Below is a blog post by a colleague who has been sanctioned. It is not the most egregious story nor is it particularly unusual but it is by a person who had good jobs and after a short spell being unemployed went on to get a good job. He contributes taxes, worked hard at finding a new job and is clearly not the benefit scrounger of tabloid imagination– in short he is the sort of person we all would expect the benefit system to help. But when he showed initiative in looking for work it sanctioned him.
Often the debate about benefits is framed as “them and us” – but that is not the reality. Sanctions may have touched the lives of people you work or worship alongside. The lack of respect they represent does not discriminate between class or creed – just another reason why it is time to rethink sanctions.
How I lost my income for a month
I recently had a spell of claiming JSA as my previous job came to an end. Jobcentre staff are keen to know that claimants are doing what they can to make themselves employable and find work. It was, therefore, with a sense of encouragement that on a Monday morning in January I had a job interview (though I was unsuccessful). Less than an hour after returning home I was on the road again for a professional leadership training course. I had intended to continue submitting job applications while I was away but things didn’t turn out that way. Nevertheless, I was not too concerned when I completed my Jobseeker’s diary the day after the course finished, writing in it that I had spent my time productively on a three day leadership course.
Sadly, the sight of the course in my booklet triggered an immediate warning light and I was soon explaining what kind of course it was and why it was work-related. My advisor explained that while I was on the course I was not available for work, one of the key JSA criteria. My claim, now on hold, would be referred to a Decision Maker to determine what would happen to my JSA payments. In order to inform the Decision Maker’s decision I was asked to complete a document for each week of the affected claim period, ie two weeks, though the first week had already been signed off as satisfactory the previous Thursday. It was not clear whether a persuasive case could be made for not losing my benefit, nor did my advisor offer any opinion on the outcome of my infraction and the additional information I had provided.
A few days later I received a letter advising me that I would not be receiving any benefit for both of the affected weeks, even though only one week had been deemed unsatisfactory on signing day. The letter also advised that if I now reapplied for benefit I would be subject to an additional sanction.
It was not clear to me when I enrolled on the training that this would have a negative impact on my benefit. Nor did I realise when I was asked to provide further evidence that I was on the road to receiving no benefit for a four week period, even though only one week had actually been affected. This is entirely disproportionate and punitive, I have never come across a system which invokes penalties and sanctions at the first instance in such a way. The lack of leeway, compassion or proportionality is bewildering. I cannot imagine how this could be imposed in a matter of fact way on those who are in dire financial straits without those who run the system feeling that there is something desperately wrong with it.
Anonymous Methodist (name disclosed to JPIT)