This was posted on Mumsnet:
“Last week, I reached crisis point.
It feels like this has been looming since I was sanctioned in 2013. Following my sanction, I struggled with depression and agoraphobia brought on by anxiety. I started overeating and put on weight. It’s been a long road back to work and full health – I now work part-time, but my income is not always enough to pay my bills. Bit by bit, I have been sliding into debt.
Then a delayed benefit payment due to a computer error led to bank charges, which put me overdrawn. When it came to going shopping I had no money for food. With no opportunity to get help from family I turned to my housing association. I was given a voucher for the local foodbank, but it didn’t open for a few days so I had to wait. That afternoon, my electric ran out so I sat there in the dark, feeling very alone, with no food to eat, and memories of my sanction filling my mind.
I was sanctioned for not looking for work. Fair punishment you might think, but the reason I wasn’t job hunting was because I was doing a two-week training course in a neighbouring town, leaving home at 7am and returning home at 7pm. I had been instructed not to jobsearch or sign on during that time, but later another adviser disagreed. I lost my £71 a week Jobseekers Allowance for four weeks.
I went without electricity, heating and food for most of the sanction. It climaxed on Christmas day. I spent it watching happy families walk past my window, while I sat silently, dealing with diarrhoea and waiting for it to get dark so I could try to sleep. It wasn’t until I received a Christmas card from a relative with £20 in it that I was able to eat and buy electric for the meter.
Less than two weeks later, I was told by the same Jobcentre adviser that I needed to learn a ‘work ethic’ – something clearly not demonstrated by my 20-year work history. She put me on mandatory work activity – workfare – which meant working full-time for free for four weeks in order to receive my benefits. Effectively, I was being punished for being sanctioned. I didn’t argue with her. Instead I went home, emptied the bathroom cabinet of the various pills I had stored away and tried to end my life. Less than a year before I had been earning £35k at a university in London.
The papers are filled with news about so-called JAMs. These six million families who are ‘just about managing’ will no doubt be hoping that the government will fulfil its promise to make their lives better. But there is another group of families who have lost that hope.
In the run-up to the Autumn Statement, the papers were filled with news about so-called JAMs. These six million families who are ‘just about managing’ will no doubt be hoping that the government will fulfil its promise to make their lives better. But there is another group of families who have lost that hope. They are the ones who have been on the receiving end of harsh cuts to their income, through austere welfare cuts. Most of them also work but live in fear that the government will make their lives even harder.
I am not alone in receiving a sanction. Since the Conservatives were elected in 2010 until June this year around three million individuals have received eight million sanctions. Some may have been able to overturn the decision, but more wouldn’t. The 3m figure doesn’t include family members – mostly children – who are also affected by sanctions. For children living in sanctioned households, schools and foodbanks have become a lifeline, with teachers reportedly using money meant for education to buy food and clothing.