Thursday, 2 May 2013

Well Feared: How Do You Live Without Money?

This is a question I've had to ask myself because of the increasing number of disability claimants that are having their benefits stopped after ESA reassessment and who wish to appeal the outcome.

I was initially basing this post on the information I've gathered about how I would cope if this was to happen, which I will address later in another blog, but I came across this article in the Huffington Post today and saw a comment underneath written by a deputy head teacher that clearly demonstrates the consequences for children whose parents either lose their disability benefits, or are sanctioned (I've formatted his comment for easier reading):

'I am a deputy head of a junior school in a deprived city area and I’m having a lot of problems with the effects of benefit denial/sanctions on my pupils’ and their respective parents’ please allow me to elucidate. 

Almost every day we are having to deal with the effects of so so-called welfare reform and when I had to deal with another extremely distressed parent today – who’s been sanctioned for not looking for enough jobs - it was the last straw, so my questions are: Q1. Do you realise the effect that your sanctions and refusal of benefits are having on the most vulnerable in our society? 

These are some examples of the disruption caused to me and my colleagues by the DWP because you have refused benefits to parents:

 a) Children A’s mother came in the school and explained her husband had been sanctioned on JSA and she had no money for the electricity (she was on a pre-pay meter) to launder her two children’s uniforms, nor did she have money for food. 

b) Child B had to move home because of the bedroom tax, the parent couldn’t move B into a school nearer to their home as they were full to capacity, so they have to travel on a bus to school, recently he couldn’t come to school because of benefit sanctions, the mother said they had no money for food and the DWP said they weren’t allowed any whilst her partner was on sanction. 

c) Children C’s father is disabled, however, he recently lost his benefits because you said he’s no longer disabled, children C’s mother was beside herself with stress as she explained to the head how her husband had had all his money taken off him and was denied benefits for appealing against the decision, the situation became that dire for this particular family that I had to get social services involved to help them. 

d) There’s dozens of cases I can relate to you, however, today was the last straw when a single parent told me her daughter had been absent because the sole fell off her only pair of shoes and she had no money because of sanctions to buy another pair. 

Q2 Why have we i.e. teachers’ got to be social workers because you are denying benefits? Do you realise the devastation you are causing to the most vulnerable because of sanctions, etc? Because it’s a proven fact: 

• Parents’ can’t feed their children or put clothing on their backs • Take them to school due to lack of money 

• We can’t find school places for families constantly on the move – we have refused a lot of families a school place that moved because of the bedroom tax. 

• Our social workers’ are frazzled and overworked because we have to keep asking for their help for our pupils whose families are on sanction. 

Q3 Are the DWP going to pay schools for the disruption you are causing parents’ and the whole teaching profession? 

Q4 I realise your motto is make work pay and the taxpayer shouldn’t have to fit the bill for those that don’t want to work, notwithstanding this, I and my colleagues are taxpayers and you are making our lives very stressful and our jobs much harder with your draconian measures and teaching isn’t the only profession to be hit by problems caused by sanctions/denying benefit (a neighbour of mine is a paramedic who recently had to attend to a diabetic-disabled person that hadn’t eaten for 3 days because he’s disability had been stopped and he’d no money and this isn’t an isolated case) 

So my question final question is why are you needlessly sanctioning people? And have you any idea what effect you’re having on (i) Children? (ii) The teaching profession? (iii) The medical profession? (iv) Social Workers? What do you think this is costing the taxpayer? And society in general?
Yours faithfully, J Holt'
These are the actual consequences to families when sanctions and disability benefit denial kick in. Can you really imagine what it's like to have children and have no money at all? During the Thatcher era, we were a young working family. My (now ex) husband worked full time, but the wages were very low, so we were topped up with housing benefits. We were doing OK until the government introduced the Poll Tax, and then scrapped housing benefit for working families. There were no Tax Credits to top up your income. In comparison to how that would work out today, our income dropped by £200 a month. It was the difference between being just about OK, and what amounted to abject poverty relative to the UK.
We ended up not being able to afford heating, to replace clothes or shoes, sometimes no soap or washing powder, no loo roll, barely enough to eat one meal a day, certainly no sanitary pads for me. Not being able to dry clothes properly meant that all our clothes smelled of mildew. I was constantly ill with chest infections. The flat developed inch thick black mold. Sometimes the utility company would cut off our electricity. I had just one set of clothes, and holes in my shoes.  I had been quite 'well turned out', and looked after my appearance, but within a few years I became an overweight bag lady (due to filling up with bread and chips). It was a dark and desperate time for my family.

But at least I had some income whereas the people the headmaster speaks about have no income at all. Now, I have had periods with no income. Anyone who has had to claim benefits in the last 30 years will have experienced that. Giros and order books that didn't turn up. With no telephone line, and telephone boxes smashed up, you either had to beg someone to use their phone, or just wait and hope that the money would turn up. Sometimes you've had to wait a week, and you suffered, but you knew that the money would appear at some point over the next couple of days. If not, you borrowed money for bus fare, and went to your local DHSS (Department of Hell and Social [In]Security), and begged for a 'counter payment'. It was horrible to go without food, and electric and all the other things, but it was only for a few days. 

The people above are sanctioned from anything to 3 weeks, 13 weeks, or 3 years in some cases. Whilst some have broken the rules to merit (merit in the DWPs eyes that is) a sanction, many people receiving them have either done nothing at all and are sanctioned due to targets set by the DWP, or they have committed minor infringements like turning up a few minutes late for an interview. Even if sanctioned though, the DWP should give claimants hardship payments, but it is clear now that this is not happening. Regarding the DWP removing disability benefits, I know someone who had no income for 18 months whilst fighting an appeal; the trauma of this stays with him today. It seems that removing all benefits whilst appealing ESA claims has now become a common thing.

To my shame I once commented under a Guardian article that people on JSA who definitely don't want to work and break the rules should be dealt with in this way. As someone said to me however: 'even the feckless need feeding', and it hit me then. Welfare is a necessary evil. Without it, pushing millions of people into abject poverty will eventually lead to civil unrest. This is why the welfare state was introduced in the first place, to avoid such an outcome. Starving people into submission is a terrible thing. Most of these people have actually done nothing wrong, but even if they had, sanction is a cruel and unusual punishment that contravenes every human right that was fought for over the last 100 years.

Owen Jones used the term 'Dickensian' in the title of his article. I bet some of the parents haven't even told the teachers that their children have no dinner money or packed lunch. Can you imagine what it would be like at lunchtime watching everyone else eat? I am ashamed that I live in a western relatively rich country where our leaders think that this is an acceptable state of affairs. Yes, they think that it's OK to punish children: we truly are turning into a Dickensian country.  

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