We are a group of unemployed people who have been campaigning since 2012 for the creation of real jobs and for protections in the social security system. The #PeoplesProposal has been developed as a result of years of engagement with people in receipt of social security, the majority of whom are vulnerable and dealing with a range of both physical and mental health conditions.
Action research carried out between 2014-15 found
- overwhelming evidence of arbitrary benefits sanctioning which breach fundamental rights to due process - 58% of people had their social security entitlement stopped or reduced because of a sanction or benefit change
- a failure to carry out basic assessments to determine the impact these sanctions will have on claimants and their families
- Insufficient information to appeal - 84% of those surveyed said the refusal by the state to provide information meant that they could not effectively appeal against sanctions and adverse decisions.
In short, a culture of ‘sanction first, investigate later’ exists, in sharp contrast to the legal and administrative protections routinely afforded to people in the work place or the courts.
This evidence from the ground is reinforced by official data provided by the Department for Communities:
- From June 2015-August 2016 11,230 decisions were made to remove Employment Support Allowance (ESA) from sick and disabled claimants (45% of all ESA claimants have a mental health condition).
- From April – June 2016 an average of 942 sanctions a month were imposed on Job Seeker Allowance (JSA) claimants.
- Since its inception in October 2014 a total of 5,333 sanctions have been imposed on participants on the government’s work programme, Steps 2 Success, with over 70% of these simply being for ‘failure to attend an interview’ with a private contractor.
All of these decisions were made without any due process or impact assessment being undertaken by Decision Makers based within the Department for Communities.
The impact on thousands of vulnerable people can be seen in the increasing reliance on food banks (26,000 in 2015/16), worsening levels of physical and mental ill health and increasing homelessness. The reality for unemployed people was revealed in comments made by one person taking part in the research:
“overnight my money was reduced from £115 a fortnight to nothing. The Housing Executive then stopped my housing benefit because the bru stopped my Job Seekers”