11 March 2015
A new report by the housing charity Crisis this week finds that the government’s sanction regime for Job Seekers Allowance and Employment & Support Allowance claimants is being applied very differently across the country, with Test Valley and Southampton coming in the top three districts by numbers of sanctions per 100 claimants. In both areas, sanctions are running at nearly twice the national average.
The report also highlights the steep increase in the application of these harsh and complex rules for claimants since the new legislation in 2012-the rate for sanctions on JSA applicants has more than doubled, while those on ESA (i.e. already deemed sick) have seen a threefold increase. Meeting the stringent requirements of the DWP programmes hits hardest at the most vulnerable – the sick, disabled, and homeless; those with mental health issues; those with poor education and literacy; those without access to or the ability to use IT.
Commenting on the report, Ian Callaghan, Green Party candidate for Romsey and Southampton North, which includes much of the Test Valley area, said: “It would appear the system for applying “conditionality” to benefits, to end what the Coalition government calls the “something for nothing” culture, is resulting in a postcode lottery for claimants. What’s more, there is a wealth of evidence that the system is complex and poorly communicated to people. Many do not understand, or are not told how to fulfil the requirements, with DWP letters and advice proving confusing. Many do not understand how to appeal against a sanction ruling, or know that they have to reapply for other benefits immediately (like Housing Benefit) when they have been sanctioned.”
The Crisis report finds that not only do the homeless face particular difficulties meeting the DWP’s demands, but that sanctioning can actually itself cause homelessness, with people unable to manage their housing costs, council tax and bills, let alone feed themselves with no income. A recent report on those using food banks found that nearly 50% of those needing emergency food supplies were the victims of benefit sanctions and delays.
Angela Mawle, Green Party candidate for Southampton Test, said “What these figures represent is real human hardship for people in across Hampshire. One local resident has told me that his wife, who is on ESA suffering from severe rheumatoid arthritis and depression - which means she doesn't go into town as it causes panic attacks - was still told she had to go on a Work Programme course. She didn't go and got sanctioned. It took letters from her GP and Rheumatoid Arthritis consultant to finally overturn her sanction, but all this took 12 weeks and they were nearly evicted. Thankfully they live in council housing so they were more understanding than some landlords would be.”
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