Friday, October 24, 2014

We *can* beat ‘evil’ benefit sanctions


No less than two stories floated across the Vox Political desktop this morning to ensure that the big story of the day would not be the EU’s attempt to extort money from David Cameron*.

Both these stories concerned unfortunate UK citizens who had been forced to steal food after the Job Centre had sanctioned their benefits for missing appointments – not for job interviews, but with Job Centre staff.

Recovering drug addict Ian Mulholland, 47, is facing the prospect of leg amputation and was unable to attend his Job Centre because his ulcerated legs left him unable to get there. Sanctioned for nine weeks and unable to get to a food bank for the same reason he could not attend the Job Centre, hunger drove him to steal from his local supermarket. He was sentenced to 14 weeks at Her Majesty’s convenience, a lengthier stay than would be expected normally due to previous convictions. The practical upshot is that the taxpayer is now spending more on his upkeep than if he had not been sanctioned.

And Lucy Hill, who is in the work-related activity group of Employment and Support Allowance claimants, had no alternative other than to steal food for herself and her family after she missed an appointment with a Job Centre advisor who was supposed to be helping her with the training and skills necessary to get back into work when her health improved enough for her to take a job again. Her benefit was sanctioned as a result.

These stories are appalling indictments against our Tory-led government and its policies, which are intended to hurt people, simply for being poor. It makes no financial sense at all for the authorities to impose conditions on a person’s benefit that are impossible for them to meet (due, in both the cases mentioned, to obvious health problems) and then remove their benefit when they fail to comply, when this only forces them to commit a crime in order to survive, prompting police investigation, prosecution and possibly imprisonment, all at the taxpayers’ expense.

The Coalition’s ministers are supposed to be finding ways of saving money, yet they are clearly prepared to spend it like water if it means they have an opportunity to humiliate the poor.

Fortunately, it seems likely that this attitude has had its day...