Grenfell residents feared benefit sanctions – they are too used to being ignored

f you’ve followed the aftermath of the Grenfell Tower fire on social media, one disturbing revelation has stood out: the fear that victims could have their benefits sanctioned because they were not able to get to the jobcentre to sign on.

Incredibly, representatives of local residents who approached local Jobcentre Plus officials and Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) staff in North Kensington report being told that it could “not be guaranteed” that people caught up in the fire and its aftermath would not be penalised if they were unable to sign on.

Last night, when the Guardian approached them for comment, the DWP confirmed that normal jobcentre rules – including financial sanctions routinely issued to claimants who miss appointments – had been suspended indefinitely for former Grenfell Tower tenants and other local residents who claim unemployment benefits.

A local resident who said he was acting on behalf of the community claimed that the DWP only later moved to clarify the position because of pressure on social media. “Once it became clear that there was media attention focused on them, they have finally done the right thing,” he said. “Why should it take shame for them to act? Where is their humanity?”

As anyone who has been put through the Tories’ benefit system knows, “humanity” and the DWP are two things that do not tend to go together. Rather, it’s a department that in recent years has become synonymous with cruelty, where marginalised people are treated with total disregard – often at the very moment they are in crisis. In the last few days alone, we’ve had reports of a disabled woman who needs a bladder operation forced to sit in her own urine for two hours by a benefit assessor. And a woman who took her own life after her benefits were stopped when she missed a jobcentre appointment to go to the hospital. The DWP has since apologised for leaving a voicemail on the 42-year-old’s phone to say the sanction was being upheld – despite already having been told of her death.

read more here: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/jun/20/grenfell-tower-fire-residents-benefit-sanctions-dwp

Councils, housing associations and the DWP are crushing people with debt

From Kate Belgrave’s blog

While Brexit and Trump hoover resources and headlines, the state and so-called social landlords continue to get away with screwing people into the ground:

Last week, I spent several hours at the South Chadderton foodbank in Oldham speaking with people who’d come in for groceries.

We talked about the reasons why people needed to use the foodbank.

One explanation in particular came up, as it does a lot: Debt repayment plans are leaving people with no money.

People on benefits and low incomes are repaying arrears or loans money to councils, housing associations, the DWP, bailiffs and god knows who else – but they can’t afford it. The loss of the fivers and tenners that authorities deduct in repayments make a tolerable life impossible. People certainly don’t have the hundreds, or sometimes thousands, of pounds that are really needed to shift these debts. Simple equation, when you look at it. Debts grow and penalties grow, but income does not.

Read more here: http://www.katebelgrave.com/2017/02/councils-housing-associations-and-the-dwp-are-crushing-people-with-debt/#

Christmas at a food bank: ‘They’ve not eaten for three days

North Paddington food bank is in one of the wealthiest parts of London. That doesn’t mean that local people aren’t struggling to get enough to eat

There’s a Barbie sat among other dolls. A dancing monkey. Soft cuddly toys. In a food bank in Paddington, London, volunteer Jane is counting through the donated presents to hand out to children next week. Or, as she puts it to me, for “any who need one”.

For families who don’t have the money for bags of pasta or a tin of meat, Christmas means not only hunger but more costs they can’t afford. “I ask people who come in what they’re doing for Christmas and they look at me like, ‘I’m in a food bank. What can I do for Christmas?’” Jane says.

Look around the food bank’s neighbouring streets and you find yourself in the middle of two-tier Britain: in Jane’s words, a “posh” part of the capital that also runs emergency food parcels out of the local community centre. This month has seen the biggest surge in use in the food bank’s three-year history: last week about 100 people came through the doors in a couple of hours. Kensington and Chelsea – where there are streets where the average property can set a buyer back £8m – is about to shut its food bank. Its users are already coming to Paddington, Jane says.

Jane, 52, started helping at the food bank a year ago, after she was made redundant. She’s familiar with illness – she was a health journalist – but is struck by seeing people hungry. “Not a little bit peckish because they skipped breakfast or haven’t had lunch. But hungry because they haven’t eaten for around three or four days,” she says. “Literally nothing.”

