Seeing as the General Election campaign starts in earnest today and responding to suggestions that I broaden the scope of the blog a bit, lets take a look at one aspect of life under the 'nasty' party in austerity Britain and that particularly affects many of our probation clients: benefit sanctions.
I was interested to see that the issue came top of Guerilla Policy's most read blogs of 2014 and that the Tory faithful are really proud of Iain Duncan Smith's 'tough' approach at the DWP. Here's Peter Oborne writing on Christmas Eve in the Torygraph:-
The sheer scope and audacity of its ambition take the breath away. Cameron and Clegg have reshaped the relationship between individual and state in a way which neither Margaret Thatcher nor Tony Blair ever dared to do. Iain Duncan Smith’s achievement at the Department for Work and Pensions, in particular, has been monumental. He is returning social security to the arrangement envisaged by Sir William Beveridge in his famous 1944 White Paper.
Mr Duncan Smith has liberated hundreds of thousands of people from the humiliation of state dependency and given them the opportunity to live independent, responsible and fulfilling lives. His historic reforms, as evidence is now showing, have changed the dynamics of the British job market, removing many of the obstacles which used to prevent men and women from moving from benefits into work and thus reducing the long-term rate of unemployment.
The economic significance of this is profound, but the human importance in terms of restored dignity and self-worth is beyond calculation.But by way of astonishing contrast, the Observer highlights the cost:-
Suicides highlight the grim toll of benefits sanctions in austerity Britain
Less than two years ago, 50-year-old David tried to take his own life in a council house in Salford. You can still see the scars when he stretches out his arm to light a roll-up cigarette.
“Everything just builds up after a while. I was walking around thinking where I was going to get money from, what [was] I going to do about the kids, how was I going to survive?” says David, as his two daughters sit quietly next to him on the sofa. “I’ve been through the bins and all sorts, trying to make ends meet. I’m not proud of it, but needs must at times.”
David’s story is not uncommon in austerity Britain. In July 2013, David Clapson, 59, was found dead in his flat in Stevenage from diabetic ketoacidosis, two weeks after his benefits were cut. And new information provided by the Disability News Service via a freedom of information request has uncovered that the Department for Work and Pensions has carried out 60 peer reviews following the deaths of customers. A peer review, according to the DWP guidance for employees, must be undertaken when suicide is associated with DWP activity to ensure that any DWP action or involvement with the person was appropriate and procedurally correct.
This week the work and pensions select committee will hold its first oral evidence session for its inquiry into benefits sanctions policy following last year’s limited Oakley review.
Many of those visiting Salford Central food bank, run by the Trussell Trust, have experienced benefits sanctions. The refuge provides half a tonne of food each week to Salford’s residents and was expected to have fed more than 3,500 individuals by the end of 2014. More than 60% of those who come there have had their benefits sanctioned, according to an internal report by Salford city council. The report concluded that sanctioning could lead to extreme hardship, reliance on loan sharks, shoplifting and depression.
“A lot of people at the moment are just struggling to make ends meet. We’re here in a moment of crisis,” says 41-year-old Scott Tulloch, the local food bank coordinator. “We had a gentleman walk seven miles for three days’ worth of food and then walk seven miles back. Another family who came through the doors couldn’t even afford nappies for their child and were actually using a carrier bag and kitchen paper. Things are tough.”Peter Oborne's proud reference to IDS returning to the principles of the Beveridge era are nicely unpicked in this blog:-
This may illicit hollow laughs all round, but it highlights something I have heard a lot over the last four years from people who like to talk about ‘something for nothing culture’ or ‘dependency’. These people say the welfare state should come with responsibilities – the responsibility to look for work (or jump through whatever hoops some bright spark at Policy Exchange or whichever the latest fashionable Thinktank may be can come up with). To ‘get back to Beveridge’ then we need more conditions attached, workfare, sanctions and jobseeker ‘contracts’ to ensure those responsibilities are enshrined.
What these people forget though is that alongside his proposals for the welfare state and the responsibility on individuals – or social service state as Beveridge himself preferred – he also set out the responsibilities on government with regard to the economy which would ensure this social service state could function as designed. A prerequisite was full employment. Beveridge actually wrote three reports, although we only ever really talk about the first.
His second was entitled “Full Employment in a Free Society”. A summary of the report written by Beveridge himself has been reproduced here, and is quite an interesting read. His recommendations on economic policy are pretty far removed from those asking for a return to the principals of Beveridge today. He writes:
“The first condition of full employment is that total outlay [spending] should always be high enough to set up a demand for products of industry which cannot be satisfied without using the whole man-power of the country; only so can the number of vacant jobs be always as high or higher than the number of men looking for jobs…
…Who is to ensure that the first condition, or adequate total outlay at all time, is satisfied? The answer is that it must be made a responsibility of the State. No one else has the requisite powers; the condition will not get satisfied automatically. It must be a function of the State in future to ensure adequate total outlay and by consequence to protect its citizens against mass-unemployment, as definitely as it is now the function of the State to defend the citizens against attack from abroad and against robbery and violence at home.”
He then goes on to write about how governments should budget, rejecting balanced budget mantras by saying:
“What is the essence of the new budgetary policy required for full employment? It is, first, that the Budget becomes in the fullest sense a National Budget, designed to guide and influence and guide the activities of the whole nation, and not simply to raise taxes and spend them on the purposes of the Central Government. It is, second, that the Budget is made with reference to available man-power, not to money; that it becomes, in Mr Bevin’s phrase, a “human budget”.”
He then writes, which chimes quite strongly with some things we see today:
“To submit to unemployment or slums, or want, to let children grow hungry or the sick and old untended, for fear of increasing the internal national debt is to lose all sense of proportion”
Much as the Conservatives boast of ‘creating’ 1.75m new jobs and of returning the welfare state to the principals of Beveridge, the truth is they (and let’s face it the other parties too), have abandoned one of Beveridge’s key messages and full employment and where responsibility for its achievement and maintenance lie. Left to the market, the quality of job creation has been poor and still vastly short of what’s required.But according to Peter Oborne in the Telegraph:-
David Cameron has an impressive story to tell as the election approaches. He has led a remarkable government with some outstanding achievements to its credit. Its historic talk of reform and consolidation is not yet complete. He and his colleagues deserve the chance to finish the social revolution they launched five years ago.Especially in election year, 'you pays your money and takes your choice'.