Ayrshire & Arran is advising constituents facing a sanction to contact her or their local Citizens Advice bureau.

Ms Clark is on the left-wing of the Labour Party, often ‘rebelling’ on social issues where Labour’s official position is very close to that of the UK Tory-Lib Dem Government.  In October 2013, Rachel Reeves MP, Labour’s Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary, said the party, if returned to government at a UK level, would be tougher than the Tories on slashing the benefits bill, stating, "Nobody should be under any illusions that they are going to be able to live a life on benefits under a Labour Government.  If you can work you should be working, and under our compulsory jobs guarantee if you refuse that job you forego your benefits.”

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