Coalition government condemned over sanctions regime that tortures children

A poster against benefits sanctions in Salford.

Around 100,000 children were affected by benefit sanctions between the beginning of April 2013 and the end of March 2014, according to a new report.

In the same period, nearly seven million weeks’ worth of sanctions were handed out to benefit claimants.

The data, obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, will feature in this evening’s episode of Channel 4’s Dispatches, entitled Britain’s Benefits Crackdown.

The report – Time to Rethink Benefit Sanctions – is published today by the Baptist Union of Great Britain, Church Action on Poverty, the Church in Wales, the Church of Scotland, the Methodist Church and the United Reformed Church. It contains new data on the severity and length of sanctions under ‘welfare reform’, and on how sanctions affect vulnerable groups such as children and those with mental health problems.

It features the stories of people like James [not his real name] who have had their benefits sanctioned: “During the first three weeks of my sanction I continued to look for work as I was required to.

“By the fourth week, however, I was exhausted, unwell and no longer had it in me. I was not eating as I had no food and was losing a lot of weight. I told the Jobcentre I was unwell through not eating, but was sanctioned for another three months for not looking for work properly,” he added.

According to The Void, Job Centres are being awarded special 'sheriff stars' for meeting sanction targets (that's right - the sanction targets that the DWP keeps insisting don't exist, even after being presented with the proof). Link:

According to The Void, Job Centres are being awarded special ‘sheriff stars’ for meeting sanction targets (that’s right – the sanction targets that the DWP keeps insisting don’t exist, even after being presented with the proof). Link:

“Those who already have the most difficult lives are those most likely to be sanctioned,” said Paul Morrison, public issues policy adviser for the Methodist Church and one of the authors of the report. “Sanctions impact disproportionately on young people, care leavers, homeless people, single parents, the mentally ill and those with long term illness. This system causes problems for the very people that most need help.

“But sanctions don’t just have a financial impact. The people we’ve spoken to have told us of the shame, demoralisation and loss of self-worth caused by this system. As Christians we believe that everyone is loved, valued and made in the image of God, and we have a responsibility to challenge any structure or system that undermines that dignity.”

The Churches are calling for a full and independent review of the regime and for urgent reform of the hardship payments system to avoid the deliberate imposition of hunger.

This is worth highlighting – these churches consider the government to be deliberately forcing hunger on people. Doesn’t that run against Article 3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, as enshrined in the UK’s Human Rights Act? Human rights campaigning organisation Liberty says this is the case, with this web page quoting a case study that includes “food and drink deprivation”.

In the meantime, they are urging the Government to suspend all sanctions against families with children and those suffering from mental health problems. Most importantly, they say, there needs to be a change of culture, from one of enforcement and punishment to one of assistance and support.

“If you commit a crime, no criminal court in the UK is allowed to make you go hungry as a punishment,” added Niall Cooper, Director of Church Action on Poverty. “But if you’re late for an appointment at the Jobcentre, they can remove all your income and leave you unable to feed yourself or your family for weeks at a time.

Most people in this country would be shocked if they knew that far from providing a safety net, the benefit sanctions policy is currently making thousands of people destitute. This policy must be reviewed urgently.”

The Archbishop of Wales, Dr Barry Morgan, said: “The findings of this report are disturbing. It exposes a system that is harsh in the extreme, penalising the most vulnerable of claimants by the withdrawal of benefits for weeks at a time. Most worryingly, it appears from DWP guidance, quoted in the report, that deprivation and hunger are knowingly being used as a punishment for quite trivial breaches of benefit conditions. Employers would not be allowed to stop someone’s wages for a month the first time they were 10 minutes late for an appointment, but this is the kind of sanction that is being imposed on some of the most vulnerable people in our society, including those with mental and physical health problems.

Here is the DWP’s own guidance to Job Centre officials on the subject. Judge for yourself:


The Archbishop continued: “We are concerned that the problem may be even worse in Wales, recognising the higher levels of poverty in this country. No Welsh data, however, is included in the report because despite submitting a Freedom of Information request to the DWP three months ago, we are still waiting for a reply. There is supposed to be a 20-day turnaround period for Freedom of Information requests. We are pursuing this.”

It is clear that the DWP is in breach of the Human Rights Act and is subjecting benefit claimants to torture as punishment for late attendance at appointments.

This report by the churches is to be welcomed. Now, what can they do to punish the government for torturing its own citizens?

Follow me on Twitter: @MidWalesMike

Join the Vox Political Facebook page.

If you have enjoyed this article, don’t forget to share it using the buttons at the bottom of this page. Politics is about everybody – so let’s try to get everybody involved!

