Campaigners celebrate Iain Duncan-Smith's resignation. Now McVey must go as well (Pic: Nathan Pettefar)
Benefit sanctions are “life threatening” for some disabled claimants, according to a new study. And the constant threat of sanctions leaves many “living in a state of constant anxiety”.
Claimant Charlie told researchers he “ended up trying to commit suicide” after being sanctioned. “On Christmas day I was sat alone at home just waiting for darkness to come so I could go to sleep,” he said.
“I was watching through my window all the happy families enjoying Christmas and that just blew me away. I had a breakdown on that day and I’m still struggling with it.”
A three-year government study published last month admitted there is “no evidence” that benefit sanctions help claimants find work.
Yet the Tories still try to claim that their benefit regime helps people into work.
And the new research, carried out by the University of Essex and the Inclusion London charity, shows that claim is a lie.
Instead, claimants told researchers that the regime undermined their confidence and made mental health difficulties worse. People spoke of “feeling controlled” and of being pushed into inappropriate activities.
Charlie was told to remove his degree from his CV “because they don’t want you to be over qualified”.
“They told me to remove it and if I didn’t I would be punished and would be sanctioned,” he said. “This is the way that the Job Centre chip away at your confidence.”
Claimant Hannah said the threat of sanctions had an impact. “They can sanction you when they feel like it,” she said. “Just the thought is a worry. How am I going to pay for this and that?”
The study looked at disabled people who had been placed in the Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) Work Related Activity Group.
These are people deemed well enough to carry out work-related activities and to search for jobs after undertaking a Work Capability Assessment.
Ellen Clifford from Inclusion London is one of the authors of the study. She pointed out that the rollout of Universal Credit (UC) will mean claimants will have to meet certain conditions or risk sanction.
“This is yet another reason why the roll out of Universal Credit must be stopped,” she said.
It’s a big circle that never ends and will inevitably leave me and my partner homeless for Christmas.
Karen is a disabled claimant living in Huddersfield, west Yorkshire. She previously claimed ESA. When Karen moved in with her partner, who claims UC, she was told to join his claim.
But her partner was sanctioned—and that sanction carried over to the joint claim.
“They started to send him letters stating that he’d missed appointments from years ago that he didn’t get notified about,” Karen told Socialist Worker.
“So they added these sanctions to our claim. As it stands he has 371 days of sanction remaining and eight outstanding sanctions with no closing date. We have tried so hard to get a closing date on these outstanding sanctions.
“But apparently Universal Credit can’t assist as another company issued the sanctions. And because we can’t end these sanctions, he can’t apply for hardship payments.”
Karen said the sanctions have left her and her partner trying to live on £160 a month.
“We are behind on council tax, we have a stupid amount of rent arrears and we’re also in arrears with gas and electric,” she said.
“In order to survive we have had to sell all sentimental jewellery and electricals. We even had to sell my beautiful dog that we couldn’t afford to feed. It broke my heart.”
Sanctions have left Karen and her partner relying on food banks for the past two years. “They try their best to help us, but we still go around two days a week with no food at all,” she said.
“We can’t afford to top our gas up and our house is full of damp, so winter usually consists of us both being extremely ill.
“We have been taken to court numerous times about council tax and TV licence payments. They only add astronomical charges that we still can’t pay. And then debt collectors come and add even more charges that we can’t pay.”
Prior to being on UC, Karen claimed ESA as she suffered with anxiety and depression. “My previous partner was abusive and ran me into the ground,” she explained. “I couldn’t even face leaving the house. On top of that I had a miscarriage due to stress.
“According to my doctor, anxiety and depression mean I have a disability, and I’ve been told I’m not fit for work.
“But when I joined UC they told me my sick notes weren’t worth the paper they were written on—their words, not mine.”
Instead Karen was put on an “intensive work search” which involves searching for jobs 35 hours a week. “I can’t do it as I don’t have internet at home and I struggle to leave the house,” she said.
“It’s a big circle that never ends and will inevitably leave me and my partner homeless for Christmas.”