Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Benefit Sanctions cause a deterioration in health and affect children

"Tens of thousands of families where no one works will have their benefits slashed, David Cameron is to pledge today...
As the campaign enters its final 100 days with two polls showing his party has moved into a narrow lead, Mr Cameron is also promising tax relief for the middle classes."

"He is determined to ensure welfare is no longer a 'lifestyle choice', while rewarding those who are in work. He will pledge that the Conservatives would reduce the limit on handouts to jobless families within a week of being re-elected."

"Housing benefit would be removed from jobless 18 to 21-year-olds, meaning they will have to live with their parents like millions of youngsters starting out in a job."

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"Lone parents with a child aged 5 or over are usually required to claim Job Seekers Allowance.... You are usually expected to be willing and able to take up work, take steps to find work, and not to leave a job voluntarily. You may be sanctioned if you do not meet these jobseeking conditions... "

"You can be sanctioned for losing a job because of misconduct; leaving a job voluntarily; refusing or failing to apply for or accept a job; failing to participate in `mandatory work activity`, Sanctions do not apply to child benefit or child tax credit."

On 21 January 2015 both the Child Poverty Action Group and Gingerbread gave evidence to the Work and Pensions Committee about the effects of benefit sanctions.

They began by explaining that letters sent to claimants are not always clear so that often people  do not realise they have been sanctioned until they go to the bank and then there is a crisis. Getting food on the table for the children takes priority. It is at the food bank that families might learn that they have a right to appeal the decision but by then they are having to deal with the consequences. There are an incredible number of sanctions that are wrong decisions, wasting time, instead of allowing people to get on with the business of finding a job.

The system takes the view that people will not make an effort to find work unless there are sanctions, but that is not the case. Sanctions do not change people`s behaviour. People are crying out for up-skilling, work experience and so on.  Moreover, on the work programme you have more chance of being sanctioned than you do of getting a job. The system is dysfunctional. At the job centre there should be a re-focus on sustainable work outcomes instead of a pile up of wrongful decisions which only cause a diversion from the important function of supporting people into work.

When they are sanctioned, less than a fifth of single parents are told about the Hardship Fund; yet children are affected by sanctions too, says Gingerbread. "We have a responsibility for the children`s welfare." But the reasons why you can be sanctioned have grown. 2.1 million families with children work on low pay and are now subjected to fixed length sanctions too. Families face sanctions if they do not increase their level of income or increase the number of hours they work. Some are already on zero hour contracts, banging their heads against a brick wall, but once sanctioned they can lose Housing Benefit precipitating a deeper crisis.

Child care is another problem. A mother with two children with special needs explained that they could not be left alone. She had recently become a single parent and asked what she would do. She was told by Job Centre Plus that if she left her job she would be sanctioned for three years. Other mothers are afraid to say they have child care problems for fear of being sanctioned, so they do not even have that important discussion about it.

There are exceptions made for single parent families but 43,000 were still wrongfully sanctioned. It is important, since there are children in these families, that they are automatically made aware of the Hardship Fund.

It is recognised by the DWP that sanctions do cause a deterioration in health. Alison Garnham, Chief Executive of the Child Poverty Action Group, quoted from the Decision Makers Guide:

"It would be usual for a normal healthy adult to suffer some deterioration in their health if they were without (1) essential items, such as food, clothing, heating and accommodation or (2) sufficient money to buy essential items for a period of two weeks."

"The Decision Maker must determine if a person with a medical condition would suffer a greater decline in health than a normal healthy adult and would suffer hardship." (DMG 35142).

It can be found at 01.05.53 on the video of the proceedings at link below: 


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