Only two protesters attended a demonstration outside Poplar Jobcentre plus as part of Unite’s national campaign against benefit sanctions last Thursday.
Currently an unemployed person’s benefits can be cut if they arrive late at a job centre, miss an appointment to go to a funeral, or even fail to apply for a job while waiting to start a new one.
Emily Sawyer, a 37-year-old social worker, said: “I wanted to come to protest as I think the sanctions regime is unnecessary and draconian, it’s not the right way to support people who need the welfare state and it’s just a way to punish people.”
“I’ve seen too many examples of it being used inappropriately and on a whim. It is very difficult to get the sanctions overturned and people are left without being able to put food in their mouths and their family’s mouths. I don’t think that’s on in a civilized society.”
Azees Lattef, 53, a handyman added: “It takes away the dignity of people. This is the worst thing about this government, that they are alienating these people.”
“I am sure they are well intentioned, but so was the labour government before, nobody wants to be on the dole because £72 is nothing.”
Unite organised 91 demonstrations across the UK and 16 of them were in London. The union said in a statement that they are not “prepared to stand idle while this failed coalition government mercilessly targets those already struggling to make ends meet, with ideologically-driven and needless cruelty.”
— Unite the union (@unitetheunion) March 19, 2015
Unite community national organiser, Liane Groves, said: “This government is attacking the unemployed for unemployment and treating claimants worse than criminals fined in the courts. Decisions on guilt are made in secret with the claimant not even allowed to be present to explain their case.”
“Far from helping people back into work, sanctions undermine physical and mental health. They cause hardship, damage relationships, create homelessness and drive people to food banks, payday lenders, and to crime.”
A spokesperson for the Department of Work and Pensions said: ““Every day Jobcentre Plus advisers work hard to help claimants into work. Unemployment is falling and a record number of people are in work.”
They said sanctions are only used as a last resort for the tiny minority who fail to take up the support, which is on offer.
“There are no targets for sanctions – in fact the number of sanctions has gone down over the past year,” said the spokesperson.