Regional disparities in sanctions show ridiculousness of coalition position

Wed, 11/03/2015 - 13:46 -- nick

A new sanctions report by housing charity Crisis shows why the coalition's drive to ramp up the number of sanctions is illogical as well as damaging.

As part of the study researchers found a huge difference between the rate of sanctions in different areas.

The Western Isles of Scotland saw just 1.8% of claimants have their benefits ripped away, while Richmondshire in North Yorkshire had a rate of 15.4%.

The government's rhetoric suggests that sanctions are a result of moral failings among the unemployed, and they use damning terms like 'shirker' to hammer home this point.

The logical question that comes from this is whether those in the Western Isles - interestingly, a Scottish National Party parliamentary constituency - are really 9 times more lazy and criminal than those in Richmondshire - a Tory one - to the coalition.

Any government which tries to invent moral issues as a way of damning a group of citizens is doomed to finding these problems; people will never conform to descriptions which were wrong from the start.

It would be interesting to hear the Tory MP for Richmond - ex-Conservative leader William Hague - going to his voters and telling them how he wants to represent the laziest constituency in Britain.

Sanctions are a huge problem for unemployed people, providing a disproportionate punishment that can leave them destitute for simply missing a meeting.

Iain Duncan Smith claims that he is motivated by wanting to make the benefits system more like work; it is hard to imagine an employer being allowed to get away with taking a month's wages away from an employee for being five minutes late to a meeting, as happens to unemployed people.

Sanctions can be handed out for almost any reason, but often now for no reason at all. Those who follow this story will have grown wearily used to stories of jobcentre letters designed to get to jobseekers late, phones remaining unanswered, and apparently secret appointments, all the result of the target culture the government has forced on jobcentres and the Work Programme.

Dr Kesia Reeve of Sheffield Hallam University - who wrote the Crisis report - points out that this has resulted in half of sanction decisions being overturned on review, showing exactly how scattergun and unsupportable the approach to them is.

"The evidence at present is limited, but points clearly to a system that is more punitive than it is supportive," she said.

It stands repeating over and over again: in 21st century Britain, the fact that some go cold and hungry because they are out of work is shameful.