Benefit Sanctions: the good, the bad, don’t let it get ugly

The good news about benefit sanctions can be summed up pretty quickly, so let’s get it out of the way now. The Work and Pensions Committee have got past their second of three oral evidence sessions into benefit sanctions, and have received a huge body of evidence that the sanctions are not working, and in fact in the opinion of researchers and witnesses the whole sanction culture is counter-productive. Further, this story is appearing in the press, though not featuring as strongly as it should. It should be front page news in every news outlet.

That’s it. The good news.

The bad news is that they were ever allowed to exist in the first place. For goodness sake, people on benefits have the absolute minimum income that it is decreed by the state is necessary to live. And they take that away from people?? What were they supposed to live on, thin air??

It was with horror that I started to hear about people dying as a result of sanctions. Many more are suffering or turning to crime. This has been known for 2 years or more: Johnny Void’s old-ish post includes a link to CAB report.

Moreover, the inquiry suggests strongly that this should have been anticipated, and most probably was. Here’s that transcript again, look at the top of pg 22, where Alison Garnham quotes from the DWP’s decision-making guide ” ‘It would be usual for a normal healthy adult to suffer a deterioration in their health if they were without essential items, such as food, clothing, heating and accommodation or…essential items. The decision maker must decide if a person with a medical condition would suffer a greater decline in health than a normal healthy adult and would suffer hardship.’ It is assumed deterioration in health is part of the result of a sanction regime.” I have been blithely hoping that gross incompetence was the issue, and certainly wilful ignorance must have been, at every level in the decision making process. But no, the people on the Black Triangle’s list were effectively murdered by a state that likes to pretend we are a poor country, unable to feed our poorest and most vulnerable citizens. Whether the specific cause of death was hyperglycaemia, suicide, or heart attacks, they were deliberately abandoned in situations that were known to be deleterious to health.

Britain is the 6th largest economy by GDP in the world. We are not poor. There has never been a good excuse for sanctions. Benefit fraud is not a major problem for the nation’s finances. It’s not even as if there were an over-supply of jobs. The OECD, of all groups, has recently put out a report saying that redistribution of wealth, a benefits system and public services is beneficial to an economy: just in case you weren’t paying attention to the lessons of British history in the post-war to 1980ish period when we had these things and did quite well actually thank you. Or to all the people studying inequality before.

Now there are no excuses left at the political level. Come on MPs, Members of Parliament, representatives of the people. Show us that you are representing the people of Britain – all of them, not just the rich Eton-attending elite. Show us that there is some integrity left within this tortuously slow political process. Show us that there is power and will to effect necessary change. Show us that there is some intelligence left somewhere! Show us that there is some compassion for the most poor and vulnerable, and ultimately for all workers – for workfare is impinging on the idea of the minimum wage. Prove your worth. Stop these benefit sanctions immediately.

Stop this war on the poor.

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