Harsh sanctions regime punishing the unemployed, Emma tells MPs

January 7, 2015

131106 ELB WM HALL smallEmma has criticised the ‘rude’ and ‘nasty’ treatment of benefits claimants under the Coalition in a debate in Parliament today (Wednesday 7 December).

She told MPs that jobseekers in South Shields had been poorly treated at the Job Centre because of new policies imposed by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), and the scapegoating of benefit claimants by the Government. One constituent had been refused a private room to talk about a personal health issue, while another was not allowed to use the lift to reach the first floor of the building, despite having a serious back injury.

Emma said that this treatment was a result of the change in culture that had happened under the Coalition, which encouraged Job Centre staff to get people off benefits by any means necessary. She explained that the harsher sanctions regime brought in by the Government meant staff were now under pressure to find reasons to sanction claimants, rather than supporting them into appropriate work.

Emma was speaking in a debate on the treatment of benefit claimants in the North East called by the Labour MP for Newcastle upon Tyne Central, Chi Onwurah. MPs from across the region gave similar examples of constituents who had been unfairly sanctioned or poorly treated by DWP staff.

Responding to the debate, the Employment Minister Esther McVey MP said that the Government’s welfare policies had helped people into work.

But as Emma pointed out, the Government now encourages Job Centre staff to move job seekers on to the Work Programme and make-work training courses, which allow them to be left out of headline unemployment figures.

When MPs challenged the Minister to say what she was doing to make sure jobseekers were treated fairly, she did not do so.

You can read the full debate on Parliament’s website by clicking here.

Speaking after the debate, Emma said:

“The benefits system is supposed to be a public service that helps people when they fall on hard times. But under this Government claimants are now treated like second-class citizens who need to be forced into work. Constituents in South Shields have complained that DWP no longer treat people with decency or respect, and judging by today’s debate they are not the only ones who feel this way.

“I was extremely disappointed that the Minister was so dismissive in her response. Her attitude was typical of this Government’s approach, and their total lack of understanding of the challenges unemployed people go through.” 

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