A cold, hungry Christmas for tens of thousands of British Citizens

Today the UK news services are reporting on the plight of 12,000 people left without electricity over Christmas because of the damage to electricity pylons caused by the recent big storms and high winds.

Unreported in today’s news the far larger number of households without electricity, gas or food because of deliberate government policy compounded by administrative error in the Department of Work and Pensions.

The DWP announced over Xmas that 32,000 people would not receive their benefits as expected before Christmas because of an administrative error. Many of those 32,000 people have households to feed, so there are far more than 32,000 people affected by this. Many were already on the edge of extreme poverty.

Then there’s the people whose benefits have been ‘sanctioned’ by the DWP as a result of Government directives. Sanctions mean that all benefit moneys are removed for a period of at least 4 weeks, rising to 3 years. People being sanctioned are amongst the most vulnerable in the country, with the mentally ill, the disabled, and those with poor English skills being disproportionately affected.

The government has admitted that half a million people were sanctioned last year, so there must be tens, and possibly hundreds, of thousands of unemployed, sick and disabled people that have not been in work or receiving benefits over this christmas period. Many of these people have children, equally affected.

Add to these those people who have been misidentified as fit to work by the massively flawed ‘Work Capability Assessment’ system, and lost their sickness benefits. Since October, people who disagree with the results of their assessments and appeal are receiving NO MONEY AT ALL in sickness benefits, and are being told to sign on at the Job Centre for Unemployment benefit (JSA), whilst the DWP reconsiders their case. If people are too sick to work, they do not qualify for JSA, and many have been left with no income at all for an indefinite period. News of the first suicides and deaths are beginning to trickle through.

So 12,000 people are without electricity due to flooding over Xmas and this is news, the prime minister goes to visit flooded areas, investigations are promised.

Over 50,000 households are without electricity, gas or food over the same period due to government policies and errors, and it’s not even mentioned.

Here’s some of the comments that have been making their way to my facebook feed today, Friday 27th December.

(Argotina2)

 

“Can u help plz i was due my esa today and nothing in my bank and have no food or electric anymore i live in southend”

“Dwp are closed till Monday. Iv had the same thing and tried ringing them”

” i got £20 to last me until thursday 9th and i have a 2 year old son”

“My son had no money at all for 4 weeks now, first 2 they sanctioned him for something, last 2…we have no idea he just received nothing”

“We’ve got no money, the DWP error has affected us. The gas and electric is about to run out and we have very little food. It’s friday afternoon, is there anyone we can contact or ring to help us? We don’t have enough food for three days.”

“Hello there I live in London and currently claim the assessment rate of ESA (disability benefit) I was due payment wed 25th but obviously with that being Xmas day my payment should of gone in Xmas eve. However today is 27th and still no payment I have no gas of electric not to mention food is there no emergency number to call them on if I have to wait till Monday well il prob die by then”

“My money of jsa has not gone in today what do I do as job centre is shut”

“No one is at dwp today im in the same boat and tried calling. They are closed till Monday”

” I’m in receipt of JSA and was due to be payed today. With it being Christmas I was told that I’d be signed on automatically and that my payment would go in as normal, it hasn’t. I wouldn’t be bothered normally, but it’s been almost a month since I’ve had any money…. Just wondering if there’s anything I can do as everywhere is closed for Christmasm”

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How Many Persons has Atos killed today?

From the blog of Michael Meacher MP

“You have nothing to fear…It is a proud duty to provide financial security to the most vulnerable members of our society, and this will not change.   This is our contract with the most vulnerable”.   That was Iain Duncan Smith in 2010.   He added: “This government and this party don’t regard caring for the needy as a burden”.   But judging by the remarks of Lord Freud, the Tory DWP minister, maybe they regard it as a big money-spinning project for private companies.   This is Freud: “We’re going to go at this (moving people off IB on to either ESA or JSA) very fast and hard….The scale of the potential market is large…I have no doubt that this will be an annual multi-billion pound market”.   So what has happened?   The People’s Review of the Work Capability Assessment (WCA) has just published this month a searing indictment of the human casualties of this policy, including those absurdly assessed as fit to work but who then died or committed suicide before their appeal was heard.   The report, which I strongly recommend others to get hold of, makes grim reading.   Here are 3 examples of the 14 quoted in detail.

