West Norfolk disability co-ordinator says benefit sanctions ‘an atrocious way to treat human beings’
The co-ordinator of a Lynn-based claimants service has said sanctions affecting job-seekers in West Norfolk have been an “atrocious treatment of human beings”.
Jeanette Jones, co-ordinator of the West Norfolk Disability Information Service (WNDiS), was reacting to new figures showing over 900 job-seekers in West Norfolk have had their benefits stopped or reduced for up to three years.
Data from the Department for Work and Pensions shows 910 high-level sanctions were imposed on people claiming Jobsseekers Allowance in Lynn and West Norfolk between October, 2012 and January, 2019.
It also reveals job centre staff tried to impose high-level sanctions 2,060 times in this period.
Ms Jones, who took over from Jonathan Toye at WNDiS at the beginning of May, said the recent government decision to scrap three-year benefit sanctions comes “far too little, too late.”
She said: “Some 900 job-seekers have been forced into poverty, starvation, food banks and homelessness.
“This has affected our disabled clients most harshly as they clearly find it impossible to meet these impossible claimant commitments.
“What has happened to the 900 people who were sanctioned with the harshest of penalties?
“They have disappeared off radar and there are no figures to show they have claimed other benefits.
“God only knows what has happened to them and their suffering.
“This has been absolutely atrocious treatment of human beings in a civilised society.
“It is absolutely not fine to make this punishment fit the crime!”
Ms Jones added that work and pensions secretary, Amber Rudd’s decision to end three-year benefit sanctions this month are “small steps, but there is a long, long way to go”.
“At last there is an end to seven-years of punishment for the unemployed and people who are sick and disabled, desperately trying to satisfy measures imposed by the government,” she continued.
North West Norfolk MP Sir Henry Bellingham described Amber Rudd’s decision to cap sanctions at six months as a positive move by the Government.
But he voiced concerns about the number of people experiencing deductions for longer periods, particularly given the lower than average rate of unemployment here compared with the country as a whole.
He said: “It’s still a very high number of people. I will be writing to Amber Rudd about this.
“It may be for good reasons, if they aren’t looking for work or people aren’t applying properly, but I need to know more.”
High-level sanctions last for a period of three months, six months, or three years, depending on the severity.
Only the Norwich area in Norfolk had a higher number of sanctions than this borough. In total, 5,118 sanctions have been imposed in West Norfolk.
Claimants can be sanctioned for a variety of reasons including being late for appointments, not doing enough to look for work, or failing to attend a training programme.