Sometimes I wonder if any of us really know what goes on beyond our front doors. This week, two reports have come out about the DWP benefit sanction regime that are so damning, it seems impossible that the system can continue, and yet it does. I feel that I must be completely out of sync with society. All my conversations about benefit sanctions, real and virtual, are full of stories about how sanctions cause misery and pain and are inflicted in an arbitrary and cruel way. But I clearly have no idea what goes on beyond my front door, as there seem to be many who see nothing wrong with the system. On the other hand, so many must have no idea what is actually happening in the lives and families of those who are affected by sanctions.
So, not a full blog today. I just wanted to bring these articles and other comments together in one place.
One report has found that benefit sanctions are disproportionately applied to people with mental health problems. The Methodist Church, the Church of Scotland, the Church in Wales and MIND found that more than 100 people a day are having their income taken away. Far too often, the reason for the sanction is often a symptom of the health issue. “Sanctioning someone with a mental health problem for being late for a meeting is like sanctioning someone with a broken leg for limping. The fact that this system punishes people for the symptoms of their illness is a clear and worrying sign that it is fundamentally flawed,” said Paul Morrison, Public Issues Policy Adviser for the Methodist Church.
The findings of an MPs’ inquiry showed that cutting people’s benefit doesn’t actually help people find work. It certainly cuts the benefit bill and makes the unemployment figures look better. But many people who are sanctioned don’t find work, they simply give up claiming the benefit. This might sound great if you ignore the human misery and are only interested in outcomes that involve saving money. But the review also suggests that the costs simply appear elsewhere, but bigger, such as in additional costs to the prison and courts service, to the NHS and other food support services.
And finally this piece in the Guardian today, which shows up the sanctions regime for what it is: a means to bully and harass people who can’t fight back. And the reason why this continues, why people don’t see or aren’t bothered is summed up nicely thus: “But a public encouraged to think of “the unemployed” and “welfare claimants” as some separate, degenerate Other seems barely to notice what is happening.”
This s**t isn’t happening to other people, it’s happening to us. To our fellow citizens, to people in our cities, in our communities, to our neighbours, our friends, to our country. Come on guys, look beyond your front door. Arm yourselves with the facts. Click on the links above (and the ones I’ll post below), read the reports. And when those desperate parliamentary candidates knock on your door asking for your vote, ask them what they’re going to do about it.
Other reports and comments:
Other reports worth reading: