by Kam Sandhu – @KamBass
Lucy Darnell* is a job centre adviser, and despite being afraid to speak out for fear of losing her job, she passed us on this statement:
“Benefit sanction targets do exist. Government and management say they don’t, but they do. Not only that, management are very passionate about them. They are very passionate about meeting sanction targets. There’s a lot of pressure on those working in the job centre and a few of us have tried to fight against it. But they are very passionate it. It’s part of the way they are cutting back on money. The targets are part of the plan.”
Under the coalition, benefit sanctions have become commonly used for seemingly minor or mistaken circumstances. Sanctions may be applied for up to three years, which can serve as huge threat to the survival of those that cannot source any help from anywhere else. The government have emphasised that there are no benefit sanction targets, despite several accusations including a leaked e-mail earlier this year from one job centre manager pushing their team for more sanction referrals, and mentioning a league table.
Ruth King, the job centre adviser manager who sent the e-mail even threatened staff with performance improvement plans, the first stage of disciplinary action, if the number of sanctions did not rise. The e-mail said:
“As you can see Walthamstow are 95th in the league table out of only 109. Guys, we really need to up the game here. The 5% target is one thing – the fact that we are seeing over 300 people a week and only submitting six of them for possible doubts is simply not quite credible.”
Iain Duncan Smith continued to to deny that centres were set targets, but the number of unjust sanctions reported combined with a refusal from government to release sanction data suggests otherwise. Here are some examples of sanctions taken from the excellent False Economy website, where circumstances seem disproportionate, unjust or used to catch claimants out:
- You work for 20 years, then because you haven’t had the process clearly explained to you, you miss an appointment, so you get sanctioned for 3 weeks. (source: Councillor John O’Shea)
- You’re on a workfare placement, and your jobcentre appointment comes round. The jobcentre tells you to sign on then go to your placement which you do. The workfare placement reports you for being late and you get sanctioned for 3 months. (Source: DefiniteMaybe post on Mumsnet forums)
- It’s Christmas Day. You don’t do any jobsearch, because it’s Christmas Day. So you get sanctioned. For not looking to see if anyone has advertised a new job on Christmas Day. (source: Poverty Alliance)
- You get an interview but it’s on the day of your nan’s funeral. You have 3 interviews the day before, and you try to rearrange the interview, but the company reports you to the jobcentre and you get sanctioned for failing to accept a job. (source: @TSAAPG on twitter – part 1 . part 2)
- You get given the wrong forms, get sanctioned for not doing the right forms. (Source: Adventures in Workfare blog )
- You’re sick and miss an appointment, but you’ve already missed one so you get sanctioned (Source: @thinktyler on twitter. Rules actually state you can miss a grand total of two appointments for illness each year – particularly harsh if you’re sick and have been wrongly kicked off ESA by ATOS)
- You don’t apply for an IT job that needs skills you don’t have so you get sanctioned. (Source: Geminisnake on Urban75 forums )
- You volunteer in a youth club. For some reason the jobcentre thinks this is paid work so they sanction you. (source: @ukeleleKris on twitter )
Sanctions should only be applied where someone has breached the agreements they have set out with the job centre, and targets cannot be set on this without some malicious intent to deliberately trip up claimants or sanction them unfairly. Unfortunately, this is what the above examples show. Sanctions like these are widespread and common, which can only point to an underlying culture or pressure to sanction claimants, along with the DWP’s previous refusals to release sanction data and reporting following record-breaking figures last year.
When used like this, sanctions threaten people’s survival and ability to work. For those suffering already with sickness, disability or particularly mental illness, these sanctions can throw them into worse health as they battle a system they cannot win, at the expense of their food money. For those struggling to survive a bout of unemployment when there is one job to every 5 people, or where over 1700 people apply for 8 jobs at Costa, these sanctions target them unfairly for a situation they cannot control. When used like this, sanctions push people to turn to food-banks in the name of targets. And as the number of accounts like the above grow, and the number of people dependent on food-banks increase, and the government continue delaying data, it is not hard to believe that cases like Lucy Darnell’s* are not isolated.