Tag Archives: Church of Scotland

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: http://johnnyvoid.wordpress.com/2014/12/21/sandra-gives-the-game-away-jobcentres-given-sheriffs-stars-for-hitting-benefit-sanction-targets/

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: http://johnnyvoid.wordpress.com/2014/12/21/sandra-gives-the-game-away-jobcentres-given-sheriffs-stars-for-hitting-benefit-sanction-targets/

“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

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Something for the weekend?

“Monday: For sale – RD Jones has a sewing machine for sale. Phone after 7pm and ask for Mrs Kelly, who lives with him cheap.”

I was brought up on double-entendres – jokes, either intentional or otherwise, that employ double meanings that are usually orientated towards the filthy to get a laugh. The radio and TV comedies that brightened my gloomy 1970s and early 80s childhood were full of them, especially shows like ‘Round the Horne’

“Tuesday: Notice – we regret having erred in RD Jones’ ad yesterday. It should have read: ‘One sewing machine for sale, cheap. Phone and ask for Mrs Jones, who lives with him after 7pm’.”

It should come as no surprise, therefore, that this love of wordplay followed me into my working life when I embarked on a career as a journalist, reaching its zenith when I became a newspaper editor. An early headline hit was with a story about a soldier who was arrested after police found him using a statue of the Duke of Wellington as a urinal. The headline: ‘Soldier’s aim was no relief for Wellington’.

“Wednesday: RD Jones has informed us he has received several annoying calls because of an error we made in his classified ad yesterday. His ad stands corrected as follows: ‘For sale: RD Jones has one sewing machine for sale, cheap. Phone after 7pm and ask for Mrs Kelly, who loves with him’.”

Later I was to win the then-coveted Headline of the Week award in the UK Press Gazette, and praise as a “genius” from their reporter, when I headlined an article on Welsh Assembly plans to promote the Welsh language with the words ‘Cunning Linguists’.

“Thursday: Notice: I, RD jones, have NO sewing machine for sale. I smashed it. Don’t call my number as the telephone has been disconnected. I have not been carrying on with Mrs Kelly. Until yesterday she was my housekeeper, but she quit.”

With the weekend upon us, after a series of blogs on very heavy subjects, I thought it was time to lighten the mood with a few favourite double-entendre news cuttings, along with some quotes from the BBC’s News Quiz in similar vein (I was listening to old tapes of the show in order to dig out material on Peter Lilley for today’s other blog).

If anyone reading this would like to add clippings that they have found, please feel free to use the ‘Comments’ column for this purpose.

“See the bowmen of Rutland in action next weekend at the Rutland Agricultural Show, and why not have a go yourself? The Rutland Archers are always looking for new members, and are currently targeting disabled people.”

“A friend of Serena’s said David has talked of marriage. She feels she is still rather young, and he does have a long turn to page 3, column 1.”

“St Boswell’s Councillor Edward Bryden has called for action to be taken against dog fouling on a sports pitch at St Boswell’s. Cllr Bryden said, ‘I’ve had a number of complaints from residents about the amount of dog dirt found there. I’ve told them to put their concerns on paper and send them to the district council.'”

From The News Quiz: “There was a story about the Church of Scotland updating its hymnery because a lot of the old hymns are full of ghastly double-entendres which lots of young people find rather risible. Things like ‘O Mighty One, show me the size of your enormousness’. Apparently that is, verbatim, a hymn. There’s another that says, ‘Sweet Lord, I wouldn’t put that in the fridge if I were you’.
“Meanwhile, the Catholic Church is set to instigate a similar scheme after the line ‘Onward with the horn of plenty, father to us all’ provoked mass sniggers in a Galway Church.”

From the News Quiz, 1993: “Jeffrey Archer’s gardener, Richard Ovary, had a sex change. It’s a case of saying goodbye to Dick… and hello to Rachel. The transformation has been welcomed by Lord Archer, who has always claimed that his staff were a cut above the rest. Meanwhile Rachel has given the novelist her support – and the rest of her rugby kit. The Archers are keeping Rachel on to care for their grounds, although tactfully Lady Archer has volunteered to prune the plum tree.”

“At a store in Bristol, an assistant didn’t know which product should be run on which button. Each time she was unsure, she would hold the product in the air and call across the shop floor to the supervisor. There were no problems until a gentleman purchased a packet of Mates (condoms). The packet was held up in the air and the call went out, “What do these go on?” The reply was unprintable.”

“On churchyard tidyness: Would everyone tending graves kindly take away with them all relative rubbish.”

“Budleigh Salterton beach has been branded a health risk in a tough new guide to beaches in the UK. The survey claims that tests carried out on the sea water off Budleigh Salterton beach failed to meet the rigorous standards of cleanliness and water quality required by the European Bathing Water Guidelines’ standards. District Councillor Ray Franklin said: ‘It’s hardly surprising. On the one side we have the Exmouth outfall pipe, and on the other the Exe estuary pipe. Budleigh is simply caught between two stools at the moment.'”

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