The family of a 47 year old man said the decision to stop his benefits was a “major trigger” in a spiral which led him to overdose on heroin, cocaine and alcohol.   At his inquest, which lasted 2 days, the court heard that his medical assessment took just 23 minutes and his allowance was stopped despite him suffering from HIV, hepatitis C, sciatica, severe depression, insomnia and dental pain.

A man was found hanging at his home just a day after he received a text message telling him to attend the Jobcentre.   He had been unable to work after he suffered a brain haemorrhage and a stroke and had his his leg fused following a football injury.   He wore a calliper and couldn’t grip with his hand.   His partner said: “The text scared him so much.   He had been depressed for years, but he could keep that under control.   It was the text which pushed him over.   I want people to realise the effect of these changes on people’s lives.   These changes are terrifying to vulnerable people and their concerns need to be listened to.   It can have a devastating effect on people’s lives”.

A seriously ill woman died 2 days after trying to kill herself when she was told her incapacity benefit would be stopped.   The coroner’s court was told she had received a letter from the DWP saying she should go back to work.   The 53-year old, who suffered breathlessness because of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, was so distressed she took a cocktail of drugs.

A man who had a serious blood disorder, had blood clots in both lungs, two deep vein thromboses in his legs and had to have his big toe amputated, was diagnosed with Hughes syndrome, a life-threatening condition.   He had been left without work by the Benefits Agency for 10 weeks, despite being signed off as unfit to work by the doctor.   He committed suicide and was found by his fiance’e.

I have put down a PQ asking how many persons have died or committed suicide each month over the last 3 years after being required to attend for a WCA or having been assessed as fit to work and then appealed, but died or committed suicide before the appeal was heard.   I shall publish the figures when I have them.

 

20th December 2013: http://www.michaelmeacher.info/weblog/2013/12/how-many-persons-has-atos-killed-today/

York delivery worker hit by benefit sanctions

A YORK man who works part-time 364 days a year has had to turn to the Salvation Army for food, after falling victim to controversial benefit-sanctioning policies, his MP says.

The man had a small part-time, low-paid delivery job, 364 days of the year, but also received Jobseeker’s Allowance to top up his income, said York Central MP Hugh Bayley.

He says that to qualify for this, the Job Centre said he had to apply for ten jobs a week.

But Mr Bayley said: “He is dyslexic and struggles to use a computer to apply for jobs online. One week he only managed to apply for nine of the ten jobs and his benefit was “sanctioned”.

This means his allowance was taken away for a month. His housing benefit was also stopped and he was forced to go to the Salvation Army for food parcels.”

Mr Bayley tells the story today in his monthly column in The Press.

He says another constituent who worked in a bar had his hours reduced to a zero-hours contract, which meant he was no longer guaranteed enough hours of work to live on.

Mr Bayley said: “When he applied for benefits, the Job Centre wrote to his employer to ask when he left his job.

“His employer said that he didn’t know he had left and sacked him. The Job Centre then sanctioned him because they said he had left his job voluntarily.”

Mr Bayley said many such people had contacted him after being sanctioned by the Job Centre, or because of a delay in getting their benefit paid.

“More and more frequently they are forced to turn to food banks because they cannot afford to feed themselves and their family,” he said. He said that anyone who could work should do all they could to get a job, but sanctions should be applied fairly.

A Department of Work and Pensions spokesman said: “It’s only right that people claiming benefits should do everything they can to find work if they are able.

“The rules regarding someone’s entitlement to Jobseekers’ Allowance – and what could happen to their benefits if they don’t stick to those rules – are made very clear at the start of their claim.

“We will provide jobseekers with the help and support they need to find a job, but it is only fair that in return they live up to their part of the contract.

“Sanctions are used as a last resort and anyone who disagrees with a decision can appeal.”

by Mike Laycock in ‘The Press’, 19th Dec 2013: http://m.yorkpress.co.uk/news/10891589.York_delivery_worker_hit_by_benefit_sanctions/

Life when the Jobcentre says you broke the rules

Almost 400,000 people have lost their Jobseeker’s allowance since sanctions for claimants were toughened last year. But are the new rules hurting those they are supposed to be helping?

 

Peter Jones avoided a serious brain injury when he fell at work in November last year. But while he escaped with his health, his good fortune ended there – he was told not to come back to work and went to sign on.

 

This was a month after new rules for those out of work were introduced and he was about to find out all about them. “I’d worked all my life,” he says. “But they treated me as if I was cheating the system from day one. They didn’t even know me.”