Vox Political needs your help!
If you want to support this site
but don’t want to give your money to advertisers)
you can make a one-off donation here:

Donate Button with Credit Cards

Buy Vox Political books so we can continue
bringing you the news as it happens.

Health Warning: Government! is now available
in either print or eBook format here:

HWG PrintHWG eBook

The first collection, Strong Words and Hard Times,
is still available in either print or eBook format here:



  1. M de Mowbray March 2, 2015 at 8:23 am - Reply

    Excellent report. Interesting that yesterday’s article about the US State which has decided to house people as it is cheaper than health care or prison sentences for them. I commented on how this vile government is consistently keen on all the worst aspects of USA but none of the good ones. Of course, we could have any possible badge to rewars keen DWP staff for good work, despite the suffering it causes, but trust this government to use an American sheriff’s badge!

  2. victedy March 2, 2015 at 8:54 am - Reply

    I know it sounds cliche, but, I never dreamt in a million years that people in this so-called first-world country would be starving and not through famine, it has been inflicted upon the poor/sick/jobless/disabled by an uncaring self-serving government.
    What galls me the most: the govt policies were implemented by “Christians”
    I don’t know what church Iain Duncan Smith et al attends, but,
    I can imagine them slamming the Bible’s teaching.
    (Matthew 6:19, 20) [Jesus said] ‘Stop storing up for yourselves treasures on the earth…Rather, store up for yourselves treasures in heaven…You cannot slave for God and for Riches’
    POLITICIAN TRANSLATION: Forget God & heaven and store up your riches [no matter who you have to abuse to get it.]
    (Matthew 19:21) Jesus said to him [a rich man]: “If you want to be perfect, go sell your belongings and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven”.
    POLITICIAN TRANSLATION: Damn the poor & treasure in heaven, no one’s getting my money, no matter who’s in need.

    • Mike Sivier March 2, 2015 at 10:19 am - Reply

      Whoa! Hey – don’t go making the mistake the government wants you to make. You must not play their “divide-and-rule” game of saying “Here’s a named group; we’ll demonise them”.
      There isn’t a single real Christian in the Parliamentary Conservative Party. Their acts during the current Parliament demonstrate that.
      Some of them actually have different religions – Baroness Warsi, for one – but all have turned their backs on the teachings of these organisations.
      We have a SECULAR government.
      In case you haven’t noticed, this very article makes it clear that the Christians in our community don’t want anything to do with Cameron and his gang.

      • Chris March 2, 2015 at 10:23 am - Reply

        Allah said that it is harder for a rich man to get through the gates of heaven than for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle. And there is the saying – Alms for the love of Allah.

        Religious people are being called outright liars for saying the truth that welfare and pension reform is the direct cause of starvation.

        • Mike Sivier March 2, 2015 at 10:30 am - Reply

          In fact, Jesus made the comment about the rich man and the eye of the needle.

      • victedy March 2, 2015 at 3:18 pm - Reply

        My comment was a [failed] attempt at facetious-satire, I had some comedy sketch in mind, of a preacher teaching IDS the “sins” of kindness, giving, love, empathy, loving your neighbour as yourself etc and preaching avarice, greed, hate, etc
        Suffice to say, I’m not playing any divide & rule “game” nor was I slamming anyone’s religion and it was Jesus that said (Matthew 19:24) “it is easier for a camel to get through a needle’s eye than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God.”

        • Mike Sivier March 2, 2015 at 5:05 pm - Reply

          Somebody had said something similar on Twitter a day or so ago and your comment both reminded me of it and suggested to me that somebody might be stirring up some sort of sectarian nonsense. I’m very glad that’s not the case.

          • victedy March 2, 2015 at 6:18 pm

            I’m only sorry you thought that of me, as I have been fighting for my disabled relatives now for 4 years, I also support disability groups [one I do a lot of reasearch & writing for.]

          • Mike Sivier March 2, 2015 at 9:42 pm

            I didn’t know anything about your religious views. Put yourself in my position – I bet you would have been suspicious too.

          • victedy March 3, 2015 at 2:20 pm

            I didn’t see my comment as anything other than satire.

          • Mike Sivier March 3, 2015 at 2:37 pm

            No – it was the context in which it arrived here that created the illusion. Anyway, it’s cleared up now.

  3. Mr.Angry March 2, 2015 at 9:02 am - Reply

    Heartless vermin, they are supposed to assist people not kill them, I never thought I would be witness to this in my lifetime. Back door genocide there is no other word for it, why aren’t the nation rioting have they no compassion for their fellow man or is it the case “I am alright jack”

    I think it can only be the latter, illness disability can happen to anyone at any time in their life – are they all so blind?

    Good on the Church; let’s hope they pursue this with a vengeance.

