MumsnetGuestPosts (MNHQ) Tue 29-Nov-16 11:43:24

Guest post: "I had to use a foodbank - many families aren't 'just about managing'"

As a National Audit Office report shows there is limited evidence for how well benefit sanctions work, I'm a JSA Claimant says too many people are being pushed to crisis point

I'm a JSA Claimant

Blogger and campaigner

Posted on: Tue 29-Nov-16 11:43:23

(90 comments )

Lead photo

"I lost my Jobseekers Allowance for four weeks. I went without electricity, heating and food for most of the sanction."

Last week, I reached crisis point.

It feels like this has been looming since I was sanctioned in 2013. Following my sanction, I struggled with depression and agoraphobia brought on by anxiety. I started overeating and put on weight. It’s been a long road back to work and full health - I now work part-time, but my income is not always enough to pay my bills. Bit by bit, I have been sliding into debt.

Then a delayed benefit payment due to a computer error led to bank charges, which put me overdrawn. When it came to going shopping I had no money for food. With no opportunity to get help from family I turned to my housing association. I was given a voucher for the local foodbank, but it didn't open for a few days so I had to wait. That afternoon, my electric ran out so I sat there in the dark, feeling very alone, with no food to eat, and memories of my sanction filling my mind.

I was sanctioned for not looking for work. Fair punishment you might think, but the reason I wasn’t job hunting was because I was doing a two-week training course in a neighbouring town, leaving home at 7am and returning home at 7pm. I had been instructed not to jobsearch or sign on during that time, but later another adviser disagreed. I lost my £71 a week Jobseekers Allowance for four weeks.

I went without electricity, heating and food for most of the sanction. It climaxed on Christmas day. I spent it watching happy families walk past my window, while I sat silently, dealing with diarrhoea and waiting for it to get dark so I could try to sleep. It wasn’t until I received a Christmas card from a relative with £20 in it that I was able to eat and buy electric for the meter.

Less than two weeks later, I was told by the same Jobcentre adviser that I needed to learn a ‘work ethic’ - something clearly not demonstrated by my 20-year work history. She put me on mandatory work activity – workfare – which meant working full-time for free for four weeks in order to receive my benefits. Effectively, I was being punished for being sanctioned. I didn’t argue with her. Instead I went home, emptied the bathroom cabinet of the various pills I had stored away and tried to end my life. Less than a year before I had been earning £35k at a university in London.

The papers are filled with news about so-called JAMs. These six million families who are 'just about managing' will no doubt be hoping that the government will fulfil its promise to make their lives better. But there is another group of families who have lost that hope.


In the run-up to the Autumn Statement, the papers were filled with news about so-called JAMs. These six million families who are 'just about managing' will no doubt be hoping that the government will fulfil its promise to make their lives better. But there is another group of families who have lost that hope. They are the ones who have been on the receiving end of harsh cuts to their income, through austere welfare cuts. Most of them also work but live in fear that the government will make their lives even harder.

I am not alone in receiving a sanction. Since the Conservatives were elected in 2010 until June this year around three million individuals have received eight million sanctions. Some may have been able to overturn the decision, but more wouldn't. The 3m figure doesn't include family members – mostly children – who are also affected by sanctions. For children living in sanctioned households, schools and foodbanks have become a lifeline, with teachers reportedly using money meant for education to buy food and clothing.

Some people whose benefit entitlement has been cut turn to social media for support. When Lauren got a letter from the council to inform her that housing benefit was being cut by £103.99 a week because of changes to the benefit cap, she went online to seek help. However, what she got was hate from people who are themselves 'just about managing'. Too many people now see single mums who rely on benefits as unworthy of respect and are instead treated as ‘breeders’ who are responsible for their own misery.

I was lucky to receive a more positive response when I turned to social media last week. After a period of feeling sorry for myself, I wrote a blog post using my phone and wi-fi from a neighbour and was able to get enough support to overcome my immediate problem. But there are many people out there who don't have this luxury. Over Christmas last year 23,901 jobseekers and a further 3031 sick or disabled people were sanctioned, with many of those potentially spending that time living without food and heating. Others will not have a home at all and will have been sleeping rough.

