Tag: benefit sanctions

Church of England calls for review of benefit sanctions

[General] synod called on the government to launch an independent review of the impact of benefits sanctions after hearing anecdotal accounts of hardship and humiliation from bishops, clergy and lay members.

Speakers acknowledged the need for checks on the benefits system to deter abuse, but said the sanctions system was punitive, targeted at the most marginalised and vulnerable, and created a climate of fear and anxiety.

Sanctions made many claimants feel under suspicion, said Malcolm Chamberlain of Sheffield. The “highly punitive regime” resulted in people “begging, borrowing and stealing in order to meet daily needs”.

He cited a case of a claimant being sanctioned for failing to attend a benefits interview because he was at a funeral, and another case of sanctioning when the claimant was being interviewed by police after his house was burgled.

Elliot Swattridge, of the C of E’s youth council, said: “The system is not just broken, but is cruel, even deadly.”

Catherine Pickford of Newcastle, which hosts one of the country’s largest food banks, said for many claimants sanctions felt like “an arbitrary and dehumanising [punishment] for being unemployed”.

According to Simon Taylor of Derby, the impact of sanctions lasted far beyond the period covered by withdrawal of benefits. “Sanctions are not removing dependency but perpetuating and increasing dependency. This is a counter-productive system.”

The former Tory MP Tony Baldry urged the church to embark on a mass lobbying campaign of MPs on the issue of benefits sanctions. “From my 30 years of experience as a member of parliament, the most effective way of engaging with the system is actually to go and see your member of parliament at their constituency surgery.

“They can’t escape … And they’re going to have to do something. And, actually, most members of parliament will treat with great respect a delegation from their local deanery synod or local clergy.”

Such meetings would generate correspondence from MPs to ministers and questions in parliament, he said.

Here is the motion:


The Revd Canon Kathryn Fitzsimons (Leeds) to move on behalf of the Leeds Diocesan Synod:

That this Synod:

(a) welcome the extensive work already undertaken by the Church of England in partnership with others to evaluate the impact of benefits sanctioning and to identify and promote recommendations for the reform of sanctions policy and practice;

(b) call on Her Majesty’s Government to implement the recommendations numbered 58-63 inclusive, made in December 2014 by the All Party Parliamentary Inquiry Report into Hunger in the UK Feeding Britain in respect of the use of sanctions upon benefit claimants;

(c) call on Her Majesty’s Government to initiate a full independent review of the impact and efficacy of the sanctions and conditionality regime; and

(d) encourage every part of the Church of England to offer practical and pastoral support to those experiencing benefit sanctions, building on the Church’s work with food banks, credit unions and debt advice.

Three amendments were moved by Nigel Bacon, the Venerable Malcolm Chamberlain, and the Bishop of St Albans, which were carried and are included in italics above.

Synod then voted in favour of the amended motion on a counted vote of the whole Synod.  The voting was as follows:

For: 320; Against: 0.  2 abstentions were recorded.



IDS introduces warning system to benefit sanctions

This article by Ruby Stockham originally appeared in Left Foot Forward.

Changes will give sanctioned claimants 14-days to appeal before their money is stopped

In a response to a Work and Pensions Committee report on benefit sanctions, the government has announced a series of policy changes.

In a letter to Frank Field, the chair of the Work and Pensions Committee, Iain Duncan Smith wrote:

“I am particularly pleased to be able to confirm that, prompted by the Committee’s recommendation for a yellow card warning system, we will trial a system of warning before a sanction is imposed.”

At present a claimant stops receiving their benefit the moment they are notified of the sanction, giving them no chance to plan for their changed circumstances. Under the new system claimants will be given 14 days to appeal against the sanction before their money is stopped. IDS wrote that this ‘will strike the right balance between enforcing the claimant commitment and fairness’.

In 2014, the Department for Work and Pensions released figures which showed that 58 per cent of people seeking to overturn sanctions were successful. Thus the system being trialled should have a significant impact on the number of people having their benefits withheld for any amount of time.

The Work and Pensions secretary also announced that the Department would be considering extending the criteria of those eligible for ‘hardship’ payments in the event of a sanction to those with mental health conditions and those who are homeless.

