Thousands of unemployed Scots are suffering extreme hardship due to a harsh new clampdown on Jobseekers, according to a new report by Citizens Advice Scotland.
The attached report shows that Scotland’s jobcentres are becoming more and more strict in punishing people who allegedly don’t do enough to find work.In April 2012, over 240 ‘sanctions’ were applied to jobseekers in Scotland every working day. As a result, thousands of Scots are at risk of being pushed into poverty and debt – despite the fact that many of the alleged ‘offences’ can be very minor, unproven or not the fault of the claimant at all.
And from next week, the regime will become even more harsh, with jobcentres being given the power to stop a claimant’s benefit payments for a minimum of 13 weeks.
Publishing the report today (Wednesday), CAS Chief Executive Margaret Lynch says,
“People who receive JobSeekers Allowance (JSA) have a responsibility to fulfil their side of the deal and actively seek work. Nobody disagrees with that. What concerns us here is that there has been a massive increase in the numbers of people who have been sanctioned - many of them without adequate reason – and the consequence is that they are pushed into severe poverty.
“JSA claimants are struggling at financial crisis-point to begin with. It is only a small payment (£71 per week for those over 25, and £53 for those under 25), but people rely on it to feed themselves and pay the essential bills. So to lose it, for a period of weeks or even months, is simply devastating.
“Forced into destitution, people have to rely on extreme measures like charity food parcels. But these are only available for short periods, so many have no option but to take out high-interest loans just to get by, and this of course sets up massive problems for their future because they have no way of paying that money back and the interest just rockets out of control.”
The report makes the point that sanctions don’t just affect the claimant, but their children and other dependents as well. Margaret Lynch continues:
“Some will no doubt say that sanctions are a good thing and that people who don’t seek work deserve all they get. But in fact many of the cases we see are people who have been sanctioned for very unfair reasons. For example, a person might miss an appointment due to genuine illness or bereavement, or because they rely on public transport which failed to get them there on time. These are the sort of reasons for which people get their money stopped. And indeed a number of alleged offences can be traced back to administrative errors by the jobcentre itself.
(see case studies below, and in the report)
“But even if a claimant has really missed an appointment or failed to apply for a particular job, the ‘punishment’ of losing their income doesn’t just hit them but their children as well. We don’t think pushing people into extreme hardship is the answer. Overall, this is just another example of how these welfare reforms are targeting those who are already vulnerable, and making things even worse for them.”
The report can be downloaded at the bottom of this page.
To arrange interviews etc please contact Tony Hutson on 0131 550 1010 or 07774 751655
Notes to editors - click to expand/collapse
The number of sanctions applied in Scotland suddenly increased more than four-fold in early 2010 (see figure 1 in the report). Then after a relative decrease in 2011, the level of sanctions has again increased significantly in 2012. During April 2012, over 240 sanctions were applied to claimants in Scotland every working day. Both the government and the Jobcentres have insisted that jobcentres have not been given targets for numbers of people to sanction, but there are concerns that this is so.
From next week (22 October) an even more harsh regime will be introduced. The most serious offences will lead to payments being stopped for even longer periods: 13 weeks for the first failure, 26 weeks for a second, or 156 weeks for a third failure within a 52 week period. It is likely that these changes will lead to an increased number of people experiencing severe financial hardship.
CAS recommends that clearer guidance and training is provided to Jobcentre staff to make sure they only impose sanctions in appropriate circumstances. The report also says staff should be trained to recognise those cases where the sanction will push the claimant into poverty, and that special hardship funds are made available for those cases.
Some examples of recent cases where sanctions have been applied:
These have been taken from our report but are a representative sample. More are available on request).
NB We have tried – as always - to persuade some of these clients to talk to the media as case studies. But many have told us that they are afraid to do so because they believe they will be further punished and sanctioned again for speaking up. We will continue to try and find media case studies, but in the meantime these anonymous cases can be quoted, and we have many CAS and CAB spokespeople available for interview.
