Benefit claimants have been left feeling suicidal because of unjust benefits rules and sanctions placed on them according to a local citizen’s advice bureaux (CAB).
The West Dunbartonshire CAB’s Unjust and Uncaring report says the benefit system is designed to make the poorest in society pay for the government’s “economic calamity”.
It exposes what it deems a lack of fairness and transparency in the benefits system and condemns rules and sanctions imposed on claimants.
Sanctions imposed on people for trivial elements of their Jobseekers Agreement reduce the number of claimants but as these people don’t have any other form of income it often leaves people destitute.
To help compile the report advisers and volunteers in West Dunbartonshire’s three bureaux reported to their managers how benefits reforms are impacting on the people they see first-hand.
Joe McCormack, manager of West Dunbartonshire CAB, said there have been reports of claimants sanctioned for not carrying out job searches when they are attending job interviews.
The government needs to accept that its welfare changes are having a devastating impact on many people
He added: “Last summer we became increasingly concerned about the number of benefit claimants who were being sanctioned in West Dunbartonshire.
“The sanction process should be fair and open and should be a last resort, imposed on those who refuse to meet the conditions of their benefit entitlement. However, in too many cases we saw people being sanctioned for trivial reasons.”
Fellow manager Gareth King of Clydebank CAB said he was frustrated that no-one in authority at Job Centres is prepared to intervene even if everybody agrees the sanction was a mistake.
He added: “We keep hearing that sanctions are a last resort but in too many cases there seems to be no thought given to the impact on the individual.”
McCormack said the report is likely to be the first in a series of reports by the CAB on welfare issues and the impact of government reforms on local people.
He added there around 40 people for every vacancy advertised in the area and said Job Centre Plus failed to help people find work.
“Even in the last few weeks, when we were at the stage of concluding this report, it has become apparent that Work Programme providers in West Dunbartonshire are behaving disgracefully towards unemployed people and people with long-term health problems,” he said.
Margaret Lynch, chief executive of Citizens Advice Scotland said she backed the report and called for a change in attitude by the government adding the “shocking trends” were reflected by CABs all over the country.
She added: “It (the government) needs to accept that its welfare changes are having a devastating impact on many people, rather than insisting that the system is working well and the vulnerable are being protected – which is simply and demonstrably not the case, as is shown clearly in this report.”
|Jargon buster: Jobseeker's Agreement|
|A Jobseeker’s Agreement is a document which says what unemployed benefit claimants have agreed to do to find work. It includes conditions for receiving benefits and claimants may have to sign on at the Jobcentre Plus office at least every two weeks so that they can check on the claimant’s progress and see if they need any extra help to find work. Claimants can be called into the Jobcentre Plus office at any time and if they think the claimant is not keeping to their Jobseeker’s Agreement sanctions including benefits being cut or stopped can be imposed.|