Right to Work: Right to Welfare are calling on the Minister for Communities to protect people on benefits from the ‘conveyor belt’ sanctions regime.

Figures released today by the Right to Work: Right to Welfare group, reveal a conveyor belt system of social security sanctions for the sick, disabled and unemployed.

Last month R2W released information showing that in one year (Oct 2014-2015) 21,386 ‘sanctions and adverse decisions’ were imposed by Social Security 'decision makers' on Jobs Seekers Allowance (JSA) and Employment Support Allowance (ESA) claimants. These decisions reduce or suspend people’s unemployment or sickness benefits for periods of up to 6 months.

Evidence collected at Belfast’s Social Security offices by R2W shows that the flawed decision making processes are driving many into food poverty, homelessness and worse. 60% of those surveyed reported having their benefits stopped. 

The latest figures, obtained from the Department for Communities under the Freedom of Information Act, reveal that only 51 Social Security decision makers are responsible for sanctions on the unemployed on JSA and only 88 decision makers for withdrawing the main sickness benefit; ESA. This amounts to one decision maker for every 123 JSA ‘sanctions’ a year and one decision maker for every 172 ESA ‘adverse decisions’ a year.

Decision makers must, according to Departmental Guidance; ‘apply the relevant legislation to the specific circumstances of each individual case including the consideration of potentially conflicting medical evidence.’  However, R2W surveys over the last four years alongside the newly released figures and the sheer frequency of sanctions casts a serious doubt on the current capacity to administer the sanctions system whilst protecting the basic rights of claimants to defend themselves against allegations.

R2W are calling on the new Minister for Communities to adopt the ‘People’s Proposal’ , which guarantees due process and protection from poverty in the sanctions regime. The proposal was launched by the unemployed group in March and is already supported by advice workers, food poverty campaigners, and the irish Congress of Trade Unions (NIC), including the NIPSA and PCS Trade unions representing the decision makers directed to enforce sanctions. 

The Peoples Proposal has received political backing from the Green Party leader, Steven Agnew and the newly elected People before Profit MLA’s, Gerry Carroll and Eamonn Mc Cann as well as Sinn Féin Mayor of Derry and Strabane, Elisha McCallion.

R2W have written to the leaders of the five larger parties currently involved in Program for Government negotiations.

PPR development worker, Seán Brady, works to support the R2W campaign;

He said: “Whether you think financially sanctioning the sick, disabled and unemployed is right or wrong is not the point. Everyone has a right to defend themselves against allegations before being punished. These fundamental rights are guaranteed in the 

workplace and under the law but are denied to the poorest in our society when they are at risk of losing their social security safety net.

“We have 21,386 decisions a year being taken by 139 staff that rarely, if ever, see or hear the person they sanction. This is happening now and needs corrected before the more draconian and punitive sanctions regime kicks in under welfare reform. R2W are calling on the NI Executive to adopt the People’s Proposal in line with their commitment to protect the most vulnerable.”