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80,000 unemployed people face benefit sanctions misery this Christmas Ė including 6,800 disabled people

More than 80,000 families face a bleak and miserable Christmas because of punitive and unfair benefit sanctions, the PCS union says.

PCS say an estimated £20 million – £250 per person on average – in benefits will be withheld from poor and desperate job seekers during the run-up to Christmas and the new year festivities.

Analysing figures from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), the PCS has calculated that more than 74,000 unemployed people will lose more than £19 million in Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) payments.

Monthly trends suggest 54,700 JSA claimants will be sanctioned this month, totalling £14,540,000. PCS estimate a further 19,300 sanctions lasting 13 weeks will have been issued in October and November 2014, totalling £5,140,000 for December 2014.

PCS say the figure represents a 2,000% increase since the last Christmas before the Tory-led coalition took office in 2010.

Estimates exclude 2,300 claimants who have been sanctioned for three years since October 2012. PCS say it is impossible to estimate how many of these have remained unemployed in that time.

Around 6,800 sick and disabled people also face a penniless Christmas, losing almost £700,000 in crucial Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) payments.

The worrying extent of sanctions issued against sick and disabled people could be much higher than figures suggest. This is because the DWP does not publish data for ESA claimants receiving a second or third sanction. PCS calculations are therefore based on a one-week sanction of people in the Work Related Activity Group (WRAG) of ESA.

The coalition government toughened the benefits sanction regime in October 2012, a move which has led to a shocking increase in the number of people having their benefits docked – including the sick and disabled.

More than 900,000 job seekers have been hit by benefit sanctions in the last year alone, according to a Freedom of Information (FOI) request.

Figures also show that benefit sanctions for sick and disabled people are on the rise, with 15,955 sanctions dished out against ESA claimants during the first three months of 2014. This compares to 3,574 in the same period the previous year.

PCS say they are strongly opposed to the new sanctions regime, which charities cite as one of the main reasons for a surge in the number of people turning to food banks.

DWP continues to claim there are no targets for advisers in jobcentres to refer people for sanctions, but the union has provided evidence that the department’s appraisal system, linked to the disciplinary procedure, is used to enforce ‘expectation’ levels.

PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said: “There is no evidence that stopping people’s benefits improves their chances of finding long-term employment.

Many are being punished for simply turning up late to an interview or refusing to work for free for a profitable company on one of the government’s failing workfare schemes.

“Use of these sanctions has spiralled in recent years, but they do nothing but heap blame and misery on some of the poorest in our society and they should be scrapped.”

The government is facing mounting pressure to change the sanctions regime in the wake of numerous stories of people being ‘sanctioned’ for punitive and often ridiculous reasons.

The Work and Pensions Select Committee is holding an inquiry into the use of benefit sanctions and will report their findings in the new year.

Welfare Weekly

Iain Duncan Smith LAUGHS during Bedroom Tax debate sparking outrage

Tory minster Ian Duncan Smith has sparked outrage by laughing during a heartbreaking debate on the affects of the Bedroom Tax.

He was spotted throwing his head back and chortling while being accused by Labour's John Robertson of simply not listening to anyone else and was 'bored'.

The comment came after the minister appeared to be talking to Tory MP Mark Harper as another MP spoke about the reality of the stress the Bedroom Tax would have on a Scottish estate.Mr Robertson said: 'The one thing that we can tell from the honourable gentlemen who are having a wee chat amongst themselves... This perhaps is exactly the problem with this government. They sit and have their little chats because they're bored with the talk of people on this side trying to help them.

'And they can say whatever they like, that is how it looks to me.'

Labour MP Jack Dromey described the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions as “grinning like a Cheshire cat”, while viewers took to Twitter to agree and voice their disgust.

Russell Corbett tweeted that while the result of the vote was not surprising, Mr Duncan Smith’s behaviour showed how “evil” he was.

While Ed, branded the minster a scumbag, posting: 'Dim-witted sociopath Iain Duncan Smith laughs as he hears stories of vulnerable people he has driven to suicide. He is absolute scum'.

A Government amendment was then carried 300 to 262, majority 38.

