Wednesday 30 November 2016

The Tories are defending their sanctions regime with outright lies

The draconian Tory sanctions regime has come under fire in a November 2016 report by the National Audit Office (NAO). This is far from the first report to slam the sanctions regime as chaotic, ineffective, discriminatory and a major cause of destitution and homelessness (Joseph Rowntree Foundation, Crisis, Citizens Advice Scotland, Church Action on Poverty) but this NAO report is particularly damning because it comes from the government's own spending watchdog.

Selected findings

The findings of the NAO report reiterate the damning findings of previous reports into the draconian Tory sanctions regime. Here are a few extracts:

"The fact that sanctions are widespread does not mean they are well designed, fairly administered or effective."
In other words: The sanctions regime is badly designed, unfairly administered and ineffective.
"Use of sanctions varies substantially between jobcentres and between providers."
In other words: The sanctions regime is not being consistently applied. It's basically a postcode lottery of a system where some Jobcentres and private contractors apply sanctions for the most trivial of reasons, while others are much less trigger-happy about throwing people into absolute destitution.
"26% of all sanctioned Work Programme participants had their decision overturned, compared to 11% of jobcentre sanctions."
In other words: Employees of the rash of parasitical outsourcing companies that the Tories have brought into the welfare system are more than twice as likely to use spurious reasons to throw people into absolute destitution as actual Jobcentre staff are.
"The Department [DWP] has not used its own data to evaluate the impact of sanctions in the UK."
In other words: The draconian Tory sanctions regime is based on ideology, not evidence.
"The Department has not supported wider work to improve understanding of sanction outcomes."
In other words: The Tories are terrified of evidence being uncovered that their draconian sanctions regime is counter-productive, so they refuse to support evidence based research into the consequences of their policies.
"The Department does not track the costs and benefits of sanctions."
In other words: The Tories don't give a damn whether their draconian sanctions regime actually costs the taxpayer money. They're determined to economically cripple people, often for the most trivial of reasons, regardless of how much this vindictiveness costs the taxpayer in the long-run.
"Our review of the available evidence suggests the department’s use of sanctions is linked as much to management priorities and local staff discretion as it is to claimants' behaviour."
In other words: Whether a person is impoverished with a benefit sanction depends on the attitudes of the people making the sanction decision as much it does on the actual behaviour of the person being thrown into poverty!

Apologist responses

In response to this damning report the Tories and their DWP minions came out with a predictable pack of lies. A DWP spokesperson claimed that sanctions "are only ever used as a last resort after people fail to do what is asked of them in return for benefits" which is a demonstrable lie.

Not only is the assertion that sanctions are "only ever used as a last resort" contradicted by the actual findings of the report the DWP are trying to smear, it's also contradicted by countless examples of sanctions being imposed for utterly spurious reasons.
  • Sanctioned for failing to complete a fitness for work assessment due to having a heart attack during the interview. [source]
  • Sanctioned for not carrying out a job search on Christmas Day. [source]
  • Sanctioned because the queue at the Jobcentre took so long that the appointment time was missed, even though the claimant arrived in plenty of time. [source]
  • Sanctioned for nine weeks for missing a Jobcentre appointment due to suffering a heart attack earlier in the day. [source]
  • Sanctioned for missing an appointment due to being in hospital with his wife who had just had a stillborn child. [source]
  • Sanctioned for four weeks for being 5 minutes late to an appointment. [source]
  • Sanctioned for four weeks for being 9 minutes late to an appointment. [source]
  • Sanctioned for thirteen weeks for the "crime" of not wasting an employers' time by applying for a job that the claimant knew they didn't have the skills to do. [source]
  • A 60 year old veteran sanctioned for selling poppies for a few hours a day. [source]
The NAO report makes it absolutely clear that thousands of people have their spurious sanction decisions overturned on appeal, and anyone who has read the above list of atrociously harsh reasons that people have been hit with absolute destitution must know full well that the DWP spokesperson was brazenly lying through their teeth when they claimed that sanctions are "only ever used as a last resort".

The Tory DWP minister Damian Green (a seasoned liar) got in on the act by dismissing the findings of the NAO report with claims that the sanctions regime encourages people to look harder for work, which is a claim that the actual report found that there was no actual evidence to support.

In all likelihood it's probable that Damian Green didn't even bother reading the report he immediately began slagging off, because it's not so long since he slurred the Ken Loach film I Daniel Blake as a "monstrously unfair" portrayal that "bears no relation to the modern benefits system" before admitting that he hadn't even bothered to watch the film before drawing his conclusions and then furiously spouting off in public about it.

One of the below-the-line comments on the Guardian coverage of the NAO report perfectly exemplified the vindictive evidence-free mentality of people who continue to support the draconian Tory sanctions regime.

A commentator calling himself Danny Sutherland said "I would hope sanctions are not about saving money, but about getting people out of bed".

In one short sentence this guy sums up several things that are wrong with the vindictive Tory mentality. He displays a complete disregard for whether this regime costs the taxpayer money or not (presumably he doesn't give a damn that the Tory disability assessment regime costs the taxpayer far more in corporate outsourcing fees than it will ever save in reduced benefits payments either) and also he demonstrated a total disregard for the actual evidence by simply expressing a "hope" that sanctions are "about getting people out of bed".

It doesn't take much brain power to understand that far from being an incentive to get out of bed, absolute destitution is a massive impediment to active job searching. Imagine a person is left with no money whatever to pay for food, heating, transport costs, cleaning of clothes or even a haircut, do these conditions really mean that they would be more likely to find work? Or would they actually be more likely to try to stay warm and expend as little energy as possible by staying in bed?

There are clearly a lot of vindictively minded Tory apologists out there who don't give a damn how much it costs the taxpayer, how hopelessly ineffective and unfair the system is, how many innocent people get caught up in it ... they just want to see savage kickings meted out to people they perceive to be below themselves in the social pecking order, because the suffering of others makes them feel so much better about themselves.

Equilibrium unemployment

One of the worst things of all about the vindictive treatment of unemployed people by this Tory government is that the Tory government and the Bank of England have a deliberate policy of keeping a certain percentage of the population unemployed.

The reason the political establishment like to deliberately keep a percentage of the workforce out of work is that full employment allows workers to demand higher wages and better working conditions. If there are plenty of jobs for all, then people can just move on to a better job if they feel they are being underpaid or exploited in their current job.

If, on the other hand, there is a constant pool of unemployed people vying for insufficient jobs, this creates the fear of destitution amongst the workforce, meaning employees are much less likely to demand higher wages or better working conditions, which means higher profit margins for their employers.

The harsh benefits sanctions regime can be seen as part of the plan of stoking even more fear in the workforce. If workers know they're one step away from a cruel and draconian benefits system that dumps people into absolute destitution for weeks or months at a time for "crimes" such as having a heart attack, attending hospital, being five minutes late for an appointment, or selling remembrance poppies, then they're much less likely to rock the boat by asking for a pay rise or complaining about dangerous conditions in their workplace.

The NAO report makes it clear that the Tories don't care about how much the sanctions regime costs the taxpayer. It also makes it clear that they don't give a jot about what the actual real world consequences are for people who get caught up in the sanctions regime.

The Tories don't care about these things because the sanctions regime isn't about saving money or encouraging people to find work whatever. It's actually about keeping the people who are lucky enough to have jobs in this rigged system in a state of fear so that they're afraid to rock the boat. It's all about protecting the interests of corporations and employers, and absolutely nothing to do with combating unemployment.

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