By a Newsnet reporter
A new report from Citizens Advice Scotland warns that stricter UK government sanctions are causing increased suffering and hardship amongst the unemployed. The report, Voice from the Front Line: Sanctions, details how the stricter application of sanctions against Job Seeker Allowance claimants has led to a huge increase in the numbers requesting referrals for food parcels as families already struggling with poverty find their JSA payments docked or withheld. The rise in sanctions has been condemned by the SNP as “another attack on the most needy and vulnerable in Scotland by the UK Tory – Lib Dem coalition”.
CAS cited examples of people being penalised who miss an appointment due to illness or bereavement, and how the rigid rules mean thousands of Scots are now at risk of being pushed into poverty and debt, all on the say-so of an official at the Job centre. The number of sanctions being applied against JSA claimants is now five times what it was before the Conservative Lib-Dem coalition took power in May 2010. By April of this year, sanctions were being applied to 240 JSA claimants in Scotland every day.
Such a massive increase can only be due to government instructions to apply sanctions more strictly and more often in order to increase the “penalties” for being unemployed.
Figures from the DWP indicate that around half of JSA claimants receiving fixed term sanctions were under the age of 25, and that one in six of those receiving sanctions were considered to have a disability. Continuing reforms to sickness benefit will mean that tens of thousands of former sickness benefit claimants will move onto JSA and face possible sanctions.
A North of Scotland CAB reports of a client who has moved house, and whose nearest Jobcentre is now in Inverness, a 32 mile round trip. The client was sanctioned for not attending sign-on interviews as she did not have the money to pay the bus fare. The CAB adviser negotiated an emergency payment to allow the client to attend her next sign on date, but the client will now have to spend a significant amount of her JSA payment attending interviews at the Jobcentre.
An East of Scotland CAB reports of a client who was sanctioned for two weeks for not showing sufficient evidence that he was looking for work, despite the fact that the Jobcentre was aware he was attending training that will allow him to work in the construction industry. The client received no notice of the sanction and only found out when he discovered that there was no money in his account. The client has no money or food and is due to have his son stay with him at the weekend. The client has already borrowed money from a friend, but has run out of options. The bureau arranged for a food parcel to be sent to the client and have put in an appeal.
CAS Chief Executive Margaret Lynch said:
“People who receive JobSeekers Allowance (JSA) have a responsibility to fulfil their side of the deal and actively seek work. Nobody disagrees with that. What concerns us here is that there has been a massive increase in the numbers of people who have been sanctioned – many of them without adequate reason – and the consequence is that they are pushed into severe poverty.
“JSA claimants are struggling at financial crisis-point to begin with. It is only a small payment (£71 per week for those over 25, and £53 for those under 25), but people rely on it to feed themselves and pay the essential bills. So to lose it, for a period of weeks or even months, is simply devastating.
“Forced into destitution, people have to rely on extreme measures like charity food parcels. But these are only available for short periods, so many have no option but to take out high-interest loans just to get by, and this of course sets up massive problems for their future because they have no way of paying that money back and the interest just rockets out of control.”
“Some will no doubt say that sanctions are a good thing and that people who don’t seek work deserve all they get. But in fact many of the cases we see are people who have been sanctioned for very unfair reasons. For example, a person might miss an appointment due to genuine illness or bereavement, or because they rely on public transport which failed to get them there on time. These are the sort of reasons for which people get their money stopped. And indeed a number of alleged offences can be traced back to administrative errors by the jobcentre itself.
“But even if a claimant has really missed an appointment or failed to apply for a particular job, the ‘punishment’ of losing their income doesn’t just hit them but their children as well. We don’t think pushing people into extreme hardship is the answer. Overall, this is just another example of how these welfare reforms are targeting those who are already vulnerable, and making things even worse for them.”
Jamie Hepburn MSP, Deputy Convener of the Welfare reform Committee, said:
“This is yet another attack on the most needy and vulnerable in Scotland by the UK Tory – Lib Dem coalition. Their lack of understanding knows no ends.
“The Tory-led government are running an on-going saga of making the poorest pay for their own economic mismanagement – and these moves will only drive more people into hardship and poverty.
“The out-of-touch Westminster government has no idea of the reality of life on a low income. They have their priorities all wrong; giving tax breaks to millionaires while making the poor and the sick pay the heaviest burden for a financial crisis which is not of their making.
“Welfare reforms are undoubtedly necessary to create a simpler, fairer and more effective system. But the Westminster reforms are not fit for purpose and will do nothing to help anyone in Scotland.
“Decisions over the welfare system should not be left to Westminster Tories but should be made in Scotland, by a Scottish Government and Scottish Parliament, 100 per cent elected by the people of Scotland and committed to building a fairer society.”