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The voice of Scotland’s vibrant voluntary sector

Published by Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations

TFN is published by the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations, Mansfield Traquair Centre, 15 Mansfield Place, Edinburgh, EH3 6BB. The Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations (SCVO) is a Scottish Charitable Incorporated Organisation. Registration number SC003558.

Call to smash the sanction regime

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Report proves sanctions are pushing people to breaking point

Benefits sanctions are creating increasing hardship for Scotland’s poorest communities as well as the organisations supporting them.

Research by the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations (SCVO) found that draconian measures to implement welfare reforms – especially the sanction regime - are pushing people to breaking point while third sector groups supporting them are being pushed to their limits.

The situation has become so desperate it has led to a call from SCVO for all sanctions – punitive measure taken against people who meet qualification criterias – to be halted immediately.

People are being sanctioned for circumstances beyond their control. This is completely unacceptable - John Downie

Sanctions are being applied more frequently, sometimes without any understanding of the real barriers to people finding employment, the report found.

And the threat of sanctions combined with benefit delays is pushing people to extreme lengths, including reoffending and suicide attempts while the day-to-day struggle to survive is pushing people to breaking point.

John Downie, director of public affairs at SCVO said: “This report adds to the ever growing body of evidence of the devastating impact welfare cuts are having on people and charities.

“It amplifies the many calls for the devolution of more power over welfare than promised by the Smith Commission, in order to take a different approach that, instead of punishing people, gives them the support they need when they need it most.

“People are being sanctioned for circumstances beyond their control. This is completely unacceptable and we want to see an end to all sanctions in Scotland immediately.

“We also need more investment in frontline third sector organisations so they are in a better position to support people bearing the brunt of welfare cuts.”

The report found that many charities and third sector organisations are being overwhelmed by demand from the most vulnerable people who are struggling to cope “owing to these unfair changes.”

Meanwhile errors and a lack of knowledge among some Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) staff about benefit changes is exacerbating the situation by creating confusion and delays, and ultimately doing more damage for the third sector to fix.

Citizens Advice Scotland (CAS) published a report in July showing the impact sanctions were having on benefit claimants.

It showed a regime that was endemically flawed with claimants not told the reason for being sanctioned, how to appeal against or for how long it would last.

The report also said citizen’s advice bureaux across the country has experienced a 94% rise over the last two years in those seeking help for sanctions.

CAS chief executive Margaret Lynch said: “Being sanctioned means your benefit money is stopped.

“From a minimum of a week to as long as three years. That is the money that you live on.

“That is the reality faced by many of the clients CAB see every day. For some they don’t know why, for others they may know why but it was due to unavoidable circumstances.

The result is that people are left bereft of their income and not sure where to turn.”

Peter Kelly, director of Poverty Alliance Scotland, added: “Benefit sanctions are hitting the poorest in society hard.

“They are disproportionate and can place people in destitution - we have seen this in growing numbers of people using foodbanks. Not only is welfare reform having a negative effect on people on benefits, but also on the organisations that support them.

“We support calls to end the punitive sanctions regime, and we want to see a welfare system with support and dignity at its heart.”

The reality of a punitive sanctions regime

Craig Timlin was sanctioned by Ayr JobCentre after missing an appointment for a job interview.

Despite pleading with the JobCentre advisorthat it was an error on their part (he never received the letter telling himwhen or where to attend) staff still took the decision to sanction him for a month.

“I nearly lost my house,” he said. “I didn’tknow anything about sanctions – or even that I could appeal. So when I foundout my rent would not be paid I was left facing destitution as my landlord saidthe money would need to be paid back.”

On appeal Craig had his Employment SupportAllowance reinstated. But it left him with a month’s rent debt which he isstill paying back.

“I don’t have the most sympathetic landlord so I struggled to strike a deal to pay back what I owed,” he says.

He’s currently paying £520 in installments to his landlord at £100 a month.

“It’s very difficult,” he says. “Despite winning my appeal to reinstate my benefits, it wasn't backdated. So I’m struggling to get back on my feet.”

Craig says he’s nowhere to turn if he gets sanctioned again. “I live in fear that if my benefits are cut then I’ll definitely get evicted.

“Even if you successfully appeal against a decision, it takes over a month to have your benefits reinstated.

“It means you have to live at least a month without cash. That’s just impossible; I’ve no savings and my bank won’t give me an overdraft.”



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