A friend of mine called my attention to an article which made me shudder.
The coroner said that when David Clapson died he had no food in his stomach. Clapson’s benefits had been stopped as a result of missing one meeting at the jobcentre. He was diabetic, and without the £71.70 a week from his jobseeker’s allowance he couldn’t afford to eat or put credit on his electricity card to keep the fridge where he kept his insulin working. Three weeks later Clapson died from diabetic ketoacidosis, caused by a severe lack of insulin. A pile of CVs was found next to his body.
I’ll resist calling Clapson’s death a tragedy. Tragedy suggests a one-off incident, a rarity that couldn’t be prevented. What was done to Clapson – and it was done, not something that simply happened – is a particularly horrific example of what has, almost silently, turned into a widespread crisis. More than a million people in this country have had their benefits stopped over the past year. Sanctions against chronically ill and disabled people have risen by 580% in a year. This is a system out of control.
A petition for an inquiry into benefit sanctions, started by Clapson’s sister, Gill Thompson, is now on the verge of its 200,000th signature. This Thursday there will be a day of action against benefit sanctions across the country. If inspiration is required, you need look no further than the latest Department for Work and Pensions pilot scheme launched last week. The unemployed are set to have their benefits stopped if they don’t sign in at a jobcentre in the morning and spend the whole day there, every day. Breach the rules once and you’ll lose four weeks’ worth of benefits; twice and you won’t be able to feed your kids for three months.
Yes, some reasons for sanctions are almost laughable: going to a job interview rather than a meeting at the jobcentre that it clashes with; not completing an assessment because you had a heart attack during it. But let’s not convince ourselves the rest are credible – punishment sensibly bestowed on the scrounging unemployed. A government that deems it a success to stop the money someone needs to eat is a government of the grotesque.
Sanctions are a product of an attitude towards benefit claimants that says they are not people struggling to find work but suspects: lazy, stupid and in need of a DWP-kick to get them out of bed. The lazy are going hungry. Eight in 10 Trussell Trust food banks report that benefit sanctions are causing more people to need emergency food parcels. This, I suppose, is what Conservatives call motivation.
It doesn’t matter that sanctions are disproportionately hitting the most vulnerable. Nor that the DWP’s own commissioned report says that they are being imposed in such a way that vulnerable people often don’t understand what is happening to them, and are left uninformed of the hardship payments to which they are entitled. Six out of 10 employment and support allowance (ESA) claimants who have had their benefits stopped have a mental-health condition or learning difficulty. Are these the chosen victims of austerity now? By definition of being in receipt of ESA, many will struggle to do things such as be punctual for meetings or complete work placements with strangers in environments they don’t know. It is setting people up to fail and then punishing them for it.
Sanctions are not an anomaly. Rather, they are emblematic of the wider Tory record on welfare: one of incompetence and, at best, indifference. The work programme fails to find work for 95% of disabled people, but enforced, unpaid labour or loss of benefits is the DWP’s answer. More than a quarter of a million people are still waiting for PIP, the benefit needed to help cover the extra costs of disability. Seven hundred thousand people have been left waiting for an ESA assessment. Locking people out of their rightful benefits is becoming a theme for this government. The consequences are human; the response from the government is inhumane.
Clapson had only left his last job to care for his elderly mum, and before that had worked for 29 years. On the day he died he had £3.44 to his name and six tea bags, a tin of soup and an out-of-date can of sardines in his kitchen cupboards. Benefit sanctions are aimed at ending the “something for nothing” culture, as the DWP’s press release brags. I vote for ending the demonisation of the unemployed, disabled and poor.
What happened to him is truly gruesome and absolutely shameful.
This is why I reject free market capitalism for (Christian) socialism.
In the first system, MONEY is the measure of all things which naturally leads to a very small minority of incredibly rich people and an exponentially higher number of poor ones.
In socialism, free competition is encouraged AS LONG AS the welfare of human beings is not threatened, in which case the State intervenes.
Comparisons between the well being of poor people in hyper-capitalistic countries such as the United States and socialistic countries such as Sweden let us recognize a stark contrast which looks all the more tragic when glancing at children.
I think that the UK is drifting more and more towards wild capitalism and actually it has always hindered us from building up a “social Europe”. So we’d probably be much more successful if they had left us, presumably deprived of Scotland.
But their departure from the EU would likely have dire consequences on many sectors of British economy and employment as Obama himself pointed out.
Some implications for Christians
All Christians agree that a starving child is a horrendous evil. Actually this is agreed upon by the large majority of human beings regardless of their worldview.
So should we not work together towards constructing a society where this kind of evil is MINIMIZED?
While reading these lines, many Conservative Christians would doubtlessly answer me that while we are taught by our Master to care for the poor, the solution doesn’t have to be political.
But many of them couldn’t tell me that with a straight face, that is without either cognitive dissonances or a hypocritical tongue. When abortion and homosexuality are concerned, they certainly believe that a political solution is not only in order but also the most Christian thing anyone could do.
Let us suppose that we know that option A (status quo) will uphold the suffering of poor children whereas option B will considerably reduce it.
What kind of human beings are we if we refuse to engage B out of convenience or love for abstract political ideals?
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