- A North of Scotland CAB reports of a client who has moved house, and whose nearest Jobcentre is now in Inverness, a 32 mile round trip. The client has been sanctioned for not attending sign-on interviews, but does not currently have the money to pay the bus fare. The CAB adviser negotiated an emergency payment to allow the client to attend her next sign on date, but the client will now have to spend a significant amount of her JSA payment attending interviews at the Jobcentre.
- A South of Scotland CAB reports of a client whose JSA claim has been sanctioned for two weeks for not following a jobseeker’s direction to use the internet to increase his chances of obtaining work. The client is dyslexic and has difficulty using a computer, which he explained to the person dealing with his claim. The client was not warned that he would lose his benefit if he did not use the internet to look for work. The client also says that he has problems with reading and writing. The client had completed his job sheet, detailing the employers he had contacted, and feels more than confident having face-to-face contact. The client is currently homeless after losing his job as a carpet fitter in February.
Claimants must show evidence of their job search activities and must follow Jobcentre directions on the jobs that they should apply for. A failure to evidence these can result in a sanction. A number of clients have complained that they had met these conditions, but still found themselves being sanctioned.
- A North of Scotland CAB reports of a client who has been on JSA for several months. He has applied for all the printout jobs given to him by his Jobcentre adviser as well as everything he finds in the paper. He has also sent speculative CVs to local companies. The client was shocked to get a letter sanctioning his JSA payments for six weeks from mid July as he had failed to apply for a job they pointed out to him in June. The client is adamant that he did and asked the CAB for help to appeal the decision. He had asked about a hardship payment but this had been refused as he has more than £200 in his bank account
- An East of Scotland CAB reports of a client who was sanctioned for two weeks for not showing sufficient evidence that he was looking for work, despite the fact that the Jobcentre was aware he was attending training that will allow him to work in the construction industry. The client received no notice of the sanction and only found out when he discovered that there was no money in his account. The client has no money or food and is due to have his son stay with him at the weekend. The client has already borrowed money from a friend, but has run out of options. The bureau arranged for a food parcel to be sent to the client and have put in an appeal.
In some cases, sanctions are imposed for situations that were caused by administrative errors by benefit agencies. It is imperative that claimants are not sanctioned for situations that were clearly not of their own making.
- An East of Scotland CAB reports of a client claiming joint JSA with her partner. They have both been sanctioned because her partner didn’t attend an interview which occurred when he was attending a mandatory work placement. The client’s partner explained to the Jobcentre that when he enquired about the double booking the work placement provider had advised him to attend the placement, rather than the interview, but the sanction still stands. The family have no cooker and very little furniture in their new tenancy and are currently living on income from Child Benefit and Child Tax Credits A West of Scotland CAB helped a client to re-appeal a two week sanction applied to his JSA claim in July 2012 after he failed to attend a Work Programme appointment. He had originally appealed on the grounds that he had not received the letter informing him of the appointment, but the sanction was upheld. The CAB adviser contacted the Jobcentre and the Work Programme provider and established that the DWP had failed to pass on the client’s new address after he moved in December 2011, so all the paperwork had been sent to his old address.
For many claimants, sanctions can put them in a crisis situation. Bureaux have reported an increase in the number of clients requiring referrals for food parcels, with JSA sanctions being reported as one of the main causes of this increase.
- A West of Scotland CAB reports of a client who is reliant on food parcels that he is receiving from local churches. The client is currently homeless and recently received a sanction of two weeks to his JSA claim after missing a signing on date for the second time this year. The client cannot claim a hardship payment or Crisis Loan, so the bureau referred the client for a food parcel. The client approached the bureau two weeks later as he still has no money, cannot afford to travel to the Jobcentre, and is now reliant on food parcels to survive.
- A West of Scotland CAB reports of a client who requested help after his appeal against a JSA sanction failed. The client’s grandmother was seriously ill and he had forgotten to rearrange a mandatory meeting, resulting in a two week sanction. The client supports his mother and younger sister, and as a result of the sanction the family will have no income at all for two weeks. The CAB contacted the Jobcentre but it upheld its decision, so the adviser arranged for a food parcel for the family.