Benefit sanctions make it harder for Coventry people to find work: new report finds

MEDIA RELEASE – 13/10/2014 For immediate release

For more information please contact Daksha Piparia 02476 252019 or Janet Gurney on 02476 253174

Benefit sanctions make it harder for Coventry people to find work: new report finds

Benefit sanctions are making it harder for vulnerable people in Coventry to find work according to a new report published today by Coventry Law Centre, Coventry Citizen’s Advice Bureau, Coventry Women’s Voices and the Centre for Human Rights in Practice at the University of Warwick.

The report is based on a survey of people who have been sanctioned (had their benefits stopped) in Coventry. It found that far from encouraging people into work, in too many cases the sanctions process actually made job seeking harder. Lack of money made it difficult for people to afford travel to interviews, make telephone calls or access a computer to look for work.

In addition benefit sanctions are leaving families in Coventry with severe financial problems – sometimes with no money for food, rent or utility bills, with increased debt and in some cases at risk of homelessness. This is leading to an increase in stress, depression and other mental health issues. Both these practical and psychological problems reduce the time available for job seeking.

The report also highlighted serious problems with the application of the sanctions process which included:
• Sanctions being imposed on vulnerable people with no account being taken of their difficulties.
• Claimants being given appointment times or required to take part in training or work programmes that take no account of caring or other responsibilities or health needs.
• Some claimants being set requirements for job search that are not possible for them to complete – for example as a result of learning difficulties or difficulties with written or spoken English.
• Sanctions that have been wrongly applied or applied for very minor errors
• Sanctions that have been applied with no warning, with no information given about the reason for sanction, the length of sanction or right to appeal.

Janet Gurney, Case worker at Coventry Law Centre, which has an 80% success rate for appeals in sanctions cases said:
‘In too many cases sanctions are wrongly applied and are causing untold misery. The consequence of this is that some of the most vulnerable people, far from being helped by the job centre are having their situation made worse. We have repeatedly raised our concerns with the Job Centre and are looking forward to their response.

People needing advice and support in dealing with a benefit sanction, can call the Benefit Sanction Hotline, run by Coventry Law Centre on 02476 253160, between 11.00am and 2.00pm Monday to Friday.

The findings of the report have been presented to the City Council’s Scrutiny Co-ordination Committee on the 8th October. Responding to the report, Committee Chair, Cllr Skipper said:

“This important report raises very serious concerns about the impact of sanctions on Coventry people. Not only are local families being left dependent on the food bank to eat but the voluntary and public services are facing increasing demand as a consequence.
We will be raising the findings of the report with the Council Cabinet and will continue to press the DWP for urgent improvements in their dealings with people seeking work.”

Cllr Ken Taylor, a member of the Scrutiny Co-ordination Committee said

“It’s pleasing that in Coventry we have a commitment from the DWP to address the findings of this survey. I’m personally very keen for this to be done as soon as possible so we can see locally what actions are being taken to respond to the findings.”

Notes
A full copy of the report including case studies is available here. To arrange an interview with someone who has been affected by benefit sanctions contact Daksha Piparia (Coventry CAB) 07966 390296 or Janet Gurney (Coventry Law Centre) on 02476 253174

Coventry Citizen’s Advice Bureau is part of a national network that provides free, independent, confidential and impartial advice.
Coventry Citizens Advice Bureau helps around 14,000 people deal with more than 24,000 issues a year. Primarily, the role of the bureau is to advise people on their rights -this can include employment, consumer, housing or relationship, but in the current climate, is largely dominated by debt and benefits related enquiries. Our twin aim is to gather evidence and to lobby for changes in policy in order to benefit the wider community.

Coventry Law Centre is an independent specialist legal advice agency employing solicitors. It offers free advice and representation in Debt, Discrimination, Employment Family, Health and Community Care, Housing, Immigration and Asylum, Public Law and Welfare Benefits.
Each year it represents over 500 people at Welfare Benefits tribunals. During this last year that number rose to over 1200 appeals. We use the law to seek change for the community.
.
Coventry Women’s Voices is an independent network of women’s organisations, trade unions, organisations providing services to women and individual women who have come together to make sure women’s voices are heard when policy is made in Coventry.

The Centre for Human Rights in Practice is situated in the School of Law at the University of Warwick. It provides a focus for academics, students, practitioners and activists who wish to advance the study and promotion of human rights at local, national and international levels.

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About coventrywomensvoices

Coventry Womens Voices is an independent group of women’s organisations, organisations working with women and individuals that have come together to ensure women’s voices are heard when policy is made in Coventry. Our mission is to “Make Women’s Voices Heard in Coventry”.
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