13 Days Remaining

Thursday 30th
posted by Morning Star in Features

CHARLOTTE HUGHES believes Universal Credit is proving to be another source of hardship and humiliation for the vulnerable

IN APRIL 2013, Ashton-under-Lyne jobcentre along with Oldham and Wigan were chosen to “trial” Universal Credit — the government’s new flagship programme.

Although there had been murmurings about what Universal Credit might comprise of, no-one actually knew and so it was impossible to predict the amount of suffering it would cause.

We could predict that it wouldn’t be pleasant, though.

The new legislation crept in slowly, often without announcement. I shared any information that I found only to be met with disbelief and abuse.

Everything changed when the repercussions of Universal Credit became very obvious. I would see person after person leave the jobcentre either in tears or extremely frustrated.

The handing out of sanctions was, in my eyes, totally out of control. They were being handed out in a pernicious way targeting the most vulnerable.

But do benefit sanctions actually work?

There is no evidence to show that they actually do. Not only has the government been proven to be dishonest about the reasons for enforcing sanctions — in the sense that there is no evidence to base these reasons on — it has also neglected to monitor the harmful effects that imposing sanctions upon thousands of people actually has.

It is clear that sanctions do have a negative effect on people’s abilities to find work. How can anyone look for work when they lack the basic necessities of life?

In recent years, cases of malnutrition have seen a resurgence; some hospitals now even have foodbanks in order to issue patients with food parcels to prevent further illness.

Over 300,000 sanctions were imposed in the year leading up to September 2016.

A Jobcentre adviser can impose a sanction for the most ridiculous of reasons: for being a minute late for an appointment; having an appointment for an interview at the same time as a signing-on appointment; being 15 minutes short on a universal job match job search account; for going to a funeral; for being admitted to hospital, etc. The list could go on and on.

People failing an Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) medical are often told that they have to either apply for jobseeker’s allowance or Universal Credit.

When they are too ill to complete the tasks in their claimant commitment they are also sanctioned.

This has had a dramatic effect on the increasing death toll due to the lack of benefits.

The everyday bureaucracy at the Department for Work and Pensions has been implemented, I feel, to cause confusion and stress in benefits claimants. Even advisers are often unsure about the rules, and legislation.

This, in itself, sends out a very clear message. If you want to claim any type of benefit, then be ready for a bureaucratic struggle, delays and oppression.

Many claimants either give up, or don’t even bother.

This leaves a person without hope, a constant feeling of angst, stress and worry; the feeling of not being in control of your life; constant uncertainty over where the next meal will be coming from and the constant threat of being sanctioned or failing an ESA medical always looming over your shoulder. This is the reality of life on benefits now. Hunger, desperation, poverty and suicide is becoming the norm.

Communities celebrate a foodbank opening when instead they should be protesting against the need for one at all.

The safety net that was created to help people when they were at their most vulnerable has been taken away.

I was delighted when Unite the Union decided to join us in solidarity and created a national day of demonstrations against benefit sanctions.

Today is their third national day of action and so groups across the country are gathering outside jobcentres and DWP call centres up and down the country, with one clear message: it is wrong to take away the basic necessities to sustain life.

No-one should have to suffer like this. And it’s time that the sanctioning system was abolished.