The Lib Dems were criticised for voting with the Tories, as with their votes Labour would have been successful in getting the tax abolished.

In September Shadow work and pensions secretary Rachel Reeves pledged to call a parliamentary vote to scrap the Bedroom Tax - calling Lib Dems to join her party.

Labour has pledged to repeal the Bedroom Tax if it wins in May.

New figures show victims have lost an average of £1,260 since the 2013 launch of the hated policy, which docks housing benefit of tenants deemed to have a spare room.The Bedroom Tax debate was not the first time Mr Duncan Smith has appeared to laugh off misfortune of others.

Almost exactly a year ago, he sneered at the plight of hungry families forced to rely on food banks.

During the debate last December Tory MPs laughed and jeered as they were told how some hard-up shoppers were so desperate they fought to snap up discounted items in supermarkets.

Astonishingly, all the Government ministers from the responsible departments – including Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith – sneaked out after just an hour of the crucial Commons debate.

The Mirror

Benefit payment delays and the bedroom tax impact terribly on disabled people's lives

This year has been an extremely challenging year for many disabled people and today is a perfect example of just some of those challenges. Figures released by the Department for Work and Pensions have revealed that thousands of people are still waiting to be assessed for Personal Independence Payments and are struggling to access this vital benefit. Alongside this, an opposition debate on the bedroom tax is a reference to yet another policy that has had a hugely negative impact on disabled people.

The latest figures on PIP show that nearly half of claims (excluding those made by someone with a terminal illness) are still outstanding. Currently there are 245,000 new claimants and 46,600 DLA reassessment claimants still waiting for a decision on whether they will receive their benefit.

DLA played a huge role in covering the extra costs that can come with being disabled and supporting people to live full and active lives. It is vital that PIP now takes on this role.

Being assessed or reassessed for benefits is an extremely stressful process. A long wait for a decision can leave disabled people in limbo, unsure if they will get the support they need. For the deafblind people Sense supports the worry of assessors not understanding their disability and being unable to provide them with a fair assessment is also very real. Sensory impairments are complex and require specialist knowledge of the impact on a person’s day to day life. Over the past 18 months we have heard examples of people who are deafblind not being provided with the appropriate communication support or of assessors being unable to understand the impact of having both a sight and hearing impairment.

Similarly the bedroom tax has posed a huge challenge for many disabled people, who find themselves forced to pay extra for a 'spare room' they need because of their disability. Space for extra equipment related to their disability or a room for an occasional overnight carer are both reasons that a disabled person might legitimately need an extra bedroom for and should not be forced to pay extra for.

The irony of the bedroom tax for some people who are deafblind is that in order to live independently they may need extensive mobility training so they can navigate around their home safely. Forcing them to downsize to a smaller property will then result in a person needing further mobility training and potentially a live-in carer to support them during the process. This is not a cost-effective measure and is an extremely stressful prospect for someone with little or no sight and hearing. It is wrong that these needs are not automatically exempt from the bedroom tax. Of course people can appeal, and in some cases an individual's needs will be taken in to account. But again, this is a very stressful and not a situation that disabled people should have to face.

Disability benefits such as PIP aren’t just about the basics like food and heating that we often associate with welfare. They are about ensuring a good quality of life for disabled people. When we talk about PIP delays or the impact on the bedroom tax we aren’t just looking at the financial cost, it’s so much more than that. It’s about people being able to be part of their community and not feeling excluded because of their disability. These issues with benefits are also set against a backdrop of huge cuts to who is eligible for social care, leaving many disabled people struggling to get by. It is vital that these issues are prioritised in 2015.

New Statesman

Britainís benefits sanctions: ĎMy brotherís gone. We canít bring him back, but we canít let this go oní

Gill Thompson and Cathie Wood have come together through impossibly tragic circumstances. Both of their brothers died, hungry, with no money to buy food, after their benefits were stopped.

