A Birmingham PCS Member told us
Sparkhill jobcentre management are renowned for their effort to get DMA [sanction referalls], They recently started opening their office early and it’s generally believed this is to catch out customers so they can be sanctioned. We hear that staff are very unhappy in the office
In October, the DWP increased the length of sanctions, raising the minimum sanction level from 1 week to 4 weeks and the maximum from 3 months to 3 years. Sifa Fireside, a local charity working with homeless people, say that housing benefit is increasingly suspended when job centres sanction claimants. It shouldn’t be stopped and if you are sanctioned and find your housing benefit claim suspended, you need to file a Nil Income claim to get it back. Sadly many people are unaware of their rights and having been told their benefits will be stopped, think this also means housing benefit, and find themselves accruing arrears or even being made homeless.
Sanctions are supposed to be applied to people who are not doing enough to find work, but in practice there is an increasingly long list of sanctions being applied to people in ridiculous circumstances, such as missing an appointment because they were at a job interview, or having money stopped for 3 months because they were five minutes late for an appointment.
Staff at the job centre face a targets regime, whereby if they aren’t handing out enough sanctions this will count against them in their performance reviews. Locally, one job centre even had an easter egg as a reward/incentive for the advisor who handed out the most sanctions. Coming down from the top is a culture and language that emphasises the use of sanctions to “incentivise” claimants into finding work, saying that sanctions are a good and helpful thing. Increasingly advisors are buying into this culture and a sales type, target driven culture is creeping in. No longer will job centres be about helping people to find work. Instead they are about driving people into poverty through sanctions or unpaid work through workfare.
The sanctions regime is driving people to the edge, where actions like this become the only way they feel they can strike back against the regime that has just meant that they have no money for food, heating, clothes or travel for as much as three years. With unemployment continuing to rise in the West Midlands, the prospect of finding work is increasingly distant. As Universal Credit and the Claimant Commitment are slowly rolled out, people in part time or low paid work will also find themselves caught up in this nightmare.
We need to act to stop it – from inside the job centre, PCS and advisors must take strong action against the management who are imposing these regulations and seeking to create a culture where they are used and abused as much as possible. From outside the job centre, claimants should come together to help each other deal with the bullshit that they face every day, with a group like the Birmingham Claimants’ Union. Everyone else can be involved with us, DPAC, Communities Against the Cuts, Birmingham Benefit Justice Campaign or other groups campaigning and fighting for a decent social security system that ensures dignity and a basic standard of living for everyone.