Thatcher disdained sanctions. Why do her heirs love them so much?


Vox‘s article on Nelson Mandela stirred up a huge amount of comment. As you might expect, much was complimentary; some was not.

One of the critics sought to alter the stated opinion of David Cameron and his Conservatives by pointing to a letter from Margaret Thatcher to then-South African President PW Botha in 1985, seeking Mr Mandela’s release from prison. This part of the letter didn’t sway yr (dis-)obdt srvt, as the suggestion seemed to be made as part of advice on how Mr Botha could gain political advantage from the situation, rather than from any genuine moral standpoint.

The letter did feature comments that are of considerable interest and relevance at this time – relating to sanctions. Mrs Thatcher wrote: “The Commonwealth meeting opened with forty-five countries seeking extensive trade and economic sanctions against South Africa… My rebuttal of the case… rested on two main premises: that sanctions do not work, indeed are likely to be counter-productive and damaging to those they are intended to help: and that it was inappropriate to take punitive action against South Africa at the very moment when you are taking steps to get rid of apartheid and to make necessary changes in the system of government in South Africa.”

Let’s take these comments back home and apply them to people who are unemployed in the UK today.

The Department for Work and Pensions, under Iain Duncan Smith, imposed a tough new regime of sanctions against Jobseekers’ Allowance claimants in November last year.

Now, sanctions can be imposed for a month if a claimant is judged to be not actively seeking a job or being available for work. Subsequent misbehaviour along these lines would mean a 13-week period without benefit. The claimant must then reapply for benefit in both instances.

Benefit may also be lost for 13 weeks if a jobseeker fails to attend an interview with a Job Centre advisor, although it restarts automatically at the end of this period.

The highest sanction withdraws JSA for 13 weeks if a person leaves their job voluntarily, rising to six months for a second “failure” and three YEARS for a third.

In the eight months between the application of the new rules and June this year, nearly 600,000 JSA claimants were sanctioned. Employment Minister Esther McVey claimed that this affected only a small proportion of jobseekers – “The vast, vast majority of people don’t get sanctions” – but when you compare the actual number of sanctions (553,000) with the number of people on JSA (1,480,000) it becomes clear that this is not true.

In September 2012, 1,570,000 people were on JSA. The government has been claiming that the figure has dropped because people are getting jobs but from these figures it seems far more likely that they have had their money stopped instead.

Ms McVey also said: “The people who get sanctions are wilfully rejecting support for no good reason.” Let’s have a look at that with the help of this website. All the sanctions it describes were really imposed on real jobseekers by Job Centre Plus employees, and these are just some of them:

“You apply for three jobs one week and three jobs the following Sunday and Monday. Because the job centre week starts on a Tuesday it treats this as applying for six jobs in one week and none the following week. You are sanctioned for 13 weeks for failing to apply for three jobs each week.”

“You have a job interview which overruns so you arrive at your job centre appointment 9 minutes late. You get sanctioned for a month.”

“Your job centre advisor suggests a job. When you go online to apply it says the job has “expired” so you don’t apply. You are sanctioned for 13 weeks.”

“You are on a workfare placement and your job centre appointment comes round. The job centre tells you to sign on then go to your placement – which you do. The placement reports you for being late and you get sanctioned for 3 months.”

The victims of these sanctions were clearly people who were trying to take steps to rid themselves of their unemployed status and get a job – but they were sanctioned by our Conservative-led government under a policy created by former Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith. Draw a parallel with what Mrs Thatcher was saying about South Africa and it is clear that she would call that “inappropriate”.

But do they work? No.

According to Liam Purcell, writing in the Church Action on Poverty blog: “Where there are few jobs available, as in the North West of England, taking money away from people is hardly going to help them find jobs.

“Many of the unemployed despair of getting help and meaningful training. For most people who are sanctioned, it does nothing to help them acquire skills that would help them compete in the labour market.

“Having to apply online for dozens of inconvenient, unsuitable jobs for which they are poorly qualified, and which they may be physically or mentally incapable of holding down, is hardly a profitable use of time… Yet failure to comply can mean an end to even the minimum income produced by benefits.”

And the result? “Destitution, which follows, merely helps the poorest to learn how to survive by ducking and diving, by applying to charity, by falling into the clutches of payday lenders and loan sharks, by begging and sometimes stealing. Increasingly we come across people who find the whole process of claiming out-of-work benefits so demeaning and stressful that they just can’t be bothered to apply, and conveniently disappear from the official register of the unemployed.”

And conveniently disappear from the official register of the unemployed.

