Unite Community members today held protests against grotesque benefit sanctions outside over 75 job centres across the United Kingdom.
Millions of claimants have faced sanctions varying in length between four weeks and three years. Many are often imposed for the most trivial reasons that are beyond the claimant’s control. The unemployed, sick, disabled, single parents and even pregnant women have all been attacked. The result is a lengthy tale of destitution and human misery.
Meanwhile, the workfare programme under which people must work for their benefits has been stepped up with around 1.6m people, some of whom are replacing paid employees, forced onto it since June 2011.
Sanctions and workfare are pushing people to work for less pay whilst zero hours contracts have consequently blossomed under which the employer is not obliged to provide the worker with any minimum working hours. The impact on wages generally is a negative one with many workers unable to obtain a cost of living increase.
These attacks, and others on the NHS and social housing, from a coalition government that has refused to use public investment to revitalise the economy, saw Unite launch Unite Community in 2011 for anyone who is not in work. It has provided an opportunity for combined campaigning work between those in and out of work whilst also challenging negative portrayals by the Tories and media outlets of those not working.
Many Unite Community branches have previously organised individual days of action outside Job Centres. These, and other activities, have boosted membership totals, making possible today’s National Day of Action, which has been highly successful.
In Chesterfield, over 30 members participated in a lively protest outside the job centre. A huge banner and flags, demonstrators in deaths masks and posters of four local people who found the pressure placed on them over benefit sanctions too much to take and who committed suicide highlighted the need for a benefit system that supports rather than harasses the unemployed.
On the slow march that followed through the busy town centre market, Colin Hampton, the Chesterfield Unite Community secretary, told the watching public that sanctions should concern them. “Anyone can become ill, disabled or unemployed and most sanctions are being imposed on those who have been out of work for just a few weeks or months.”
In Derby, after holding a protest at the largest job centre, Unite Community members organised a colourful stall in the city centre where many members of the public signed a Unite petition against benefit sanctions.
Since becoming unemployed five years ago, Paddy Radford has on three occasions had his benefits sanctioned. On appeal he has had them restored but in the interim he was forced to pawn his goods and rely on support from friends. He is currently on the workfare programme at the nearby YMCA Charity Shop but cannot see it leading to paid employment. “Anyone on a scheme should be paid at least the minimum wage and be able to obtain the skills to find work,” argues Paddy.
The former motorcycle courier is a keen Unite Community member. “It gives me pride and dignity and the opportunity to work with other people on important campaigns such as today’s against benefit sanctions. More people should join.”