Tuesday, 18 August 2015

The DWP using fake claimant stories adds insult to injury for people struggling with benefits sanctions.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) hardly has a brilliant reputation when it comes to sensitivity and common sense. Even so its latest gaffe scales heights of institutional idiocy never before achieved.

Thanks to a freedom of information request lodged by Welfare Weekly the DWP has been caught out for using case studies from 'fake' claimants accompanied by stock photographs in a leaflet explaining benefits.

The leaflet contains case studies purporting to support the controversial regime of benefits sanctions introduced for claimants who miss appointments or fail to carry out requested actions.

In these 'Sarah' twitters blithely about losing two weeks benefits for not writing a CV when asked to and 'Zac' rhapsodises about how understanding Job Centre staff were when a medical appointment clashed with a meeting.

A spokesperson for the DWP told Sky News the case studies were 'based on conversations our staff have had with claimants' and were designed to 'help people understand how the benefits system works.'In particular 'when sanctions can be applied and how they can avoid them by taking certain actions.'

There can be few more stressful situations to be in than out of work, probably fearful over how you are going to pay the bills and having to negotiate the mad maze of the benefits system.

The very last thing claimants, or as the rest of us like to think of them, human beings who could be us but for a different turn of the cards, want is to be patronised by leaflets designed to help them.

Far more benefits sanctions are the result of incompetence and a bull headed refusal to listen on the part of the DWP than any failure to comply on the part of people looking for work. Needless to say the consequences of losing even a week's benefits seldom fall into the 'aw shucks' category portrayed in the leaflets.

If you want an example of what I mean how about the man I met outside a charity shop in Stoke, he was waiting to start the shift of 'voluntary' work arranged for him by the Job Centre. He looked gaunt and had trouble walking with the aid of a stick, the spirit may have been willing but his health would prevent him from working; so why force someone like that to jump though hoops for their benefits?

Losing benefits thanks to the imposition of a sanction and the resulting struggle to get an intransigent officialdom to listen to any mitigating circumstances has cost people their lives. Even if they do manage to get their benefits restored they are left feeling traumatised and anxious.

If officials at the DWP want to indulge their literary leanings that's fine, everyone should have a novel written in dog eared exercise books tucked away in their bottom drawer. What they shouldn't do is create malicious little fictions designed to minimise the impact of the awful slow motion car wreck of benefits reforms on the most vulnerable people.

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