    • Florence March 2, 2015 at 2:39 pm - Reply

      One of the founding principles of the modern welfare state is that no-one should have to rely on charity when in need (“the rich man’s to give or withhold”, and I would add that the Church does fall under that umbrella too, past & present). I just think that many, many people really don’t understand the seriousness of what has been done to our most vulnerable – those in need. The concept of the welfare state is so ingrained that people who are not “in need” think that it does actually still work. Those on the thin end of the wedge have problems enough just surviving both physically and mentally, but somehow many are organising, protesting, and doing all they can. It doesn’t help that the Lobbying law has now silenced those who should be part of the fight back. But most of all, I totally agree, why is there no support in the wider community? WHY?

  4. nick March 2, 2015 at 9:06 am - Reply

    this is an old tactic that was used back in 1990 by the jobcentre. They spent a month with me back then in trying to get me back to work by coming with me to job interviews

    Is seemed ok at the time for them so they thought but to anyone decent they could see my weight decreasing and if it were not for me collapsing and being rescued by the hospital i’m sure to this day the DWP would have killed me

    i was just under 6 stone at the time and even today 25 years on i’m only just over 8 stone at 6-2 i never recovered with all my other health problems and have had to spend many years housebound as thats the sort of iron grip the DWP have always had on me

    and even today they watch me like a hawk as i have always said who needs burma when i already live it

  5. stilbury March 2, 2015 at 1:50 pm - Reply

    “Most people in this country would be shocked if they knew that far from providing a safety net, the benefit sanctions policy is currently making thousands of people destitute. This policy must be reviewed urgently.”

    I really wish that was true, but I know people extremely close to me who seem to be convinced that it’s all for the greater good. Who would imagine you could have a conversation with a fellow human being (a church goer) in a 21st century Christian country that runs along the lines of “how many of those people would have died anyway?”.

    I find it deeply deeply depressing.

    • Mike Sivier March 2, 2015 at 2:42 pm - Reply

      That is shocking.

      • stilbury March 2, 2015 at 7:40 pm - Reply

        Isn’t it just? Yet in this example their church is actively donating to food banks and other charities and they seem unable, or unwilling, to see the irony. I am at a loss.

  6. hugosmum70 March 4, 2015 at 12:57 pm - Reply

    Seems to me a bit of preaching on something other than the Bible is needed here for these so called Christians. incorporate some of the Bible like the loaves and fishes parable, raising of Jairus’s daughter or story of Lazarus , (then THEY wont feel deprived of the word of the Lord,) but bring it into the modern age. among whats happening now.SHOW them the similarities (or rather DIS-similarities) if they are too blind to see for themselves.let them HEAR the stories from the mouths of those who have tried and lost. or who has lost someone to suicide because they couldn’t go on. have a field trip to the places where the homeless are, let them see for themselves what is happening. take them to visit the poor, those who rely on food banks.// not just AT food banks but to their homes. what you see at a food bank is only the tip of whats going on.let them see the bare cupboards. show them bank statements with nothing on them. etc etc. none of the above would help IDS etc (they wouldn’t go anyway cos if faced with it they know they couldn’t stay in denial)

    • Mike Sivier March 4, 2015 at 3:00 pm - Reply

      What so-called Christians? The Coalition government is secular.

      • hugosmum70 March 4, 2015 at 3:08 pm - Reply

        Mike,i am not on about just the government….. stilbury said: QUOTE: I really wish that was true, but I know people extremely close to me who seem to be convinced that it’s all for the greater good. Who would imagine you could have a conversation with a fellow human being (a church goer) in a 21st century Christian country that runs along the lines of “how many of those people would have died anyway?”. UNQUOTE
        those are the so called Christians i am on bout. those who are supposed to be following the teachings of Christ (Christ is ine word Christian after all) but come out with the things Stillbury quoted above. though IDS says he is a Catholic, so am I, but we are still Christians. IDS doesnt come close to being a Christian.. others go to different churches yes. some are Christian some are Muslim or Sikh. they all have similar ideals. put simply ,help your neighbour, help others how you can, don’t harm anyone. honour your parents. LOVE ONE ANOTHER. if they are coming out with things like how many would have died anyway… thats very thoughtless and uncaring,

        • Mike Sivier March 4, 2015 at 3:28 pm - Reply

          I do apologise; your comment was not made as a reply to anybody so I was taking it as a response to the article itself.

  7. hugosmum70 March 5, 2015 at 5:12 pm - Reply

    i had actually clicked on the reply button for stilberry but no matter. its now cleared up. sorry for the confusion i caused.

    • Mike Sivier March 5, 2015 at 6:43 pm - Reply

      No need to apologise; these things happen, for reasons known only to website programmers, I’m sure.

Leave A Comment