As wages shrink, rents rise and benefits are cut, Jane sees the citizens who could be described as collateral damage: a stroke victim left with large lapses in memory sanctioned by the jobcentre for forgetting an appointment; a care worker earning barely a tenner a day because her travel costs come out of her pocket; a PhD student who lost his house and now lives in a Tesco car park. It’s the dark shadows under people’s eyes that stand out for Jane. Frequently they’re stick-thin; disoriented. Very often they’re on the verge of tears. “They feel they have to apologise for being here,” she says. “We had one pensioner shaking with embarrassment.”

read more here: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/dec/15/christmas-food-bank-not-eaten-three-days-paddington-london?CMP=fb_gu

Benefit sanctions leaving people destitute says Birkenhead MP Frank Field

Benefit sanctions that can plunge claimants into hardship, hunger and depression are being handed out with little evidence they work – a scathing report by the public spending watchdog has found.

Use of the penalties also varies “substantially” across the country and referral rates have changed significantly over time, according to the National Audit Office.

It accused the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) of not doing enough to find out how sanctions affect people on benefits.

MPs said the findings showed it was “pot luck” which people were sanctioned and demanded ministers “get a grip” of the “discredited” system.

Birkenhead MP Frank Field said: “Sanctions are being applied at a scale unknown since the Second World War and the operation of sanctions on this scale has made for the most significant change in the post-war social security system.

“Yet the Government holds no information on what has happened to large numbers of people who have had their money withdrawn”

http://www.wirralglobe.co.uk/news/14936533.Benefit_sanctions_leaving_people_destitute_says_Birkenhead_MP_Frank_Field/

Benefits sanctions: a policy based on zeal, not evidence

The devastating National Audit Office report exposes Iain Duncan Smith’s project as an ineffective and hugely damaging racket

The quietly devastating National Audit Office (NAO) report shreds five years of ministerial bluster, misinformation and spin about the purported virtues of benefit sanctions, arguably one of the most brutal, controversial and ineffectual social policies of recent times.

Sanctions are a punishment applied to benefit claimants adjudged to have infringed jobcentre rules. If claimants fail to turn up for appointments or to apply for enough jobs, officials effectively fine them by stopping their benefit payments for a minimum of four weeks (around £300). Between 2011 and 2015, almost one in four of all jobseeker’s allowance claimants were sanctioned. In 2015 alone, sanctions led to an estimated £132m in benefits being withheld from some of the UK’s poorest citizens.

Anti-poverty campaigners, food banks, academics and MPs have warned for years that sanctions were dangerous: they can lead to debt and rent arrears, depression, hunger, food bank use, survival crime, destitution and worse. Sanctions, they have pointed out, can be handed out capriciously or cynically to meet jobcentre targets. In some cases, such as that of diabetic former soldier David Clapson, found dead in his flat in 2013, starved and penniless, the potentially lethal consequences of benefit sanctions have seemed incontrovertible.

The Department for Work and Pensions has imperiously dismissed those warnings throughout. It has regularly assured us that sanctions “work”. They provide a deterrent effect to the half-hearted job seeker, and a kick up the backside to the lazy and feckless to make them “focus and get on”, the DWP insists. Sanctions, claimed the former work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith in March, were “the reason why we now have the highest employment levels ever in the UK”.

The NAO reveals that those assertions were essentially baseless. The DWP had no clue whether sanctions worked, and zero interest in finding out. When the scope and severity of sanctions were increased in 2012, leading to a rapid rise in the number affected, it had no evidence to justify the change and no idea what the likely effect on claimants would be. It did not know the financial costs of sanctions or the wider knock-on impact on health services, let alone any potential benefits, and actively resisted any attempt by others to find out. Last year the DWP summarily rejected calls from both an all-party committee of MPs and its own social security advisory committee for a formal review of sanctions.

https://www.theguardian.com/society/2016/nov/30/benefits-sanctions-a-policy-based-on-zeal-not-evidence