Britain’s biggest union, Unite, will hold protests across the North East of England during a national day of action (Thursday 19 March) opposing benefit sanctions which are now being used on an industrial scale.

Punitive sanctions have resulted in over two million people having their welfare payments cut or stopped without warning over the past two years, leading to increased poverty, misery and even death.

In the North East area the total number of sanctions dealt out by the DWP from October 2012 to September 2013 was 53,883 and 52,420 between October 2013 and September 2014.

Gill Thompson, whose brother, David Clapson, died after being sanctioned will be handing in her 211,822-name petition at the DWP – calling on the Prime Minister to investigate the widespread use of benefits sanctions.

Mr Clapson, a vulnerable diabetic ex-soldier, died starving and destitute in 2013 because he was penalised by the job centre for missing a meeting. His sister is demanding answers, saying:

“Benefits sanctions are completely out of control. I want to know how ministers who state everything is done to support the vulnerable can justify their actions leaving people destitute, driving them to food banks, and leading to starvation and death. Do we want to live in a society where the vulnerable are victimised – I certainly do not.”

As things stand money can be cut for arriving late at a job centre, missing an appointment to go to a funeral, or even failing to apply for a job – while waiting to start a new job.

Unite is not prepared to stand idle while this failed coalition government mercilessly targets those already struggling to make ends meet, with ideologically-driven and needless cruelty.

Commenting Joe Rollin, Unite community regional coordinator, said:

“This government is attacking the unemployed for unemployment and treating claimants worse than criminals fined in the courts. Decisions on guilt are made in secret with the claimant not even allowed to be present to explain their case.

“Far from helping people back into work, sanctions undermine physical and mental health. They cause hardship, damage relationships, create homelessness and drive people to food banks, payday lenders, and to crime.

“There is no justification for this grotesque cruelty by the government. Unite is calling on the DWP to end benefit sanctions as this situation can’t be allowed to go on in the 6th richest country in the world.”