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A SCOTTISH MP yesterday demanded an immediate halt to all benefit sanctions.

The SNP's Dr Eilidh Whiteford issued the call in the wake of a Jobcentre whistleblower's revelations in the Record that workers are under pressure from bosses to stop claimants' money.

Half of all Jobseeker's Allowance and Employment and Support Allowance sanctions are overturned on review - but not before they plunge desperate people into further hardship.

Whiteford's demand in a letter to Minister for Work and Pensions Iain Duncan Smith also follows the exposure of how the DWP shamelessly fabricated success stories for a leaflet. fa cebo Wednesday, august 26, 20n e Ws pa p In the letter, Whiteford tells Smith a "root and branch" independent review of sanctions must be carried out immediately.

Forgotten victims of bin lorry disaster our PAIN She said yesterday: "There is clearly a culture of pressure within the DWP which forces staff to refer people for sanctions for fear of retribution against themselves.

InJurIes Alix Stewart surVIVor Elaine "Staff should instead be encouraged to make decisions which are well thought out in the first place.

treat Ment BLood Bin lorry deaths for the first survived the are read injuries they are still fuLL "We learned that half of all ESA and JSA sanctions were overturned when reviewed, which just goes to show that there is a crisis at the heart of this discredited system and the DWP.

"I have asked for the publication of all sanctions decisions for every centre across the UK so that the full picture of the apparent shambles within the DWP can be revealed.

"All sanctions need to be halted immediately until a fundamental root and branch independent review of the DWP's sanctions and conditionality can be carried out."

The brutal sanctions regime used against the most vulnerable Scots by the DWP has been blamed for creating a "humanitarian crisis".

The Daily Record revealed the truth about Iain Duncan Smith's sanctions policy when our whistleblower laid bare to us the culture within Jobcentre Plus. It includes: ?Bosses under pressure to keep sanction numbers up ?Staff living in fear that low sanction numbers could affect their assessment ?Vulnerable people become easy targets because they are confused by the system.

. ?Ambitious staff who want to get on are handing out more sanctions than others.

Whistleblower Liz (not her real name) said: "It disgusts me how vulnerable people are treated.

"The bosses don't set any specific written targets but they are not pleased if you don't have any sanctions in a week.

"Some staff worry if they don't have any.

That's what makes the vulnerable an easy target."

Tony Cox, of the Dundee-based Scottish Unemployed Workers Network, has collated details of sanctions since early last year.

He said: "The Record has done a great job in getting a DWP employee to speak out in print because it is undoubtedly true that staff are under pressure to hit targets.

"And it is also true that the most vulnerable people are those most likely to be hit by sanctions.

"I think we're actually on the edge of a humanitarian crisis in Dundee.

"Some of the most vulnerable people in this city are basically not being protected.

"In actual fact, I would say they are being preyed upon by the so-called welfare system.

"They are sanctioning at the drop of a hat if you're 10 minutes late for an appointment.

"This is not hyperbole. We are seeing hundreds of people in Dundee alone hit by sanctions.

"They are being put into crisis and then kept in crisis.

"We believe people are being targeted as an easy hit because of their demographic profile.

"We found people with low level mental health issues, learning difficulties, the socially vulnerable, and older men with no families are most likely to suffer sanctions.

"We also found people being released from prison and then sanctioned by the DWP for simple errors when confronted with this system.

"Staff are given assessments and if they are not sanctioning it can lead to poor assessments, which can then lead to disciplinary action.

"Since we began campaigning early last year against these sanctions we have seen the sanctioning rate in Dundee fall by almost 40 per cent.

"It shows what can be done and again reinforces our view sanctions were being handed out as a target-hitting exercise."

Unemployment expert Professor David Webster, of Glasgow University, said: "It's become part of their normal staff appraisal system. Their work is reviewed periodically by their manager.

"If they haven't been imposing enough sanctions they've been told they have to improve their performance otherwise they will be put on a 'personal improvement plan' - a prelude to potential disciplinary action and dismissal."

A DWP spokeswoman said: "We've been very clear Jobcentre Plus has no targets for sanctions - written or otherwise.

