Campaigners criticise sanctions imposed at King’s Lynn job centre

Jobcentre EMN-140714-104528001
Jobcentre EMN-140714-104528001
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Lynn’s most vulnerable families are being left to suffer, according to an anti-poverty campaigner, as around 140 people a month lose their

employment benefits.

A total of 2,602 unemployed claimants have been sanctioned and had their benefits cut in Lynn up to September last year, and a further 361 were overturned on appeal, figures from the government’s Department for Work and Pensions show.

Around eight per cent of every 100 claimants in the town have been affected since the harsher Job Seekers’ Allowance rules were introduced in October 2012.

The punishment sees benefits stopped for between four weeks and three years for apparent breaches of benefit rules – including simply being late for an appointment at the Jobcentre.

Christopher Lindley, a member of Lynn’s Churches Together, said the sanction regime was “unfair” and not only causes harm to benefit claimants, but their children and families too.

He said it plunges them into poverty and hunger and increases the dependency on Lynn Food Bank.

He also suggested it could be aimed more at cutting welfare payments and reaching sanction quotas rather than helping people back into work.

Mr Lindley, who compiled the report ‘Benefit Changes Cause Suffering in King’s Lynn and West Norfolk’ on behalf of Churches Together last year, said 2,139 Lynn Food Bank vouchers were handed out last year – and 62.5 per cent were given because of benefit sanctions and changes.

He said: “It is significant that the Job Centre Plus (in Lynn) gave out 643 of the 2,139 vouchers in 2014, which is 30 per cent, and the reasons were almost entirely benefit sanctions or changes.”

He added: “So many of them (sanctions) are unfair. Some no doubt are justified where people just don’t make an enough effort to find a job, but so many of the reasons are because of transport or because they missed an appointment.

“There is a great deal of argument about whether the Jobcentre has targets for the number of people it sanctions. They hotly deny it of course, but I don’t know.”

He said the DWP figures show an average of 140 people a month losing their benefit.

It ranged from 96 people last August to 160 in May and 182 last January.

Councillor Ian Gourlay is the Labour representative for Lynn’s Fairstead ward, where many of the Food Bank vouchers are handed out.

He said: “I don’t agree with benefit sanctions 100 per cent, and I don’t think they should be administered in the way they are.

“However, if we’ve got to stick with this system, there should be a bit more leniency and the chance for people to take an advocate to examine whether the sanction should actually be put in place.

“If I stole £20 from someone I would be arrested and go to trial, but if the Jobcentre applies and sanction and takes money off you, there’s no trial. It’s like we’re living in some communist state.”

n Rise in demand for Lynn Food Bank – see story opposite.