Five Ways the Government Punishes Poor People

Maisie Barker

23 year old student dividing her time between Manchester and London. Studied English and Creative Writing, hoping to pay the rent with it one day.Likes horror films, reading and spending my student loan on clothes. Dislikes spiders and people with topknots.

Just in case it wasn’t obvious, we run through the top five ways the Government is currently punishing the poor – though we’re sure you could add plenty more things to our list.

1. Local Housing Allowance:

We’re all increasingly aware of the rampant, uncontrolled, sky-high rents that plague the major cities of the UK and London most of all. London dwellings are now some of the most overpriced in the world, so where does this leave those on low incomes?

In essence, it leaves them behind. Rather than operating on an individual basis and paying housing benefit depending on rent prices, the Government has adopted the Local Housing Allowance. This basically dictates that how much housing benefit you can claim is determined by your postcode. Often, these amounts are far from a reflection of rent amounts. The Government’s advice for this? None.

Though this only applies to those renting from private landlords, the amount of social housing has diminished vastly over the past few years and is set to get worse. For those privately renting and on low incomes, their finances are being stretched even more than ever just to cover the difference between housing benefit and actual rent prices.

2. Failure to cover living costs

When you’re job-searching, you’re required to attend any interviews or group sessions that the JobCentre or a potential employer ask you to attend. Whilst this may sound like a reasonable request, and in line with guidelines on receiving JSA, it means that job-seekers may have to fork out for expensive travel without warning.

Travel costs are reimbursed but leave benefits recipients with a shortfall that, out of only £57.90 a week, can have a big impact. Remember that £57.90 is meant to pay energy bills, food, travel expenses and any other expenditures.

News outlets report people walking miles every day in order to save their benefits for food – or rent (see above). Add this to the large number of people attempting to claim benefits for illness and you have a large amount of desperate, ill and out of pocket people.

3. Decrease in those found eligible for disability payments

Back in August, the BBC reported that ‘more than 2,300 people had died’ after being found ‘fit for work’. These tragic and preventable deaths are a result of the tightening of eligibility for those claiming incapacity benefits, including Employment Support Allowance and Personal Independence Payment.

Intended to help people too ill to work, they are now being approached as a kind of scrounger’s benchmark. Disability Rights UK found that ‘the number of people in Wales having their ESA sanctioned more than doubled over the past year…nearly half of reviewed sanctions being found in favour of the claimant‘.

Those with physical or mental illnesses are finding themselves confronted by the threat of sanctions, adding stress to their pre-existing ailments. People face long months waiting for a decision with no income in the meantime. Often, their interviews are conducted by medical professionals who aren’t trained in their necessary medical field.

Otherwise they are performed by a health professional working for a private company like the notorious Atos. A Guardian report recalled how Atos assessors were of ‘unacceptably poor quality’, yet the Government chooses to put the safety and welfare of disabled and ill people in their hands.

Physically disabled people are required to report exactly why there are not ‘fit for work’ and those with mental health problems are having their conditions misunderstood or ignored in the wake of bureaucracy. Rather than approaching individuals with tact and compassion, private companies are instead condemning ill people to an even harder existence.

4. Sanctions

Sanctions have become almost the defining point of David Cameron’s dismantling of the welfare state. Jobseekers are required to attend their signing on dates, plus any sessions the JobCentre might create to help recipients find work.

Failure to attend these sessions can result in a suspension of benefits for anything from a week to three months. A simple Google of the phrase ‘benefit sanctions’ brings up a riot of the most ridiculous cases: from a claimant whose wife went into premature labour leading to him missing an appointment, job-seekers who fail to adapt to the online system of finding work, a claimant who was run over, a man who had obtained a job but was sanctioned for failing to find work in the meantime and, particularly troubling given the time of year, a claimant who was sanctioned for not looking for work on Christmas Day.

There’s no evidence to suggest that sanctions help people into work and the rising numbers using food banks suggest that they are actually harming people across the country. Punishing people, people with responsibilities of care for themselves and for their children, doesn’t help them. It adds stress to the already stressful job of navigating the rapidly changing welfare system.

5. The Government doesn’t care

Here’s the truth: the Government doesn’t help you find a job. It doesn’t.

If David Cameron really wanted people to have steady employment with steady rates of pay, we wouldn’t have rising numbers of people in zero hours contract, we wouldn’t have people forced into work schemes where they’re paid less than minimum wage, we wouldn’t have people punished for being unable to make a single appointment.

Universal Jobmatch, the website that claimants are advised to use, is riddled with out-of-date job listings, jobs listed as ‘Central London’ when in fact they’re in Surrey or Heathrow, jobs merely lifted from listing sites such as Reed, and always those zero hour contracts.

The number of jobs an individual has to apply for can vary depending on who your JobCentre advisor is. If you can’t access a computer regularly you are encouraged to find a way to do so, whether this involves walking miles or otherwise.

Doctors are being ignored in favour of the opinion of external companies. JobCentres can create as many workplace schemes as they like but if steady, well-paid employment isn’t there then there are always going to be those seeking help from the Government.

The welfare state is the crowning glory of Britain. It enables us to care for the most marginalised among us; it saves lives. Our public healthcare is rated the best in the world. But it is being dismantled by a man who told disabled people to ‘work their way out of poverty‘. It is being dismantled piece by piece by an uncaring government. And we need to save it.

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