Last month, the two women joined forces to campaign for improvements in the way the government treats vulnerable benefits claimants, hoping to draw something positive from the deaths of their brothers. Thompson spoke out about her brother, David Clapson, in August, unleashing a wave of concern about the government’s increasingly punitive use of sanctions – the stopping of benefit payments to those people deemed not to be actively looking for work. Clapson died in July 2013 from diabetic ketoacidosis (caused by an acute lack of insulin), a few weeks after he was sanctioned by the Jobcentre, which cut off his benefits payments entirely. When Gill found him, there was almost nothing to eat in his flat – six tea bags, an out-of-date tin of sardines and a can of tomato soup. The autopsy noted that his stomach was empty. Thompson knew he was still searching for work when he died because there was a pile of new CVs near his body.

Thompson didn’t anticipate that her account of her brother’s death would trigger such outrage, but within weeks 211,822 people had signed an online petition for a government inquiry. Partly as a result of the campaign, the work and pensions select committee has announced that it will hold an inquiry into how the benefits sanctions regime is working, early next year.

In November Thompson met Wood, in Oxford, to launch a joint campaign highlighting their concerns about how vulnerable people can be hurt by the newly toughened benefit regime. The two made contact after reading about each other’s anger with the system in the Guardian.

Wood’s brother, Mark, who had a number of complex mental health conditions, died in August 2013. Some months earlier, an Atos work capability assessment found him fit for work, which triggered a decision to stop his sickness benefits, and pushing him into financial difficulties. The coroner said that although it was impossible to identify the cause of death, it was probably “caused or contributed to by Wood being markedly underweight and malnourished”. A doctor’s letter presented to the inquest said that his anxiety disorder had been made “significantly worse” because of the pressure put on him by benefit changes.

Wood is campaigning to get a formal apology from the government and, like Thompson, wants lessons to be learned and improvements to be made to the system. The two women believe they will make their case more powerfully by working together.

“There were similarities with our brothers. He didn’t want to cause a fuss, my brother. He just buried his head in the sand. Like Cathie’s brother, he was very vulnerable,” Thompson says. “My brother’s gone. We can’t bring him back, but we can’t let this go on.”

She hopes that action will be taken to make the sanctions regime less harsh. “I know there are people who do abuse the system, and I know we have to do something about that, but that’s a minority. My brother and Mark were easy targets.”

She thinks her brother suffered because of a toughening of attitudes towards benefits claimants, and a tightening of access. “I feel it’s wrong that he was punished for being a scrounger – that’s the government’s attitude, they want to get rid of this ‘something for nothing culture’. My brother did work, but people who are on benefits are on them for very good reasons.”

Wood says that the official inquiry into her brother’s death found that mistakes were made, but also pointed to things he should have done to get support. “The report says he could have accessed that, or asked this – but he’s not going to, because he is an extremely vulnerable, mentally ill man,” she says.

“So we need more care and attention in the process, for vulnerable people like my brother. These were two vulnerable men, very harshly treated. They both ended up dying through lack of food. We are combining forces to try to stand up for vulnerable people. We have similar goals.”

Both Wood and Thompson want to reduce the “callousness” they believe exists in the system. “We need to highlight the human cost of it, and show that this stuff isn’t without human consequence,” Wood says.

Both women are busy with full-time work and never wanted to become campaigners, but they have found the process empowering. “I don’t enjoy being in the public eye. It’s a really horrible thing to have to do and it takes a lot of guts – but we’re going to go on trying,” Wood says.

Thompson is particularly happy that a tree will be planted in memory of Clapson in the park where they played as children. “If I hadn’t done this I think I would have been sad all my life, thinking about how he died,” she says.

The Guardian

'Facebook refused to ban' autism hate page

Facebook have been accused of refusing to ban a vile page attacking autistic kids, despite angry protests.

Upset parents who begged the social network site to remove the Moms Against Autistic Children thread were told it did not 'violate our community standards'.

Katie Fitzgerald, of St Helens, Merseyside, was one of them.

The 27-year-old, whose son Riley-Jack, three, is autistic, said: 'I went on for advice and was faced with all that horrible stuff. I could not believe it.'

The page was finally taken down after thousands of complaints - and intervention by the National Autistic Society.

But other insensitive copycat pages have since appeared.

NAS policy chief Sarah Lambert said: 'This kind of hate speech is deeply offensive to those living with autism.'

The Mirror

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