Twice over the last 18 months, members of the Poverty Truth Commission have been reduced to tears during our meetings. One of those was when we heard from one of our members about the experience of being sanctioned by the Job Centre for failing to fulfil the requirements that had been placed upon him for applying for work. In the previous week, he had applied for one less job than he was meant to have. No matter that the week before that he had applied for more jobs than he needed to. It was a harrowing account of a loss of dignity, genuine hunger and deep depression.
Commissioners were both tearful and angry. On the 21st June, as we present our findings at Turning Up the Volume on Poverty, we hope that you will share our sense of outrage as you hear members of the Commission talk about the experience and impact of being sanctioned.
Since October 2012, when the criteria for sanctions were revised by the Department of Work & Pensions, there has been a massive growth in the numbers of people being sanctioned. The numbers of people being sanctioned has almost doubled in an 18 month period. The Scottish Parliament’s Welfare Reform Committee recently published a damning report on the punitive use of sanctions with which the Commission would agree.
In Scotland we have a principle that people are innocent until proven guilty. The imposition of sanctions appears to work in the opposite direction – you are guilty until you can prove yourself innocent. And with over 40% of sanctions being overturned on appeal, it is clear that even using the DWP’s very strict criteria they get it wrong an awful lot of the time.
Not only is the use of sanctions unjust – and frequently nonsensical – but it is also damaging and costly. As one of our Commissioners put it: ‘You used to come out of the Job Centre happy if you had found a job. Now you come out pleased is you haven’t got a sanction.’ This climate of fear does not help people find work. Indeed it is having the opposite impact. It is damaging people’s physical and mental health. It is making people less able to work not more able.
It is for this reason that we are challenging the Department of Work & Pensions to change their policy and practice around Job Sanctions. But we recognise that this will not happen without pressure. And so we are challenging people to find out more about the impact that sanctions is having – the way that they are breaking people’s spirits – and then demand change.
Turning Up the Volume on Poverty will be launched on 21st June 2014 in Glasgow’s Woodside Hall. You can book your place here.