The true nature of the latest government crackdown on vulnerable people has been revealed as sanctions against people on Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) has risen 350% in one year.
The criteria introduced for sanctioning people on ESA have become much harsher in the past year, meaning that people can be sanctioned and have their benefits removed for up to three years for very minor deviations, such as missing one appointment at the Jobcentre or other government provider, or forgetting to attend a skills training session.
In some cases those with learning disabilities are being sanctioned even when they are unable to understand requests they are sent to attend appointments.
Many are left with no money for food after their benefits are taken away for trivial mistakes and misunderstandings. Some have lost their income for a month or more after missing appointments they were never told about, not searching for a job on Christmas day, or rearranging a job interview that clashes with a funeral.
Almost 16,000 sanctions were handed out to those on the sickness benefit Employment Support Allowance between January and March of 2014 – more than triple the number in the first quarter of 2013. In March 2014 alone more than 7,000 ESA claimants were sanctioned – the highest number on record and more than seven times higher than the same month in 2013.
There is evidence that a significant number of decisions penalise people unjustly. Of the 353,540 cases of jobseekers’ allowance sanctions that were sent for review, almost half – 172,426 – were overturned, suggesting the person should never have had their benefits removed in the first place.
Of those on ESA who had their benefits taken away in March, 7,108 had missed a mandatory training session and 395 did not go to a compulsory interview. Experts say the sanctions can be disproportionate and there is increasing evidence that these can be born out of misunderstandings
Gillian Guy, chief executive of Citizens Advice, told the Independent: “Employment Support Allowance is not fit for work. Sick and disabled people face an uphill battle to get support because of a poorly-designed system. It’s important that taxpayer money is spent fairly and that anyone who is able to work does so.
“However the experience of our clients is that fit for work tests are unreliable and fail to give fair treatment and decent support to people with sickness or a disability. Far too many people regularly face long delays, flawed assessments, charges for medical evidence to appeal against decisions and an increasingly high chance of being sanctioned due to the tough new regime.”
Matt Downie, director of policy at Crisis, said: “This is a shocking escalation in the use of sanctions and we are deeply concerned about the impact on people’s lives.
“Sanctions are cruel and can leave people utterly destitute – without money even for food and at severe risk of homelessness. It is difficult to see how they are meant to help people prepare for work. Our own research has shown that many homeless people face unfair and inappropriate sanctions, often handed out due to errors on the part of the Job Centre or Work Programme provider.
“We want the Government to commit to an urgent, wide-ranging review looking at the appropriateness and effectiveness of sanctions, especially for people at risk of or experiencing homelessness.”
Richard Hawkes, chief executive of the disability charity Scope said: “We back the Government’s commitment to getting more disabled people into work. But such a dramatic increase in the use of sanctions raises serious questions.
“Disabled people are being sanctioned for things like missing interviews with advisers. How often do sanctions take into account the reality of disabled people’s lives? Interviews with advisers can clash with medical appointments and inaccessible transport can make attendance extremely difficult.”
Source: The Independent
The government are targeting the vulnerable in society on purpose. They want vulnerable people to be forced into taking low-paid dead-end jobs to bolster the coffers of big companies. In effect, they are re-introducing the work house through indirect means.
The system implemented by the government to assess people who are sick and disabled has been a constant target of criticism from many different areas of society – not just representatives of disabled people.
Of particular concern is the rise of initiatives to penalise those with mental health conditions. In addition to stripping away mental health services through ridiculous cuts to local government funding and changes to the NHS, the government have created a situation where many people with mental health issues have no support at all, and therefore become extremely vulnerable to the bureaucratic fascism we see rampant through the benefits system.
Of course the government should be concerned about those who are able to work making choices not to work, and they should be penalised appropriately.
We would like to know what additional resources the government have put into tracking down benefit fraud – probably not much. More resources in finding those who truly abuse the system would have been a much better use of the money being wasted on assessments and ‘fiddling’ with the benefits system.
But it is obvious that the government is not interested at all in ‘doing the right thing’ as more evidence emerges of them abusing their power to fulfil their own sick and twisted agendas.
Despite the so-called crackdown by the government, our experience is that their initiatives are a total failure. Benefit fraud is still a big problem as we see from news reports when someone is finally caught and prosecuted – and this seems to be more by chance than anything else.
The work capability assessment is a total failure, and the pressure placed on Jobcentres to sanction people for the most minor reasons is a desperate attempt to massage statistics before the next general election.
The truth is that there is little or no support available for the most vulnerable in society – only a punitive system dreamed up by the most uncaring fascist minds possible.
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