Opposition apathy blamed for failure to address benefit sanctions

Angus Robertson - benefit sanctions are 'cruel
Angus Robertson – benefit sanctions are ‘deeply flawed’.

AN ATTEMPT TO fight against benefit sanctions that are being described as “deeply flawed and cruel” has failed due to lack of support at the UK Parliament.

Moray MP Angus Robertson led his party into a debate on their ‘Benefits Sanctions (Required Assessment) Bill’ at the parliament last week.

However, hopes that it would reach the committee stage were dashed as not enough support was provided on the day by other opposition parties – meaning the SNP bill lacked the support of 100 MP’s that it would have required to progress.

The Bill sought to create a position forcing Department for Work and Pensions staff in Jobcentres across the UK to consider whether personal circumstances such as caring commitments, whether a person is at risk of homelessness or whether they suffer from a mental ill-health condition that could be exacerbated by a benefit sanction before one can be issued.

Mr Robertson had previously highlighted the number of people in Moray being adversely affected by the current benefit sanctions, forcing many to turn to foodbanks because even the most trivial situations are being used to stop their payments without due consideration of personal circumstances.

The Moray MP said: “I am very disappointed that the bill was not supported by a sufficient number of MPs to guarantee progress to the next stage of the bill process but this is by no means the end of the SNP’s fight against the deeply-flawed and cruel sanctions regime.

“Apart from a handful of notable exceptions, Labour were nowhere to be seen and failed to turn up to support the bill. Labour MPs have no problem talking about their opposition of the hated sanctions system but sadly when we had a real opportunity to make a difference they failed to act.

“On the Government side the Tories who did turn up only did so to oppose the bill despite many MPs from the Government benches recognising the very real problems that exist within the system.

“Sanctions hit people, they hit real people. They are not statistics, they are human beings who are struggling and they are suffering, all due to the actions of the UK Government. There have been examples from around the country of people being sanctioned for not turning up to a Jobcentre meeting when they have been caring for a sick child or suffering mental health problems and, in one case, being at their partner’s side for the birth of their child!

“Any reasonable person would see that applying sanctions in those circumstances is morally wrong and this bill would have addressed that by setting out a clear code of conduct of when sanctions should and, more importantly, should not be applied.

“We even had one Tory MP suggesting that benefit claimants were frightened of work when all the evidence shows that the vast majority of claimants want to work but cannot find work. If they put in as much effort into improving the economy and creating more job opportunities as they do attacking the most vulnerable then we would be in a far better place.

“With this bill Parliament had a real opportunity to make a difference and stop some of the misery and hardship caused by sanctions – sadly this opportunity has been wasted.”