Many families will be concerned about facing the biggest squeeze to their pay in 70 years, which the Institute for Fiscal Studies recently predicted - but another group will be worried about not having an income at all. Last week during a debate on cuts to Employment and Support Allowance, MP Ian Mearns highlighted a constituent who had been forced to heat soup tins with a tea light following redundancy. Debbie Abrahams MP recently brought attention to one of her constituents who suffered a heart attack during his work capability assessment, and was sanctioned for not completing the assessment. Benefit sanctions and austerity have forced many households into undignified situations in order to feed themselves and their loved ones. These families are not just about managing - it is much worse than that.

By I'm a JSA Claimant

Twitter: @imajsaclaimant

Pidlan Wed 30-Nov-16 13:18:43

Very powerful. This system is just inhumane.

FrumpTowers Wed 30-Nov-16 13:37:31

Agreed. So sorry that you had to face this. flowers

Lateralthinker2016 Wed 30-Nov-16 13:58:31

I'm sorry to hear your story- but am glad you shared it, I think people need to read more stories like yours to see the bigger picture. I hope things are starting to improve for you now? Because I know what it's like to face hard times, and how debt can become inevitable.

Prawnofthepatriarchy Wed 30-Nov-16 14:00:46

So sorry you had to go through this. It's shameful. One of my DC was repeatedly sanctioned for "offences" as absurd or trivial as you described. It sent him into a spiral of depression and anxiety. I, though on a very low income, was able to feed him. What would have happened without family support I hate to think. A suicide or an attempted suicide? He's very vulnerable. It's the unfairness and unpredictability of sanctions that make them so destructive. If you could avoid them by acting in good faith, all well and good. But you can't, they're applied arbitrarily, afaikc.

More people should know about this. It's a national scandal, or at least it should be.

With only two posts since yesterday it seems that MN users aren't that bothered. Sad. Mind you, I'm not usually interested in Guest Posts and often overlook them. It might have got better response under Chat or AIBU.

myoriginal3 Wed 30-Nov-16 14:04:44

Well written but unfortunately it all resonates.
Some people will never understand.
Some of us do.

ElizabethHoney Wed 30-Nov-16 14:19:11

This is appalling, I'm so sorry you've gone through this. Well written but horrible to read. I so hope that 2017 is a far better year for you, and that the system changes.

gruffaloshmuffalo Wed 30-Nov-16 14:19:49

Thank you for sharing this. It's a very powerful blog post

hesterton Wed 30-Nov-16 14:19:58

What makes a society civilised is how it treats it's more vulnerable members.

I honestly think that we are going backwards, rapidly, into a dark place. Humanity touches all of us, whatever our circumstances and we will all miss it if we allow it to disappear.

expatinscotland Wed 30-Nov-16 14:21:21

Very true, myoriginal. It's like the housebuying thread. Nothing but blame, finger-pointing and scolding. You'll get the odd person on threads like these who will wheel out the old 'They need to go after the real shirkers, we don't mean you.'

stumblymonkey Wed 30-Nov-16 14:25:56

Expat...

What is the issue with believing that there should be fair and reasonable sanctions but agreeing that the sanctions were not fair and reasonable in OP's case (and others)?

I'm not trying to goad...just to understand...

slightlyglitterbrained Wed 30-Nov-16 14:28:12

Posting not to contribute anything, but just to agree that the current system is inhumane. I don't know what we can do though, when people actually dying as a result of sadistic decisions makes no difference at all. I know my MP would agree. But May & co don't care.

expatinscotland Wed 30-Nov-16 14:34:13

'What is the issue with believing that there should be fair and reasonable sanctions but agreeing that the sanctions were not fair and reasonable in OP's case (and others)?'

Personally, I don't think there should be sanctions at all. It doesn't save money and ultimately a waste of time and resources. It's punitive and silly. But I think the issue for many is that they retain a very Victorian view of the deserving and undeserving poor.