 

Anyone claiming Jobseeker’s allowance (JSA) can be sanctioned for things such as missing a meeting with an adviser, not turning up to training or not being available for work. “If they do everything that’s expected of them, they won’t get sanctioned,” a spokesman at the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) says. Peter, who says he was applying for “five to six jobs a day”, felt this was just what he was doing.

He had moved from Llandudno to be near his seriously ill mother in Stafford who was in and out of hospital with brain tumours. But when he wanted to move back to Wales and look for work there, he says job centre officials 100 miles away in Stafford deemed this an “inappropriate search”. He was sanctioned and did not have any income for the whole of December. He got into debt and, aged 30, moved back in with his parents.

 

“I didn’t know what to do or how to get out of it,” he says. When he moved and signed on in Wales, he was sanctioned again for not attending a meeting with an adviser back in Stafford.

The new regulations – which mean a minimum four-weeks without JSA for anyone deemed to have breached them – are designed to help those without a job, according to the DWP. “This is absolutely not about saving money or punishing people,” the spokesman says. “Our role is to help people into work.”

 

Peter found a job as soon as he returned to Wales but, because of the sanctions, he had only received two JSA payments in the three months he was out of work. “I’m scared of ever being in that situation again,” he says.

 

And, according to the Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB), he is not alone. It says advice centres have seen a 64% increase in the number of people coming to them after being sanctioned.

 

Invariably, the CAB says, they are desperate to get back into work. So is the new system doing what it is supposed to – helping those who want to work to do so?Not according to the CAB’s chief executive Gillian Guy.

 

Read more here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-24829866

The suffering being caused by benefit sanctions

The Citizen’s Advice Bureau has published a report on benefit sanctions, what they are given for and how they are affecting the people who’s benefits have been taken away (minimum period of 3 weeks, maximum of 3 years!) The vast majority of people receiving these sanctions had no other source of income, and have been left destitute and with lasting long term debt. The number of sanctions handed out  has rocketed from around 130,000 in 2009 to 2 million in the past year. Most of the people being sanctioned are on Job Sieekers Allowance, but there’s a sizeable minority on invalidity benefits.

The report makes shocking reading and I recommend following the link at the bottom of this article to read the whole thing. Here’s what some people reported as happening to them because of these sanctions:

Most people had had to cut down on food (70%), and/or on heating (49%) and travel (47%). Almost a quarter of respondents had had to ask for a food parcel.

Some respondents had been left in a very desperate state:

Buy damaged food, market scrounge about at end of day

Used the skip from the local shop for food

Starved and lived off what I had. Scrounged food from bins and only left the house after darkness fell. Had no electric or gas so had to get ready-to-eat food. Struggled and went without nothing for 3 days with just bread and a block of cheese that my friend kindly gave me as it was past its sell by date.

Begged in the city.

Slept on a park bench and in empty shed.

I stopped doing anything and have become agoraphobic.

For those with children, it was particularly hard to cope:

Went without meals so my son could eat. My sanction should have been for a week but they took 8 weeks to pay me again, despite me constantly phoning etc. I also complained and received no reply.

And there were other adverse effects on children:

My daughter stopped attending school. I couldn’t afford the taxi she needed to get her there without distress and trauma.

Other consequences of the sanction

The final survey question asked respondents for any other comments on the effects of sanctions on them or their family. More than 150 respondents took the trouble to complete this question, often with extensive accounts of the serious long-term effects on their own physical and mental health, the social and material impact of serious financial hardship, and the adverse effects on their family’s well-being

The possibility of ending up homeless because of rent arrears was a frequent worry:

Because my housing benefit wasn’t paid for 3 months and still hasn’t been reinstated I’m facing eviction and I’m a full time carer to my adult son.

I’m worried housing benefit won’t be sorted in time for my rent as this could make us all homeless yet again and the council have no homes. Last time we were homeless was a result of fleeing domestic violence and me and my five children were put in B&B by the council in two rooms.

Several people said they had been unable to leave the house because of lack of money:

It’s all getting too much. We are now prisoners in our home, no point going out, can’t buy or do anything

The anxiety created by the imposition of a sanction had a serious effect on mental health for many people. A number of people described feeling suicidal because of the stress of the situation and several said they had made suicide attempts. For those with pre-existing mental health problems the effect of the sanction was to exacerbate their condition:

I suffer from severe mental depression and this has definitely not helped my condition. Still currently without any money even though I am doing full time work experience and not sure how I am going to eat until the sanction is lifted.

