The government steals from the poor and lies about it: £60 million of benefits withheld in the first 6 months of 2012 as a result of benefit sanctions
On the 1st of December 2014, Esther McVey was asked how much benefit was withheld from claimants in benefit sanctions in some constituencies and she responded that ‘The Department does not estimate the amount of benefit withheld as a result of benefit sanctions’.
She was asked the same question during the Parliamentary debate of the 2nd of December 2014 about sanctions and gave the same answer. Unfortunately for her, Stephen Timms MP was able to produce evidence that DWP had in fact made an estimation of these figures, which had been given to him by Mark Hoban in 2013.
Considering the increase in the number of sanctions since October 2012 and the fact that ESA sanctions are not included, a figure of £200 million for 2013-2014 is not unrealistic and might even be a very conservative estimate. £200 million is not a huge amount in the scale of things and as part of the UK budget but it was for example the amount of tax evasion by British clients of an HSBC-owned private Swiss bank in 2012, or it is the amount Iain Duncan Smith may have wasted on Universal Credit according to the National Audit Office .
As demonstrated during the Parliamentary debate, sanctions are applied indiscriminately, by staff unable to use their moral judgement before making decisions which have cost the lives of some claimants.
People with mental health conditions or learning difficulties who do not understand what is required from them are sanctioned, single parents who cannot juggle the demands from Job Centres and their commitments as parents are sanctioned, sick people who cannot attend a Job Centre interview because of a hospital appointment are sanctioned and many more who have to do without income for a minimum of 4 weeks, unable to put food on the table, or to pay for electricity.
It was mentioned during the debate that the parcels now delivered by foodbanks need to be ‘Cold parcels’ because many people can no longer afford to warm their meals. There are also many restrictions on who can claim hardship payments, but apparently Job Centre staff tell sanctioned claimants they are not entitled to them even when they are.
What was also mentioned were the sanction targets: at least 8 per month for Job Centre staff, and those who don’t sanction enough are put through a ‘performance improvement process’.
Esther McVey did not address in her response the increase in sanctions. She did what she always does, which is to go through the ‘numerous successes’ of her department. But she also lied. She also lied because she knew that this money which had been stolen from the poorest is now given as electoral sweeteners and tax cuts in order for the Conservative party to win the next election.
Remember that when George Osborne delivers his budget on Wednesday.