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Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Steep rise in ESA sanctions. Swheatie says: "Now it's not just the absence of winter fuel payments that can do sickness benefit claimants in."

By Swheatie of the KUWG


Harsher sanctions against ESA claimants were introduced in December 2012

Yesterday's 'You and Yours' programme on BBC Radio 4 had a feature on a steep rise in the number of people in the Employment & Support Allowance 'Work-Related Activity Group' (WRAG) who had been sanctioned, while the overall number of people sanctioned on Jobseekers Allowance had fallen.
"In the first six months of this year, compared to the first six months of last year, there were around 54,000 fewer sanctions. So that leaves around 383,000 able bodied [sic] benefit claimants who have been sanctioned because they have broken the rules. And the rules say, 'You have to be looking for work.'.... Fewer people overall claim the sickness benefit Employment & Support Allowance, but the increase in sanctions that we have seen in the first six months of this year is really steep.

"So in the first six months of 2013 there were 9,000 people on Employment & Support Allowance who had their claim suspended, and then for the same period of this year, for the first six months, that number had leapt up to 25,000!..."
The programme goes on to say that while the Department for Work & Pensions says that the rules are clear and the sanctions generally last for only [sic] one week, people with learning difficulties and mental health difficulties are particularly amongst those sanctioned. And an Oxfordshire Welfare Rights Adviser says that the reasons for the sanctions are not clearly explained, which makes appealing against the sanctions much more difficult even for trained advisers, and especially as those advisers are facing increasing workloads as a result of the steep rise in sanctions against people on ESA.

There is a real lack of awareness and Disability Equality Training among the staff who apply the sanctions. John, an underperforming JSA claimant with learning difficulties who was disallowed ESA and had to go onto JSA is interviewed after being sanctioned for not meeting his target of 10 job applications in one week by one job application. (5 mins 14 secs to 7 mins 32 secs into the programme.) He has been told that he has been sanctioned up till the end of this year; and the very first indication that he had been sanctioned came when his Housing Benefit was stopped! The Department for Work & Pensions say that they will look into John's case more closely. Hopefully, that experience will lead to documentary evidence that he should be on the Employment & Support Allowance that he has been turned down for three times. (John is not the only JSA claimant with learning difficulties that can seriously impede online jobsearch activities, as Kate Belgrave has revealed elsewhere.)

Labour MP Dame Anne Begg who chairs the House of Commons Work & Pensions Select Committee is interviewed, saying that there should be sanctions for those not trying hard enough, but the increase in sanctions experienced through her own casework as an MP and the circumstances of those sanctioned shows that something is clearly wrong and that her Committee will need to look further into this matter.

She says that there has always been some level of 'conditionality' in the giving out of unemployment-related benefits, but seems to ignore any idea of bargaining power and 'consideration'. In contract law, bargaining power helps differentiate claimants from potential slave fodder and consideration implies that the DWP as 'employer' should consider what the claimant requires in order to fulfil their side of the deal. Existing UK benefit levels alone — ie, without all the bullying that goes on within JobCentre Plus! — show so little regard for the vulnerability of claimants that I am reminded of the chorus of the Allan Taylor song, 'The Morning Lies Heavy on Me' that he wrote for his Vietnam War draftee brother-in-law:
Tell me who's the one who fights until he's broken —
Is it the ones who sit in judgement of us all?
I wouldn't care if it was their lives they were taking,
But they don't listen or even answer to the call.
On poverty levels of income, every day is a struggle for survival.

Welfare reform and statistical respraying of Incapacity Benefit claim closures due to claimant death

And I'd say that we must remember that a great deal of what is currently happening under the Conservative Government with investment banker Baron Freud as Welfare Reform Minister can be tracked back to when an earlier incarnation as David Freud was appointed by Labour's Work & Pensions Secretary John Hutton in late 2006.

Around that time, I was demonstrating outside Parliament with a group of disability activists while I was on JSA and the then Government talk was rumoured to be about reserving the 'no need to apply for work' group of would-have-been-Incapacity-Benefit-claimants to people whose claim was on the grounds of incontinence. A case of disability stigma there, along the lines of, "Don't tell us what your disability or health condition does to you; tell us how it can piss others off."

A few months on from that it had been revealed in Disability Now! magazine that a backbench Labour MP's research using official government figures had revealed a direct correlation in the fact that Incapacity Benefit claimants below the age of 60 were denied the winter fuel support availabe to even government ministers aged 60+ on much higher salaries, and a steep seasonal rise in Incapacity Benefit claim closure due to claimant death in winter.

How did Work & Pensions Secretary John Hutton respond? Perhaps with the respray skills of the David Freud who led the Euro Tunnel flotation on the Stock Market. Hutton told BBC radio news in early 2007 in relation to the transformation of Incapacity Benefit toward what is now ESA that his department's figures revealed that after two years on IB, a claimant was more likely to retire or die than get another job.

Subpoena those whose policy-making negligence puts vulnerable people's lives at risk
Would you willingly place any lives in these people's hands?

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