Sanctions: a disgrace to us all

I received this note yesterday from someone who had seen a posting I made last March about Jobcentre Plus sanctions.  I have not clicked ‘approve comment’, for two reasons: one is that it would reveal the identity of the person who sent it (I have written to her to check whether this is what she intended), the other that the format of the blog does tend to bury the comments made on older posts, and this is much too important.  This is what she wrote:

i am a single parent with a daughter of 8 and to have had a sanction put on my jsa benefit for failing to attend a tomorrows peoples appointment they say i had. The only appointment imissed well didnt really miss just got there late due to taking child to school then i had to walk 3 miles as didnt have bus fare only to be left standing outside in cold while they discussed what to do which ended with me being sent away and informed that another letter would be sent to me. i then had notice in post that my JSA would be sanctioned from 10/05/13 until 10/08/13 and i would get nothing. i only heard about a hardship allowance i could try and claim but as of yet heard nor received any kind of help wot so ever, and the job centre advisors just seem to fob me off they have been of no help wot so ever plus i still havnt had any information regarding my reconsideration letter ive sent.

The rules governing these sanctions are fairly new. For low-level offences, such as missing an interview, the usual sanction for a first offence is four weeks; for a second offence in the same year it is thirteen weeks. ‘Tomorrow’s People’ is a part of the Work Programme, and this interview may have been part of mandatory work activity, which also carries a 13 week sanction. I am not sure of the details here – whether this is a breach of mandatory conditions, whether my correspondent has been given a previous sanction, or whether she has been penalised further for something said after she arrived – but I do not think that any of those issues is what matters here. There are lots of opportunities to incur a 13 week sanction. As far as I can tell, what has been done in this case is most probably what the rules say ought to be done. And the fact is that this person has had her benefit stopped for three months for the offence of being too poor to afford her bus fare.

In the past, people studying social policy could look in bemused distaste at the practices of the Victorian Poor Law. People were treated then with contempt and dehumanised in accordance with accepted public practice. We can now be reasonably sure that future generations will look back at our current policies with the same sense of horror. I know, as a citizen and a taxpayer, that this is done in my name, and I am ashamed.

3 comments

  1. tracey giles

    hi paul thankyou for taking the time to read my comment about JSA sanctions. as u are aware my benefit has been sanctioned for 13 wks as id (failed to attend a appointment) at tomorrows peoples office anyway u wanted to no if id had a previous sanction and the answer to that is never. i may have missed the odd signing on app due to ill health but i have always attended my appointments with tomorrows people. So when i received the sanction letter to say i was shocked is an understatement. could u pls tell me who puts the sanctions on our benefits is it DWP or TOMORROWS PEOPLE?

    • Paul Spicker

      Tracey Giles has also written to me to give permission to show her comments on the blog.

      Tomorrow’s People is a charity working with employment issues in several regions. They act as a sub-contractor for the Work Programme (and were reported to be rather upset by their relegation to the second rank when the prime contracts were made). The DWP rather than the sub-contractor is ultimately responsible for decisions about sanctions.

      Her benefit has been stopped for 13 weeks. This might be a ‘higher-level sanction’, imposed for refusing to participate in Mandatory Work Activity, but it might also be a ‘lower level sanction’ for ‘failing to participate in a specified scheme’ or ‘losing a place on a training scheme or employment programme because of misconduct’. It’s very difficult to tell without seeing the papers or the terms of the letter she was sent, but I think the decision is open to question on most of the possible grounds it might have been made on. I have suggested that Ms Giles should be getting advice from a law centre, welfare rights centre or Citizens Advice Bureau, and looking for a ‘revision at any time’ of the decision or, if that is blocked, a legal appeal. None of that, of course, affects the basic point that I have made in the blog. By any reasonable standard, this sanction is excessive.

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