GOVERNMENT rules on benefit sanctions lead to a “postcode lottery” that forces some into poverty, SNP MP Mhairi Black warned yesterday as she tried to tighten up their application.
Moving the second reading of her private member’s Bill in the Commons, the Paisley & Renfrewshire South MP said jobcentre staff’s mood had an effect on whether claimants are sanctioned or not.
Jobcentre staff do a “tremendous job given the system they have to work with” but that everyone has “bad days,” she said, that could end up ruining someone’s ability to be able to pay for food and every day essentials.
Sanctions are meted out to benefit claimants if they are deemed to have broken rules, such as lateness or not applying for enough jobs. Benefits are stopped for at least four weeks, even if they have dependants.
Between 2011 and 2015, almost one in four benefit claimants were sanctioned, and sanctions last year led to an estimated £132 million in benefits being withheld from some of the Britain’s poorest and most vulnerable people.
The rise in sanctions has been linked to the increasing numbers of people using foodbanks. The Trussell Trust warned earlier this week that it is gearing up for handing out a record number of emergency food parcels during December.
Ms Black said the Bill was designed to make a “genuine small change that the government can hopefully get on board with.”
A consultation with more than 9,000 responses has taken place as part of work behind Ms Black’s Benefit Claimants Sanctions (Required Assessment) Bill.
Among the proposals is a “code of conduct” which includes considering a claimant’s caring responsibilities, mental and physical health, and housing before making a decision about the continuation of their benefits.
“One of the things that saddens me and depresses me most about the society we live in just now is the fact that the word foodbanks has become normal,” Ms Black said.
She said the idea that people are reliant solely on others’ generosity to eat and feed their children revealed “the backwards hell we are sliding into.
“Sanctions hit people, they hit real people. They are not statistics, they are human beings who are struggling and they are suffering all due to the actions of the state.”
But the Bill was talked out in the Commons. Ms Black asked for the debate to be continued on February 24, but it is unlikely to be given further time to progress through the Commons.
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