POLITICS

Are The Coalition's Benefit Sanctions 'Immoral'? This Food Bank Boss Thinks So

20/02/2014 15:17 GMT | Updated 20/02/2014 15:59 GMT
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LIVERPOOL, UNITED KINGDOM - DECEMBER 01: In this photo illustration a job seeker uses an interactive computer to search for employment opportunities at a job centre on December 1, 2008 in Liverpool, England. Job centres are seeing a surge in people looking for work as unemployment reached its highest level for 11 years with 1.82 million people in the UK now out of work. Economists are predicting that unemployment could top 2 million in the coming months. (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

Nick Clegg was taken to task on his LBC radio show by "William from Stafford" over how government welfare changes were forcing the poor to increasingly use food banks.

"Where is the evidence of compassion?" William Morris asked the Liberal Democrat leader, warning that there was a "perception of a lack of fairness and compassion from this government" among those who use the House of Bread food bank he runs in Stafford, Staffordshire.

Morris grilled Clegg on the tightening up of the rules on jobseekers' allowance, which mean that thousands have had their benefits stripped automatically for a month for low-level offences such as missing an interview with their Jobcentre adviser. Previously, advisers could remove it at their discretion for one or two weeks.

William Morris rings in on Call Clegg (from 6 minutes in).

A spokesman for the Public and Commercial Services Union said: "Jobcentre staff are under intolerable pressure to apply sanctions, often with the threat of disciplinary action hanging over them if they fail to do a certain number in a given period."

According to figures from Department of Work and Pensions, more than half (54%) of the 874,850 sanctions applied to JSA claimants in the 12 months to September 2013 were for low-level problems. A total of 36,188 of them were lone parents, which means that thousands of single parent households were left on the edge for weeks.

Nick Pearce, director of the IPPR think-tank, wrote on his blog: "So someone can lose their only source of independent income for a full month simply for missing an appointment.

"It is turning people into supplicants at food banks, applicants to payday lenders, and appellants at tribunals. It is not a cornerstone of welfare reform, but a symbol of what happens when human relations are stripped out of public administration."

In response to Morris' questions, Clegg argued "you can't just be given benefits with no strings attached... and when people ignore those conditions, and those conditions are made very clear right upfront, then I think it's very justifiable".

However speaking later to HuffPostUK, Morris said he felt there was no one in government who now asks vulnerable people: "You're not getting any income for weeks, so what are you eating?"

"This is a mallet hitting someone with a huge amount of pressure and not understanding what happens at the other end.

"The perception on the ground is that it feels as though they're not part of the culture of success and somehow they are third class citizens, a burden to society and the machine of government is grinding against them. These are the people we should be supporting and they just need food.

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Morris disagrees outright with claims as made by David Cameron that the government's welfare reforms are part of a "moral mission".

"I think it's immoral," he says. "To allow people to be abandoned and to be stuck on the edges of our society is immoral. We push them to edges of society and push them and push them until they just drop off the edges. That’s not the right value, whether it’s a Christian value or human value. They're not cannon fodder, they are the human cost."

A DWP spokesperson said: "It's only right that people claiming benefits should do everything they can to find work if they are able. Sanctions are used as a last resort and anyone who disagrees with a decision can appeal.”

"We will provide jobseekers with the help and support they need to find a job, but it is only fair that in return they live up to their part of the contract."