THIS is the story of Paul, believed to be the first person sanctioned for three years by the Department of Work and Pensions in Dundee. Paul has committed no crime but must endure deprivation beyond anything the average prisoner will ever face – with an even longer sentence. That should matter to everyone, because the average Scot without personal savings is just three months away from benefits if they lose their job. And thanks to the punitive sanctions regime, backed by David Cameron and Ruth Davidson, being on benefits these days brings the risk of losing everything.
I met 45-year-old Paul in Dundee Food Bank last week. He doesn’t want his surname used for fear of further penalties. And that’s understandable. He already faces three long years living on just £36 a week. That measly hardship allowance is available because even David Cameron’s welfare state cannot leave claimants completely stony broke. But it’s not the “full” £48 a week either because the DWP is deducting money for past, overpaid claims. The state pays housing benefit and most of Paul’s council tax, though only because support workers made Paul declare his position to Dundee council. Claimants who don’t know they must do that are still liable to pay. From his meagre £36 Paul must pay water and sewerage charges, electricity and gas. He hardly uses heating, preferring to spend the cash on hot water to stay clean and presentable. He has no phone. No computer. No way to replace anything that breaks. And no food. And he must survive like this until September, 2018.
So what on earth did he do to incur the wrath of the DWP?
Paul doesn’t really know.
The DWP sanctions regime doesn’t operate like an angry teacher announcing detention after a specific bit of bad behaviour. Usually claimants go to their bank and simply find no payment. Shortly after that a letter may arrive explaining the length but not the reason for the sanction. You must work that out for yourself.
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