The changes will mark a welcome softening of the sanctions system after criticism from the Committee. However, IDS still has big questions to answer about sanctions-related deaths; until his position on these is clear it will be difficult for vulnerable people to trust any gift from him.

End of year Benefits Report

Since opening we have dealt with 170 people who have had at least two problems, and many had a multitude of problems and issues that took more than one appointment. In fact we have conducted around 350 interviews. Here is a brief snapshot of the issues that we have dealt with:

All benefits including ESA, IS,JSA, Sanctions, Bedroom Tax PIP, Pensions, DHP, Right to Reside issues for EU nationals and all issues previously dealt with by the social fund and money problems. We have represented 18 people at Tribunals with a 70% success record. We have two Tribunals pending at the Upper Tribunal, one on Bedroom Tax and the other on Right to Reside for a Polish EU national.

From the above around one third have joined Unite Community.

Richard Vivian

Volunteer at Barnsley Unite Community Centre

Rickets returns as poor families find healthy diets unaffordable

This article by Tracy McVeigh originally appeared in the Guardian.

The UK Faculty of Public Health will call for national food policy including sugar tax as concerns rise over vitamin deficiencies.

Poverty is forcing people to have dangerously poor diets and is leading to the return of rickets and gout – diseases of the Victorian age that affect bones and joints – according the UK Faculty of Public Health.

The public health professionals’ body will call for a national food policy, including a sugar tax, as concerns rise over malnutrition and vitamin deficiencies in British children. It will also appeal for all political parties to back a living wage to help combat the illnesses.

Doctors and hospitals are seeing a rise in children suffering from ailments caused by poor diet and the faculty has linked the trend to people’s inability to afford quality food. Latest figures show there has been a 19% increase in people hospitalised in England and Wales for malnutrition over the past 12 months but experts say this is only the extreme end.

Dr John Middleton, from the FPH, said the calls would come in the faculty’s manifesto to be published next month and warned that ill-health arising from poor diets was worsening throughout Britain “through extreme poverty and the use of food banks“.

He said that obesity remained the biggest problem of food poverty as families are forced into choosing cheap, processed high fat foods just to survive. “It’s getting worse because people can’t afford good quality food,” he said. “Malnutrition, rickets and other manifestations of extreme poor diet are becoming apparent. GPs are reporting rickets anecdotally in Manchester, the East End of London, Birmingham and the West Midlands. It is a condition we believed should have died out.

“The vitamin deficiency states of gout, malnutrition being seen in hospital admission statistics are extreme manifestations of specific dietary deficiencies or excesses, but they are markers of a national diet which is poor. Food prices up 12%, fuel prices up double-figure percentages and wages down is a toxic combination, forcing more people to eat unhealthily.”

He said many policy makers forgot the impact of rising energy prices on diet. “That is the bit people dont really appreciate – a processed meal from a supermarket will need less feeding the meter as of course will a fast food take out. Poor people are having to pay out more of their income on food compared to the better off. There are difficult choices for people on low income.”

Carmel McConnell, founder of the Magic Breakfast charity, which provides a free breakfast to 8,500 British schoolchildren in need each morning, said teachers in the schools she worked in expected to see a dramatic decline in the health of their pupils as they return after the holidays: “Teachers tell us they know even with free school meals it will take two to three weeks to get their kids back up to the weight they were at the end of the last school term because their families cannot afford the food during the holidays.”

McConnell and Middleton both welcome the Nick Clegg-led intiative to start universal free school meals in schools for younger children, although critics are claiming that schools, already facing a dire shortage of places, may find it difficult to accommodate when the scheme is rolled out later this week.

The UK has 3.8 million children in extreme poverty. Charities such as the Trussell Trust report growing need for food banks but say that some of the items donated can be of poor quality.Dr Middleton said: “If the nutritional diseases are markers of a poor diet, the food banks are markers of extreme poverty – the evidence from Trussell Trust suggests the biggest group of users are hard working poor families who have lost benefits, live on low and declining wages and or they have fallen foul of draconian benefits sanctions which propel them into acute poverty and hunger. This is a disastrous and damning indictment on current welfare policy and a shame on the nation. The food banks are providing a real and valued service staving off actual hunger – they are actually keeping people alive.”