I was on ESA due to a nervous breakdown in 2009 and have not been given even the slightest chance of recovery as I have had this constant & losing battle with DWP/ATOS ever since. I stay with a friend who feeds me, but have been suicidal for a long while now. I have now given up completely on claiming any benefits at all, as I can no longer face the prospect of the never-ending challenges. I have absolutely no hope left in me at all.

I had no income, and had to borrow from my parents (who are also on benefits and don’t get much income. It has affected me mentally, and I am severely depressed and having anxiety attacks which I have never had before becoming a jobseeker! I believe this is going to affect me in the long run, and I will find it difficult when I do find work, because I am now petrified of speaking to people. I was very confident and bubbly before I became a jobseeker, now I tend not to leave my house unless necessary.

I wasn’t long out of a safe house for domestic abuse I tried to commit suicide and my doctor had to put my medication up and I have to get someone to collect them weekly.

For others there had been effects on their physical health, because of lack of money for an adequate diet or because of stress, or both:

I had to ask my mum to help me with my gas and electric and wasn’t able to fed myself properly and [that] didn’t help as I have coeliac and my family were appalled that I had to live like that for 4 weeks. My health suffered because of it.

I’ve lost over 2 stone in weight through lack of food.

The stress has made me physically sick with irritable bowel syndrome, which I haven’t suffered with for many years. I have previously battled depression and am hoping I won’t end up back on antidepressants again.

I am a type 1 diabetic and I ended up being hypoglycaemic several times.

We couldn’t afford a meal each day so often didn’t eat for days on end. I suffer with hypoglycaemia and need to eat, so this left me with many black outs, confusion, incredibly weak and sick.

I lost weight and got ill. I felt like a scavenging wild animal, not like a human. It’s a miracle I didn’t end up homeless.

The sanction had wider impacts on family relationships in some cases:

My mum has been taken to court and fined for not being able to pay the shortfall in council tax and is struggling to pay the rent arrears accrued when I was sanctioned and the strain has quite literally smashed our family to pieces – I feel like a burden on her and have felt suicidal on more than one occasion.

The stress put us both in hospital with stress-related problems. We were refused hardship payments but later got this [revoked] because we went to CAB and Shelter. It had a massive effect on our son, who at one point was being considered for going into care because we couldn’t provide for him.

My partner also cares for me so he was left incredibly stressed and upset from this situation due to firstly no money (he has to look after me full time pretty much) and secondly my conditions and mental state became so hard to cope with (it also affected his mental health, he attempted suicide when he could not cope).

At 52 years of age I lost my home and my 21 year-old son, who has had to move in with his girlfriend’s family. We are both sofa-surfing with absolutely no hope for a future of any kind…I stay with a friend who feeds me, but have been suicidal for a long while now. I have been kicked out of my mother’s household due to being sanctioned and I’m now homeless.

This had a devastating effect. I am separated so couldn’t have my children as couldn’t afford the bus fare to travel for them.

For those living with children, the effects of the sanction were particularly hard:

It was so difficult. Had no gas or electric. Sent my children to my mum’s 5 out of the 7 days of the week.

For nearly a month I didn’t get any money before I got hardship [payment]…At this time I was pregnant with my daughter and had another 2 kids in the house…If it wasn’t for my child tax credits and borrowing money I wouldn’t have been able to feed myself. We done without heating during the winter because I couldn’t afford to pay for gas.

I went begging on the streets to get money to buy food as my partner is 7 months pregnant

Many respondents wrote at considerable length about their feeling that they had been very unjustly treated.

Whilst I was on the sanction I visited jobcentre on 3 different occasions to ask how I was to live on no money for 4 weeks? On each occasion I was told there was nothing they could do. I later found out that the correct procedure was to give me a hardship form to help me out. I eventually got the form and handed it in. The jobcentre have since rejected the claim as it was handed in too late. I sent in 3 reconsideration requests explaining the jobcentre was at fault for not telling me I could claim this and again all 3 requests denied…I feel the jobcentre have deceived me to avoid paying out money.