"The vast majority of those on benefits do the right thing by looking for work, and the number of sanctions are going down. Taxpayers would expect the small minority who refuse to do so would risk a reduction in benefits. Everyone has the right to appeal a sanction decision."

A committee of MPs have twice called for an inquiry into how sanctions work.

A study by the New Policy Institute found claimants in Dundee were almost twice as likely to be handed sanctions than claimants in Glasgow. Figures elsewhere vary significantly.

The NPI's Peter Kenway said: "Given the number of people, that can't in any way be put down to random fluctuation day to day. Everybody has a reasonable expectation the thing should be run the same way from one place to another."

REAL LIVES BEHIND FIGURES The Scottish Unemployed Workers' Network have unearthed some disturbing cases of benefits sanctions. Here are some of the cases they have passed to the Record KIRSTY, 28, A PREGNANT MUM OF TWO When Kirsty spoke to the SUWN, she had endured a two-week sanction for failing to check her Universal Jobmatch account.

She admitted to not being computer literate. She does not have a computer and relies on accessing her account through her local library.

Her failure to access her account was due to the fact that there was no one around who could help her.

She was also suffering from severe morning sickness and depression.

The sanction, depriving her of all benefits for two weeks, had led to a spiralling problem with stress and depression.

Kirsty was worried about the suffering caused to her children.

And she was also concerned at the effect that this situation was having on her unborn child.

Her JSA benefit had been due to be paid that day as her sanction had come to an end.

But there was no money in her account.

Kirsty was eventually informed that she had received a further two-week sanction.

A letter of appeal, relating to her first sanction, was handed in, and she was forced to go through the process of applying, again for a hardship payment, only to be informed that an interview to begin the application process could not be arranged for several days.

She was simply given a hardship payment form and sent on her way.

anDy Andy had been sanctioned for seven weeks for failing to fill in a week's job search in his JSA diary.

The reason he hadn't done this was because a close relative had suffered a heart attack.

Andy had been going back and forth to hospital, and the stress, the strain and the worry that this caused meant he'd forgotten to fill in the second week of his diary. He explained this to the Jobcentre advisor, but was still sanctioned.

STEVIE Stevie described two sanctions.

The first was in May 2014 when the Jobcentre claimed he had missed an appointment, though Stevie says no appointment had been sent out to him.

He has sent evidence to the DWP office in Clydebank showing he had never missed an appointment before.

But they have not contacted him or returned his documents.

The second sanction was triggered when he forgot to take his book with him when signing on.

He said the reason was he had to use a friend's computer to do his job searches and he left his book in his friend's house.

When he signed on, he explained the situation to his adviser. He returned later in the day, producing evidence of his job search, but was told that Clydebank had already been notified and that he was sanctioned.

Brutal cash cut-off left me unable to take medication KEVIN KEEN, JOBSEEKER FROM DUNDEE Kevin said: "I started on Jobseeker's Allowance in mid-December last year. I got sanctioned on January 29 because I was 15 minutes late for my appointment.

"I was homeless at the time, and on that day I was moving from a centre in Dundee up to the Salvation Army. To sanction me for six weeks made me totally broke.

"I have epilepsy and one of the rules of my tablets to take them with meals, never on an empty stomach. When I was sanctioned, that all went haywire. Because I didn't have money for food, I was taking fits left, right and centre. I was relying on handouts from my pals, family and food banks - it was a nightmare.

"The conditions of my Jobseeker's Allowance are that I have to go on a computer four to six times and week, use the Universal Jobsmatch website, look at job adverts in the newspaper and go into places to ask if they've got any vacancies.

"Yesterday, I was on the computer in the library.

"There's a thing you can get to cover the screen to prevent epileptics having seizures at computers or televisions. They don't have that at the library. When I was at the computer, I took a seizure.

"It feels like if you make any mistake you're going to get sanctioned. What the DWP have got to recognise and improve upon is their system for identifying vulnerable clients."

I had no money for food to take with my epilepsy tablets. I just kept taking fits


MINISTER Iain Duncan Smith is pushing cuts

OUTRAGE SNP MP Eilidh Whiteford, yesterday's front page and activist Tony Cox

BADLY HIT Jobseeker Kevin Keen
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Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Aug 27, 2015
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