Despite the Lockdown, Tories Still Enforcing Benefit Sanctions

Mike put this story up only a few a hours ago, and its disgusting. According to the DWP, their promise that there would not be any sanctions for three months during the Coronavirus emergency only meant that there wouldn’t be any new sanctions. If you’re already sanctioned, tough – those sanctions are still very much in place.

A young man in his early 20s, Ben, found this out the hard way according to the Mirror. He had been sanctioned earlier this year because he had not found work. He believed, however, the freeze would be lifted during the crisis, like the payment holiday for homeowners and the payments made to support employees furloughed. But this didn’t happen. After waiting a week to go shopping, he received a statement from the DWP’s online portal last Thursday that his family were entitled to a big, fat, round zero. He was directed to take out a hardship loan instead, which he would have to pay back if and when he was given benefit. Mike’s of the opinion that it’s the Tories’ plan to force him, and those like him, further into debt and hardship.

The DWP then issued its clarification to the Mirror, which stated that sanctions imposed before the freeze still continue to apply. As Mike points out, this means that people, who were led to believe that they would be helped in during the crisis, are left to fend for themselves with no money. And it’s especially harsh on the disabled, who may find it difficult coping with sanctions normally.

Fortunately, it has worked out well for Ben, as after the Mirror took up his case, the DWP reinstated his payments and gave him £1,600.

Benefit sanctions have NOT been suspended – as Universal Credit claimant found out the hard way

The Tories began replacing benefits with loans a long time ago. I think it began under John Major, when they set up the Social Fund in the DHSS as it then was. The previous system, I believe, included a series of grants that could be made to the unemployed to purchase necessities that they couldn’t afford. This was replaced by a system of loans. Some of those loans were to give claimants money to tide them over a certain period, for example if they had absolutely no money and still had to wait several days or a week for their benefit cheque. Others were for the desperately poor, who could not afford to buy certain necessities, like cookers. The system meant that those, who were already desperately poor, would be left with even less money if they were forced to take out these loans due to the repayments, which would be deducted from their benefits. Not everyone approved of the Social Fund system, and some Benefits Agency staff privately said that the previous grants system was better.

Since then, the Tories have expanded this scheme into a replacement for welfare, a policy the authors of The Violence of Austerity call ‘debtfare’. There’s an entire chapter on it, and how it is leaving people vulnerable to starvation and homelessness, as well as mental health problems from the stress of worrying about this danger and debt obligations.

But I think that’s the point. You degrade, humiliate and impoverish the poor, following Thatcher’s ‘Victorian value’ of less eligibility, so that they will do anything not to have to take up state aid. It also benefits the employers by giving them a cowed, fearful workforce, which will put up with poor wages, terrible conditions, few employment rights and insecure contracts, simply to avoid the humiliation and starvation inflicted by the DWP.

This crisis and the necessary lockdown have pushed many more Brits into poverty. We’ve already seen mass sackings, when some employers decided that rather than apply for the government’s payment of 80 per cent of their employees wages during the lockdown, they’d rather sack them instead. This would have surprised no-one, who actually knew how rapacious some business people can be. It did, however, shock the Beeb’s political editor, Laura Kuenssberg. This either shows how massively naive she is in some ways, with a very idealised notion of capitalism completely at odds with what it’s like for many people. Or it shows just how insulated she is as part of an extremely affluent, metropolitan media set. Way back when Cameron was inhabiting 10 Downing Street, it was revealed just how many leading members of the lamestream media lived in his home village of Chipping Norton in the Cotswolds. And while 80 per cent of people’s wages may sound generous, it means that those, who are paid far less than the living wage and who therefore find it a struggle to cope normally, are forced even further into poverty.

The many people made unemployed and forced to rely on jobseeker’s allowance will not have magically found work by the time the lockdown is lifted. They will still be faced by the sanctions system, so there will be even more people reliant on charity and food banks, and more people forced onto the streets. Perhaps Laura Kuenssberg will be astonished by that as well. The Tories won’t, as it’s what they’re aiming for. But they will hide it from the rest of us so people keep voting for them, deluded into believing that the ranks of the unemployed has magically come down through the invocation ‘market forces’ and ‘personal responsibility’.

The sanctions system is an abomination. It should be ended now, not merely given a rest during this crisis.

 

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