A number felt that the limitations which their ill-health placed on their ability to work, or the kinds of work they could do had not been given adequate consideration:

I am epileptic and can’t apply for certain jobs that’s why I am limited, I apply for 5-10 jobs that I can do, but it’s not enough.

I can’t work, I take 23 pills a day and I’m also diabetic, yet the group they put me on was for work? They have no right to take money away just like that. Totally unfair, I’ve lost half a stone as I can’t buy enough food to eat and as a diabetic I’m supposed to eat 5 small meals a day. No chance. As I don’t, I’m open to foot infection, eyesight problems, coma or death or amputation. I’m worried sick. Also stress brings on a relapse of other condition.

There were numerous complaints from respondents that they had not been told about the sanction, and had only discovered when they found their money had stopped, that they didn’t understand the reasons for the sanction or that the sanction had been imposed unreasonably, given their circumstances.

I believe it was the Work Programme that had been in the wrong in the first instance for not reimbursing claimants travel expenses when they should be, yet I was the one punished for not attending 1 hour of job search when I couldn’t afford to go.

The original sanction letter made no sense and I couldn’t understand it at all either. It didn’t give any dates as to when or IF the sanction would end.

I had no idea I had been sanctioned until I got a letter from the housing association stating that my housing/council tax benefit had been stopped due to suspension of JSA which I wasn’t even claiming

In other cases the injustice stemmed from poor administration which led to a sanction being imposed when the claimant was not in any way at fault:

I was sanctioned for not supplying information regarding my job search. The forms I was given did not ask for [this] information.(The wrong paper work was given) My paper file was ‘lost’ during the appeal process, and was ‘found’ in secure waste awaiting shredding, My file (the one being destroyed) contained information that refuted the validity of the sanction.

I was sanctioned by the DWP on their error. They never changed my address when I sent in a change of address form. They later admitted it was completely their fault and an admin error. They left me without payments for six months and didn’t reply to a single letter and they wouldn’t speak to me on the phone as they held old details for me.

Respondents felt that it was unfair that the expectations with which they had to comply did not apply to the agencies they had to deal with:

The sanction was so annoying. A4E missed three appointments. When I attended they said to go home. But I miss one appointment and get sanctioned.

The sanction I got was for not attending triage…It was them that mucked up the dates and I was the one that paid for their mistake.

Read the whole report here: https://skydrive.live.com/view.aspx?resid=CB5ED957FE0B849F!350&app=WordPdf&authkey=!AJTbB-gzwsSCayQ

Over a million people have had their benefits sanctioned

Between June 2011 and 2013

Over two million people on Jobseekers allowance were forced onto the Work Program (workfare)

Less than 10% of them found jobs as a result of being on the Work Program.

Over 20,000 men aged over 59 were forced onto the Work Program

In the year June 2012 – June 2013 only 980 of these men found jobs as a result of being on the Work Program

Over a million Jobseeker Allowance claimants had their benefits sanctioned between May 2010 and 21st October 2012.

And these figures are only for Jobseekers Allowance claimants, the DWP is not even collecting figures for non – JSA claimants, and says it would be too expensive to research them.

Thanks to condemnation.blogspot.com for publicising the Freedom of Information request that exposed these facts here: http://uk-condemnation.blogspot.co.uk/2013/10/numbers-of-people-forced-onto-work.html

and the original FOE request answer is here: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/249727/foi-2013-4518.pdf

couldn’t sign on becuse he was in hospital for 6 weeks, so no benefits 18th April 2013

Hello there, big fan of the page and was wondering if you could please put this out there anonymously for my father….

He has worked hard all his days and paid more than his fair share of taxes but now 64 he has various ailments. Physical and mental. The man is clearly too sick to work yet ATOS declared him `Fit to Work` (as they do) he almost immediately was rushed to hospital in the night and spent 6 weeks in a High Dependency Unit . Luckily, he has improved and was allowed to go home.

Go home to no money whatsoever. He didnt sign on so JSA are playing pass the buck. We have jumped over every beauricratic hoop yet over a week later he still has no money (from sick benefit or Job Centre). His Doctor has written a letter yet still nothing. I have been able to help so far but the gas and leccy is running low, the food is nearly finished and Crisis Loans have been `Discontinued.’

I know we will get through this but my heart goes out to the many others who will be effected by this travesty. Rather than recover this man is now stressing , filling out forms, making phone calls, visiting Doctors and Post Offices trying to get money which should have been waiting for him on his release.