Tag Archives: dignity

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:

150121dmg-sanctions

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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You are ‘infrahuman’ and your government thinks you are ‘stock’ – even if you voted for it

130516colinbrewer

The public voted him back in: Disgraced former Cornwall councillor Colin Brewer resigned over remarks he made about the disabled – it seems he has suggested disabled children should be treated in the same way as deformed lambs. These comments are beyond the pale but the electorate in his Cornish ward voted him back into office, knowing what he had said! What does that tell us about attitudes in Britain today?

 

This is a sequel. Last October, Vox Political published Living under the threat of welfare reform, a personal account of the hardships suffered by just one disabled benefit claimant as a result of the Coalition government’s crude and unnecessary attacks on people who are unable to work and must rely on social security. The author expressed fears about her future, after the main changes to benefits that were expected in April this year. Vox Political contacted her earlier this week to find out how she was coping, and this article is the result. Please welcome Sasson Hann:

Definition of ‘welfare’: the good fortune, health, happiness prosperity, etc., of a person, group, or organisation; well-being: to look after a child’s welfare; the physical or moral welfare of society.

When I first read ‘21st Century Welfare‘ published in the summer of 2010, 10 months after I was forced to give up my professional career, I realised that those of us reliant on benefits were facing an almost insurmountable challenge to their well-being: a challenge like nothing before in recent history.

At the time, I spoke to friends about the possible consequences of welfare reform, then subsequently became distraught and angry when hearing that people had died after having benefits reduced or removed; sadly, now a weekly occurrence. So when Vox Political asked me to write a guest blog – an update of my personal circumstances – in all honesty, I felt that my situation was nothing in comparison: it’s challenging nonetheless.

The collective mindset towards people who claim benefits has definitely changed since 2010. ‘Hate crimes’ are in the news; hateful comments under articles in online newspapers. In fact a new term coined by researchers for this change – particularly toward benefit claimants – is ‘infrahumanism‘; people viewed as ‘less’ than human. Colin Brewer, the disgraced former Cornish councillor who was forced to resign after making derogatory comments about disabled children is an extreme example of this. Only yesterday he was reported as saying that society should treat disabled babies like farmers treat deformed lambs: the police are investigating. What concerns me more is why a community recently voted him back into office: what does this indicate?

Attitudes have certainly altered towards me, though not as drastically. Strangers think that they have the right to walk up to me and demand: ”What’s wrong with your legs then?’  People think it’s fair that the government should force me from my home of 27 years. Others cast doubt on my integrity, not believing that I’m too disabled to work. Some repeatedly ask me to explain why I receive certain levels of care and benefits, even why I should need a wheelchair outside: not indicative of ‘infrahumanism’ exactly, but definitely insensitive. Of all the pressures a disabled person faces, frequently having to justify your disability is one of the hardest challenges.

As for financial matters, my income has dropped drastically since 2010. I receive DLA and I’m in the ESA support group; a half decent income. That was until 2 years ago when my local authority started charging me for my care – some £3,000 per annum – despite me having no assets or savings. Nevertheless, I adjusted, and figured that unlike some, at least I had a ‘personalised’ care package.

Then I had a care reassessment last year. The assessor informed me that most of what my carers do was ‘no longer funded’. Basically, the new packages focus on eating and keeping a person clean: we do more for pets. I fought and gained a hollow victory: whilst I retained 75 per cent of the hours, social services dictated their use; I would also have to pay extra for private care. Ironically, in 2011, the government published a document about personalisation, but implemented the exact opposite. The reassessment commences again in July – another six months of stress compounded by the additional yearly financial and disability reassessments. I tell myself this is the ‘new normal’: I must rise to these challenges; not so easy when chronic illness dominates your life.

Beginning in April, I had the extra cost of a £100 per month bedroom tax (my housing association has nowhere for me to move to); along with the extra care costs, this totals £5,900 per annum. As a result, I can rarely socialise now, and it will take much longer to save to replace things. I reasoned that at least I have a home, enough money to pay bills, buy food, and the occasional treat. It’s unnerving though not having a financial buffer if my benefits are removed: a sobering thought. I have a good network of family and friends to help me, but ultimately, like others, they can’t afford to keep me financially long term; is it any wonder that some feel they cannot carry on, that there is no way out?

Multiply what I’ve lost by thousands of households in my area and country-wide, and imagine just how much money is being taken out of the local/national economy; how damaging this will become. In Wales for instance, due to historical poverty, the cuts to benefits have affected one in three people, such that the Welsh Assembly have recently appointed the first ‘Poverty Minister‘, claiming that austerity will cause hardship not known since the 1930’s.

When the Conservatives were last in power in the 80s, they scrapped housing benefit for the low-paid, water was privatised, and the Poll Tax was introduced. It had a dire affect on my family: we couldn’t afford heating so we suffered painful chilblains and contracted continual chest infections; without heating, the flat developed inch thick black mould on the walls; we couldn’t dry our clothes properly so they smelled of mildew; we were lucky if we could afford one meal a day; after a number of years our clothes and shoes wore out; we regularly had to go without soap, washing powder, loo roll, personal hygiene products and the like. It was a dark and miserable time for us.

I cannot begin to describe what it is like to have your dignity stripped away like this; I never thought I would see such hard times again: I was sadly mistaken. The current cuts to services and benefits go much further than this, leaving people with no safety net and no access to legal services. Incredulously, it isn’t even saving the government much money.

The government say we can’t afford the welfare bill, but regular readers of Vox Political will know there is in fact plenty of money sloshing around. The moving of public money into private hands, and also into the pockets of MPs and Lords: money that should be used to stimulate growth and improve the lives of all. If the post war government had enough money to set up the NHS, the welfare state, and embark on a massive building programme – when they were in a far worse financial situation – then our government can do the same. Yet laughably, MPs were this week lambasting the BBC because of the ‘excessive’ £24,000 average payment made to staff who moved to Salford, when MPs claim far more in expenses every year. On the other end of the scale, the ‘stock’ – as the government like to call us – who suffer and die for the sake of a few pounds a week are collateral damage; acceptable losses like deformed lambs. And if those who are left cannot afford a home and food, so what? A nightmarish ‘survival of the fittest’ scenario.

I can’t do much to oppose this; I’m too ill to attend protests. Occasionally I help people claim benefits and appeal, apply to charities, look up information and advise them, write and print a CV, and I’ve even negotiated with bailiffs! I tell everyone I meet about how welfare reform is affecting people, and I write as much as I’m able. This is all some of us can do; facing each challenge and fighting each battle, one by one. Notwithstanding this human catastrophe, I remain sanguine: I love life and I will not despair.

Martin Luther King Jr said: “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge.” The government’s answer to that ‘challenge’ is to make the poorest destitute, the opposite to the definition of ‘welfare’: in this we perceive their ‘measure’. Consequently, we ‘infrahumans’ are facing a challenge so great that it will be remembered in history: are you up to this challenge? For all of the people who aren’t; for the many families who have lost loved ones: those of us left have to be.

Sasson Hann May 13, 2013.