A few thoughts as we kick into the year. Interviews from people who’ve been sanctioned at the end of the post:
As you’ll no doubt have read, the work and pensions select committee meets this coming week to hear evidence about benefit sanctions, with sanctioning connected to crime and depression.
Okay. I suppose that hearing will at least draw attention to the sanctions problem and the extent of it. It’s the What Next part that I wonder about. A lot of people know how things are. I spent many hours speaking to JSA claimants at jobcentres in 2014 (have posted some of those interviews below) and at least some of those people had complained to their MPs about sanctions and their treatment at jobcentres. Like many people, I can tell you now that there is absolutely no doubt whatsoever that stopping jobseekers’ allowance – already a meagre amount of money – to people who have nothing leads to crime and depression. You don’t have to look too closely to understand that that is the whole point of the sanctions/jobcentre/work programme exercise: to push anyone who struggles for work to the edge in one way or another and to terrorise everyone else into tolerating rotten pay and treatment just to keep a job. There’s very little mainstream opposition to that idea. I certainly don’t count this.
Three points of note from 2014:
1) Nobody I met ever got a job or even a job interview through their jobcentre. Not a single person. Everyone I met who found work did so through their own networks, applications and contacts. Jobcentres exist to administer goverment benefits policy and to channel people to the work programme and so-called skills courses, in my view. Wonder when jobcentres will be wholly outsourced.
2) Quite a few of the people I met who were signing on were actually employed for some of the time – on zero hours contracts, or short-term contracts, or on such low and irregular pay that they needed hardship loans and some JSA support. This is one of the many reasons why I find Labour’s ongoing justification of sanctions regimes in some form or other utterly misguided (I have other words, but am keeping it clean for the New Year). Pisstaking JSA claimants aren’t the problem. Pisstaking employers are the problem. That’s where the entire political emphasis should be. People I spoke to weren’t signing on for the lulz, believe me. They were signing on because it wasn’t possible for them to support themselves in an ongoing way at current rates and means of pay. Or they were stuck in workfare “jobs” that should have been paid and paid properly. Tinkering with sanctions policy hardly addresses the fact that sanctions in any form are about terrorising people into insecure, low-paid work and keeping them there. Let’s stop pretending that sanctions are about “mutual obligation” and other long-dated bollocks. Continue reading