THANK YOU CARDS FOR SANCTIONS
Neil Couling, work services director at the DWP, gave what some would regard as outrageous evidence to the Scottish parliament’s welfare reform committee last month. Speaking on behalf of the DWP, he told the committee:
“My experience is that many benefit recipients welcome the jolt that a sanction can give them. . . Some people no doubt react very badly to being sanctioned—we see some very strong reactions—but others recognise that it is the wake-up call that they needed, and it helps them get back into work.”
The Deputy Convener then asked rather sarcastically:
“So, jobcentres across the country have been inundated with thank you cards from people who have received sanctions.”
To which Couling replied:
“Yes—that is not so remarkable.”
Mr Couling also denied the suggestion that the DWP has targets for sanctions, dismissing the allegation as ‘absolute nonsense’.
This may come as a surprise to DWP staff who work in Jobcentres. According to a survey of members published this month by the PCS union:
· 23% of members had been given explicit targets for referring claimants for sanctions;
· 36% of members stated that they have been placed on a Performance Improvement Plan for not making enough sanctions referrals;
· 10% have gone through formal poor performance procedures for not making enough sanctions referrals.
In his evidence Couling also denied that there was a link between ‘welfare reform’ and growing use of food banks, claiming:
‘ . . .people will tell you things in order to maximise their economic choices. In the same way as people will tell you, “I am looking for work”, because they know that if they say that they are not doing so there will be consequences and they will get sanctioned, people will tell you things when they present to food banks. It might not be wilful deceit that is going on; it might well be their belief about the situation.”
Other people, of course will “tell you things” that obscure their role in an increasingly ugly and broken organisation which punishes people for being poor or sick by thrusting them deeper into poverty, despair and sometimes suicide.
They “tell you things” because they know that if they say that there are targets for sanctions and that welfare reform forces people to turn to food banks there will be consequences and they may be out of a job. It might not, of course be wilful deceit that is going on; it might well be their belief about the situation . . . but that doesn’t make it any more true.