Oldham East and Saddleworth MP, Debbie Abrahams, has publicly lambasted the secretary of state for work and pensions, Iain Duncan Smith, at a Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) Select Committee (5/11/14) for denying that the inappropriate use of sanctions against social security claimants is harming, and even contributing to the deaths, of vulnerable people.
The verbal exchange began when Abrahams asked the minister about the huge number of people who leave Job Seeker’s Allowance after being sanctioned and simply disappear from official records, saying: “It is worrying though, isn't it, with the levels of sanctions that we are seeing, hundreds of thousands of people have had their benefits stopped for a minimum of four weeks and then approximately a quarter of these people, from the research that I've seen, are disappearing.
“They are leaving and we don’t know where they are going. That’s an absolute indictment of this policy and it’s a little bit worrying if we’re trying to tout this internationally as a real success story.”
Mr Duncan Smith responded: “Well I don’t agree with any of that. I actually believe the sanctions regime as applied is fair, we always get the odd case of …”
Abrahams interrupted saying: “People are dying because of these sanctions!”
Mr Duncan Smith continued: “No I don’t agree with that. I think the reality is that the sanctions regime, as a part of this system, we give a huge amount of support to all those who are at the job centre. Job centre staff do not set out to sanction somebody just off the top of their head. They have to have pretty strong evidence and a belief that that individual is not co-operating for various reasons.”
After the session Abrahams said: “It’s incredible that the minister can simply brush aside the mounting evidence that inappropriate use of social security sanctions is having on vulnerable people.
“Many organisations, from foodbanks to church groups and charities, have been imploring the Coalition Government to acknowledge that the new regime, introduced in October 2012, has created a sharp increase in the use of sanctions and has been incredibly damaging.
“We’ve already heard from a whistleblower who left his job as a JCP advisor because he refused to apply sanctions when people had done nothing wrong. And recently, over 200,000 people have signed a petition to look into the death of an ex-soldier and diabetic, from Stevenage, who died after having been sanctioned.
“He was found dead surrounded by job applications, penniless and with an empty stomach according to his post mortem. He couldn’t even afford to run his fridge so couldn’t keep his medicines cold.
“This man was called David Clapson.
“He was not a scrounger. He was a vulnerable man who had served his country and was unfairly sanctioned under a social security regime sanctioned by this Tory government and propped up by the Liberal Democrats.”