Three disillusioned former DWP civil servants have set up a website to help benefit claimants who feel they have been wrongly sanctioned.
The three women, who have not disclosed their identities and run the website from a house in the North of England, say that Jobcentre staff are being pressurised into referring claimants for potential sanctioning.
Since the creation of the website jobseekersanctionadvice.com in June, the former civil servants have been inundated with requests from desperate benefit claimants who have seen their payments docked.
On one day alone last week they received 200 messages, and at the time of publishing this report nearly 15,000 people had visited the website so far. The level in interest has meant that the ladies have had to take on five more people to help administer the website.
Speaking to the independent newspaper one of the organisers, who is simply known as “Jean”, said that she has become “disillusioned” and “outraged” with how some unemployed people were being treated and chose to resign.
“I decided one Sunday to resign and I never went back. I had loved the job until the last three years but then I could see the way things were going. I got tired of fighting the system,” she said.
She continued: “It’s a harsh environment… everything is designed to trip people up, they are asked to do things that are unsuitable. Some offices are OK and others aren’t – it all depends what manager you have.”
According to official government figures the number of claimants who have had their benefits cut or stopped completely, often for punitive and unjust reasons, has rocketed since 2010. Over 870,000 claimants were affected by adverse decisions in 2013 alone.
Sick and disabled people are also being targeted with over 4,800 subjected to sanctioning in December 2013. Those affected had been assessed as not being ready to return to work, but may be able to at some point in the future. In total more than 120,000 vulnerable disabled people have been hit by adverse benefit sanction decisions up to 2013.
A spokesperson for the DWP has denied that advisers are given targets for dishing out benefit sanctions. However, a serving Jobcentre adviser, who has asked not to be identified, recently told the Welfare News Service how she had been frequently “told off” for “not referring enough jobseekers” for sanctioning.
She also said that “sanctioning will only get worse” with the introduction of Universal Credit, which is replacing a number of existing benefits and tax credits.
Mark Serwotka, general secretary of the PCS union, said:
“It’s a disgrace how, for political reasons, Jobcentres are being turned from places where unemployed people go to get help into places of fear for many claimants.
“We want the sanctions regime scrapped entirely, it serves no purpose other than to demonise and punish people for being out of work.”