A vulnerable 60-year-old has been left penniless and dependent on food bank support after his Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) was sanctioned at the end of July while on the Work Programme. South-east Londoner James Dearsley received a letter from the Department for Work and Pensions (below) telling him that he had been sanctioned from July 29 and that his JSA would not be reinstated until October 29. James, who is already in arrears with his council tax, has spent more than three weeks without social security. This withdrawal of money means that he’s already been forced to use Greenwich food bank twice.
He says the local job centre told him he was being sanctioned because on three consecutive occasions he had failed to turn up for his Work Programme appointment with a Seetec job search support club. The letter from the DWP states: “We have decided that you did not comply with the requirements of the scheme to which you have been referred and that you did not have sufficiently good reasons for doing so.”
James, who has health issues, says he was not able to make his July 16 appointment because he was sick. He received a phone call from Seetec and he told them he was ill. He says he was able to attend his next appointment on July 23, and also turned up for his appointment with Seetec on July 30, “but they sent me home because they said I had a sick note and because of that I couldn’t stay there”. He added that later they “said verbally that they were sanctioning me because of three supposed missed appointments”.
He has now submitted an application for a hardship payment – which is an emergency payment at a much lower rate than JSA. He was told last week that it would take seven to 10 days for this to come through. James has also very recently submitted an application for employment and support allowance (ESA).
How does he feel about the three-month sanction and the effect it could also have on his housing? “It’s draconian. I also owe £300 in council tax. If they cut my money off I’ll lose my flat. I’m also totally in the dark over when the ESA will come through. To state the brutal truth, it’s bully boy tactics.” James has submitted a request for a review of the decision to sanction him.
As Polly Toynbee points out in the The Guardian here, “Jobcentre Plus offices have become sanction factories”, with staff under massive pressure to cut people off. She mentions the case this summer of a diabetic former solider, who was “sanctioned into starvation” and who tragically died.
Does anyone in the system responsible for these welfare policies – including setting up a Work Programme described by the Government as “offering personalised support for claimants who need more help looking for and staying in work” – genuinely believe that giving James a three-month sanction that forces him to the food bank will ultimately lead him closer to a job and a more secure and healthy future?
Many thanks to James and to all the food bank clients who are prepared to share their experiences.