For those the system was originally “intended to help”, as Mrs Thatcher put it, her letter of 1985 was absolutely right: “Sanctions do not work [and] are likely to be counter-productive and damaging.”

But for a government that is desperately trying to claim that its policy on jobs is succeeding, sanctions that “conveniently disappear” people work very nicely indeed.


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14 thoughts on “Thatcher disdained sanctions. Why do her heirs love them so much?

  1. Joseph Smith

    Of course this is a con invented by a corrupt devious dishonest government and the a$$ licker running the Bank of England. Interest rate increases held off until unemployment is at 7% or less? Everyone knows there is no real increase in employment, that said, the rate of new jobs being created is marginally ahead of unemployment, therefore, unemployment is decreasing very slowly. That’s not good enough for MPs seeking re-election in just over a year. So they massage the figures by creating sanctions boasting that they and they alone are reducing unemployment. This of course is untrue! In fact the driving force behind this is a need to increase interest rates demanded by banks and the wealthy ones. So let’s devise a method of creating less claimants by getting them off the lists, sanctions work very well and are popular with those mainly inside the M25 who fail to see daylight because of the depth they’ve achieved inserting themselves into their own anal cavities. So more people sanctioned, more off the unemployment register and more devious, dishonest claims by the corrupt MPs in this stinking coalition.

  2. john ingamells (@geovanni218)

    Sadly applying any element of integrity, honesty and historical fact in the case of thatcher, her ministers, young conservatives ( cameron and his rich tory bullingdon chums ) and using them in the context of this terrible spiteful governments approach to welfare and its recipients, is always going to show them for what they are. This government look at the likes of thatcher and worship at her altar, she also hated and despised ordinary working people and anyone on welfare. The hypocrisy and allegiance to big business, adoration of the tax haven dwellers and tax avoiders ,while victimising benefit cheats and people who have the audacity to struggle as a result of their bedroom tax, shows them for what they are..self interested, crooked and ruthless opportunists. they hate the state and are in the process of dismantling it as the majority struggle to keep their heads up water. They want to privatise medicare and want themselves and chums to make a ‘killing’ from the suffering of the masses. All of this as they and their ilk stash their money in any location away from the hands of the taxman, away from the benefit of the state as a force for good. They are a despicable and cheating class of selfish privileged people who wield power as if it is their birthright and fearing no one. It is fear of a popular uprising of mass direct action that might just wake them from their comfortable repose and shake them into a realisation that people are not going to take anymore dishonest hypocrisy

  3. AM-FM

    When you’ve got 1800+ applying for 4 coffee serving jobs, then it doesn’t matter how much is spent on ‘help’ or ‘training in coffee serving’, or sanctions, or threats of sanction, the result is the same – there’s 1796 unemployed left over.
    Anyone who thinks there’s 1796 other jobs just around the corner for the rest – now that they’ve been ‘trained’ doesn’t understand the problem.

    The Observer’s Nick Cohen has been gunning for RTU lately!

    Meanwhile, The Work & Pensions Committee – Live on SkyNews at 4:30pm – so they say.

    1. Mike Sivier

      I think you’re right to go with parliamentlive.

      As for UC being delayed AND on time – it’s all in his mind, you know. Personally I hope it never appears and – since its online date is now 2017 – I think it might not.

    2. AM-FM

      Boulton & Co. have just confimed it will be on SkyNews @ 4:30

      “Personally I hope it never appears”

      I’ve been online since the interweb was a dial-up bulletin board, and speak a couple of programming languages, and if that qualifies me, I’d bet on UC being scrapped.

      The basic idea is OK and could be done, but I’m not giving any clues, – never know who’s watching!

  4. Liam Purcell

    Thanks for the reference to our blog. One small correction – the article is actually by Greg Smith not Liam Purcell, despite the way WordPress has presented it!

  5. Tini (@littletini77)

    where are these so called jobs,all i see is more and more shops and businesses closing down meaning more people unemployed. seems mps are only out for themselves as they don’t care about the unemployed being sanctioned and left with no money to feed their children never mind heat the house. these days its heat or eat and more people committing suicide,crime rate will rise under this government and yet they still want to open the border

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  7. Joseph Smith

    It’s because this bunch of scumbags are Fascists. Unwell? Disabled? No money or job? Cold hungry? Unable to help yourself? Oh dear how sad never mind, we in the coalitions DWP can help end all your problems worries and pain”………………..die!

  8. Pingback: Abuse of sanctions causes huge drop in unemployment claims | Vox Political

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