Welfare minister defends sanctions regime, despite evidence it is hurting the vulnerable
Benefits sanctions supremo Damian Green has denied there is a link between welfare policies and suicide – despite his own department admitting the vulnerable have been put at risk.
Green appeared before the Scottish Parliament’s social security committee and was grilled over Westminster’s punitive regime.
Campaigners have linked the sanctions system – where claimants can have lifeline cash stopped for the most trivial of so called offences – with a string of suicides.
Secret Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) papers, which were only divulged after a legal fight, highlighted widespread flaws that lead to vulnerable claimants experiencing trauma.
They almost accused you of murdering people
In one case, a coroner explicitly stated that a man killed himlself as a result of being found fit for work.
At the committee, Green was confronted by this by SNP MSP George Adam, who said campaigners from the Black Triangle group had previously told the committee that "basically the regime of Personal Independence Payment assessments (which assess people with a disability for benefits) is sending people to go and commit suicide".
He added: "They almost accused you of murdering people."
However, Green trenuously denied this, saying: "There is no evidence, and I think bringing people who committed suicide into political debate is always unfortunate.
"Clearly every suicide is a tragedy, there are complex reasons behind every one, and as I say to try and politicise individual tragedies like this always seems to me to be very unfortunate."
He added: "It is absolutely not the intention of anyone connected with the welfare system, whether it's ministers or staff of the DWP, to cause distress.
"The system is there to help people and I see it as an essential part of my job to try and set up structures and set up the organisation of the system so that it is there to help."
At the committee, Green was presented with a copy of the screenplay to the film I,Daniel Blake, which tells the story of a benefits claimant.
Green has previously dismissed the film and the world of poverty and desperation it portrays as “a fiction”.
However, he was given a copy of the screenplay with a personal message written in it from scriptwriter Paul Laverty.
It read: “We noticed you condemned our film in parliament as having “no relationship to the modern benefits system” and as being “monstrously unfair” to job centre staff.
“It’s a pity you didn’t see our film first. Do you always reach conclusions without examining the evidence? Especially while standing at the dispatch box?
“I thought the script might be easier for you in your busy schedule.
“For the record, we stand by every single incident as a fair reflection of what is going on today. If you haven’t time for this script, visit a foodbank. They wil tell you what they told us.
“Do the decent thing – put an end to this barbaric and systematic attack on our fellow citizens.”