A day of action against the cruel regime of benefit sanctions took place yesterday, Thursday. It saw protests outside the Department for Work and Pensions in London and scores of job centres across Britain.
It was organised by the community membership section of the Unite union.
Protesters in London marched to Parliament Square to hear speakers name people who have died after their benefits were cut off.
They also named MPs who had voted to cut benefits and toughen the sanctions. After each MPs name was read out there were loud chants of “murderer”.
In Southampton there was a “funeral of Daniel Blake”, referring to the victim of sanctions in the Ken Loach film.
Sanctions—where claimants have their money cut off for minor infringements of harsh regulations—were introduced in the 1990s. But they have become much more widely used recently.
Since May 2010, when the Tory-Lib Dem coalition took over, 8 million sanctions have been imposed, hitting 3 million individuals.
If claimants do not turn up on time for appointments or are deemed not to have applied for enough jobs, benefit officials effectively fine them by stopping their payments for a minimum of four weeks, — about £300 for a claimant over 25.
Such a loss of money can be devastating for people who have virtually nothing to begin with.
Claire, a Unite community member from Lewisham told Socialist Worker that “people are falling into poverty because of these sanctions.
“If you miss a meeting because your bus was late or if you put the wrong information by accident then you are sanctioned and people can’t afford the basic necessities.”
“This Tory government is intent on punishing the poor.”
If people do not appeal against their first sanction, if they are sanctioned again, they will be sanctioned for longer - leaving people without money for three months or up to three years depending on the level of “offence”.
Sanctions are part of a wider process of cutting benefits.
Earlier this week there was an attempt in parliament to halt the changes to Personal Independence Payments, but the cuts were pushed through.
London protester Dennis told Socialist Worker, “Benefits have been frozen until 2020, but the cost of everything is going up.
“People are suffering because they can’t afford to heat their homes and properly store their medicines.”
The ruthless benefits regime is a threat to everyone. People without jobs are kept in poverty, those in work know that if they lose their job they will see a huge drop in their standard of living.
Sanctions must go.
Housing cuts protest
Activists held a protest in Parliament Square last Saturday against the housing benefit cut for people aged between 18 and 21.
It could make 10,000 people homeless. The cut assumes young people can stay with family. But many can’t—such as LGBT+ people who face homophobia.
“We were affronted by the change in the law,” said campaigner Ed. “There are any number of reasons why people can’t go home.”