Friday 24 May 2013

Cracking down on benefits claimants

Earlier this week listeners to the PM programme on Radio 4 would have heard an interview with a man talking about his experiences as a benefits claimant. He had received a letter summoning him to a meeting. The problem was that the letter was written and sent out five days after the date of the meeting he was supposed to attend.

As a result, he was sanctioned and lost two weeks of benefits.

A junior government minister was on hand to say this must have been an unfortunate administrative mistake, and he was sure the man would get his benefits back. The interviewee replied that he had appealed and was hoping to get the lost benefits restored eventually.

The world moved on, and if any of the listeners gave it a second thought, they probably put the matter down to administrative bungling.

A couple of days later a friend who works in social care mentioned that his office receives a lot of circulars and updates from social services. One recent document told benefits staff that issuing sanctions to claimants was recognised as an "achievement". The more achievements staff clock up, the better their chances of promotion.

Sanctions are a three stage process, he explained. Depending on how serious a failure by a claimant is deemed to be, you can lose benefits for anything from a couple of weeks to several months or an entire year.

An increasingly common way of recording an achievement is, guess what, to send out letters calling someone in for an interview after the date set for the interview.

Recently benefits claimants turning up to sign on in Cardigan found that the offices were closed because of a one-day strike. They were told not to worry, their attendance would be recorded nevertheless. All subsequently received sanctions.

Almost all of the claimants sanctioned in this way will be people living very close to the edge. Withdrawal of benefits even for a short period means real hardship or destitution.

Watch the crime figures climb, my friend predicted, as people with nothing to live on turn to theft.

1 comment:

Tessa said...

This is shocking and frightening. It is also totally believable.