Doobydoo Wed 30-Nov-16 14:34:36

Awful.I hope things improve.Many people just have no idea.and I think people think it could never happen to them. The system is rotten.

slightlyglitterbrained Wed 30-Nov-16 14:34:36

stumbly Given the link in the first line of the blogpost, do you genuinely believe that the DWP as an organisation can possibly be capable of fair and reasonable administration of sanctions, in the current political climate?

I think there's ample evidence to suggest that sanctions don't work, and that the DWP are both incapable of and institutionally unwilling to try to make them fair, humane, and reasonable. To wish for it to be otherwise seems to me to be pie in the sky wishful thinking that lets truly disgusting behaviour off the hook.

FeralBeryl Wed 30-Nov-16 14:37:42

Thank you for sharing this very powerful account.
Would you have any objection to any of it being shared elsewhere?
Your writing is so emotive, I feel it deserves to be seen as much as possible, its written in a way that will resonate with people.
I am so sorry you have been dragged through this dystopian nightmare.
Please know that not all of us judge you, most of us know that there but for the grace of God etc.
I wish you well.

MumOfTwoMasterOfNone Wed 30-Nov-16 14:38:01

It appears in your case the system has been abused in one way, but there are so many people that abuse the system that I can't blame staff for being cynical. I totally disagree with the benefits system as it is in this country and think there should be much more help for people like yourself who have history of paying in and have fallen on hard times.
It is nevertheless a sad existence and I hope things have improved for you.
As for teachers using money for education, I'm afraid that isn't their call to make. The money is not theirs to give. And while it may temporarily provide a solution, it will actually make the situation worse and deprive other children of educational materials in an already failing education system.

MissElphabaThropp Wed 30-Nov-16 14:41:29

I'm so sorry for your experience - I suspect it's a matter of time for many of us to slide from JAM status to not at all. Those who finger point and judge must feel very safe and smug in their ivory tower homes. Although I suspect many will fall foul of this evil system themselves before a government change.

My mother was sanctioned a year ago when she couldn't climb the stairs to the office, tried and collapsed struggling to breathe. She was hospitalised and received notification
Of her sanction when we brought her home. The final irony being that the job centre had left messages while she was in hospital so they could fill in the Accident report. It beggars belief.

expatinscotland Wed 30-Nov-16 14:41:48

'I think there's ample evidence to suggest that sanctions don't work, and that the DWP are both incapable of and institutionally unwilling to try to make them fair, humane, and reasonable. To wish for it to be otherwise seems to me to be pie in the sky wishful thinking that lets truly disgusting behaviour off the hook.'

Exactly! It's like the benefits cap. What it does is foist the cost of sky-high housing onto councils by increasing homelessness and need for temporary accommodation. It will do nothing to lower rents.

Lateralthinker2016 Wed 30-Nov-16 14:49:59

More sympathy from those who can relate? Idk. When you have to choose between heating and food- that's when you know it's getting bad confused
3 jobs to get sorted- on minimum wage.... and no maintenance from exh- I really do relate...

juicypineapple Wed 30-Nov-16 15:19:43

Can anyone clarify for me.

Before UC families would at least get tax credits and housing benefit.

As part of Universal Credit can they sanction the housing and child part which will now be combined.
This scares the living daylights out of me.

Also been there. Trying to make something from flour sugar and water so i could eat when dc where tiny.

Or going without any food for a week while heavily pregnant after losing my job because early scans found very serious health issues.

GreySealWhiteWater Wed 30-Nov-16 15:28:04

I'm sorry to hear this and wish you well

expatinscotland Wed 30-Nov-16 15:30:17

I don't even think those who work administering UC know, juicy. UC is another colossal waste of money.

imajsaclaimant Wed 30-Nov-16 15:46:25

FeralBeryl, thanks for your kind words. I don't mind people re-using, although I would prefer that I was referenced.

expatinscotland Wed 30-Nov-16 16:00:31

I'll never understand why the poor are a target of so many people's ire and not the super rich who hoard wealth in the extreme, don't pay tax and shaft thousands (Phil Green, anyone?).

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