The UK government’s punitive benefit sanctions regime has led to more people going to foodbanks, as well as placing huge amounts of stress on individuals and their families.
A sanction, in case you are unaware, is where an individual’s support is suddenly withdrawn because one of a number of strict, and often ludicrous, conditions are not met.
While I would rather scrap the UK government’s regime – I tried to bring forward measures that could actually get support and make a real tangible difference to people’s lives.
In order to try and make the sanctions regime a little bit fairer, on Friday I introduced a Bill to require Jobcentre staff to consider whether personal circumstances could be made worse by a sanction before one can be issued. This could include caring commitments, risk of homelessness or mental ill-health.
— The SNP (@theSNP) December 2, 2016
Despite SNP MPs packing out our benches, Labour MPs, aside from a few notable exceptions, failed to turn up and that meant a Tory Minister could use parliamentary tactics to deny us the opportunity to vote on it. I’m bitterly disappointed that the Tories have rejected these modest changes that could make such a difference to the lives of people across the country.
But I’m not giving up the fight – and neither are the SNP. We will continue to do everything we can at Westminster to make the benefit sanction regime fairer.
Mhairi Black MP is SNP MP for Paisley and Renfrewshire South
Here’s how sanctions have affected just some of the people who responded to the consultation on Mhairi Black’s Bill.
“I live in Glasgow and suffer from a few mental and physical health conditions which affect my ability to work, and have affected my Jobcentre claims in the past. A couple of times, I’ve been too depressed to go to a meeting and my claims have been cancelled – my depression and isolation at those times left me sitting around, hungry and alone, with no money, and too depressed to deal with it.”
Sean Organ, Glasgow
“I am a 23 year old female student in Dundee and the majority of my life was ruined by these sanctions. I found myself in a position with very little support and due to benefit sanctions along with very little advice, information and resources was left unable to feed, clothe and look after myself.
“These sanctions also affect any housing benefit which low income families depend on which resulted in me being homeless with my small son, twice. I am now in a much better position no thanks to any help from the government, in employment, have my own flat and am studying with hopes to pursue a career that helps people facing such hardships as it’s clear that something is seriously wrong.”
Female respondent, Dundee
“Nearly all people I have supported, had no idea they were about to be sanctioned until the meagre payment they so desperately anticipate, which barely covers their living/caring costs, as it is, isn’t available at the bank on the date it was due. Some don’t receive letters at all re their sanction, and those who do, receive them after the payment was expected, leaving them in undue hardship, without any means to buy food and other essentials eg. nappies/sanitary ware. They are unable to top up their prepayment gas/electricity metres.”
Connie Dobson, Fife, works for a UK advice service
“Thank you Mhairi Black for your work on this issue and all the rest if the hard work you do. I have seen many of your speeches and know you are one in a million when it comes to MP’s and people in general! You are fantastic, a total inspiration and a godsend for all of us, especially people like me who are at the mercy of this government (I’m now on ESA).
“You give me back some faith in humanity and some hope for the future knowing there is someone fighting for justice and change. Thank you and good luck with this bill and all the work you do to hold the government to account and to try improve all our lives.
“By the way I’m also a lone parent so if I was ever sanctioned it would have a massively negative impact on my son’s life as well as mine. I’m very concerned about how women and children are being hit so hard by the government’s welfare and austerity policies.”
Female respondent, 51, North West London