On 12th April a packed Irish Congress of Trade Unions conference in Derry heard calls from delegates to support the ‘People’s Proposals’ for protection against benefit sanctions. The move came about following meetings between ICTU and the Right to Work: Right to Welfare Group (R2W).

The proposals were developed and launched by the unemployed group in reaction to the ongoing benefits sanctions taking place at social security agencies and are designed to be implemented by local political leaders independently from Westminster.  The group have now written to the leaders of the five main political parties as well as election hopefuls asking for support. The proposals guarantee people full rights to due process (right to representation, right to a hearing, presumption of innocence, full disclosure, etc.) when decisions are being reached to stop or reduce their social security benefits.

The experience of benefit claimants locally mirrors that highlighted by Channel 4’s ‘The Big Benefits Row’; which shone a disturbing light on how unfair, arbitrary and discriminatory the social security assessment and sanctions regime actually is.

R2W have been monitoring the drastic impacts of sanctions at social security offices in Belfast for the past three years and launched their research into the impacts earlier in the month. The Trade Union Conference heard that over 21,000 sanctions were imposed upon claimants last year without due process or protection from destitution. Many were forced into food banks and homelessness and declining mental and physical health.

The Trade Union motion was unanimously passed following impassioned speeches from the floor and union leadership, including the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) and NIPSA - Trade Unions representing social security staff forced to implement sanctions.

The R2W group and PPR warmly welcomed the move by the Trade Union movement to support their campaign. Seán Brady, Development Worker with PPR who supports the group commented:

“This is another important step to safeguard what little welfare protection remains for the sick and unemployed. The Mayor of Derry City and Strabane, Elisha Mc Callion and Eamonn Mc Cann of People Before Profit were two of the early political figures willing to support the Peoples Proposal after the unanimous endorsement from the Trade Union movement. Hopefully more will follow in the coming weeks.”

“R2W have today written to all the political parties calling for them to support the ‘Peoples Proposals’ and ensure it is implemented in the next Assembly term after the May elections. The new Minister for Communities will have the power to do this. The proposal is simply about affording the same protections to welfare recipients as are enjoyed by people in the workplace or under the law and can be implemented locally without delay.”

A copy of The People’s Proposal – Realising the Right to Social Security, produced by the Right to Work: Right to Welfare Group and PPR can be accessed via the following link