GALLERY: Jobless jester walks benefits tightrope in quirky protest
Unite campaigners stages another highly creative demonstration this week - highlighting the acrobatic act that is the struggle of balancing the bills while trying to manage on benefits.
Protest group UNITE Community gathered outside the Shirebrook Jobcentre to put on a circus display in their campaign against Jobcentre sanctions. .
Colin Hampton, secretary of the Unite Community Chesterfield Branch, said: "We have to alert the public to the disastrous situation facing people who become unemployed.
"Benefit sanctions are supposed to be about changing attitudes to work. However our experience is that people are less likely to find work if plunged into destitution and debt with the corresponding effect on a person’s health, both mental and physical."
Financial Action and Advice Derbyshire have conducted research into benefit sanctions across the County and the findings will make uncomfortable reading for government policy makers.
They said: "Sanctions do the opposite of what they are supposed to achieve.
"Recently, government published statistics showing only 6 out of 10 people that are entitled to jobseekers allowance actually claim the benefit.
"So the purpose may actually be to stop people making their claim. People have paid into the system but, where they can, avoid coming into contact with the Jobcentre and all that entails.
"Research has also shown that where people do find work it is often in dead end, short term, zero hours contracts and Agency work. But for many, it is the fear and insecurity of looking for work with the threat of removal of that safety net. It is like walking a tight rope."
Campaigners across the county protested outside Jobcentres in 70 towns and cities on Wednesday (9 March 2016) as part of a national day of action against the government’s 'cruel' benefit sanctions regime.
They also submitted a petition containing tens of thousands of signatures to the Department for Work and Pensions in London.
The Union claims that sanctions do the opposite of what the government intends in encourage people back to work, and instead results in death and misery.
Gill Thompson whose brother, David Clapson died after being sanctioned, will be handing in the petition calling on the prime minister David Cameron to implement a ‘broad and independent’ review of benefit sanctions as per the recommendations of the Work and Pensions select committee.
Mr Clapson, a diabetic ex-soldier, died starving in 2013 because he was penalised by the Jobcentre for missing a meeting. His body was found surrounded by CVs and his electricity had been cut off making his insulin unusable. His sister has been campaigning for an inquiry into his death.
Commenting Liane Groves head of Unite Community said: “Half a million people have been sanctioned and had their financial support withdrawn in the last 12 months alone. Money can be cut for arriving late at the Jobcentre, missing an appointment to go to a funeral or even failing to apply for a job while waiting to start a new job.
“This harsh benefit sanctions regime treats claimants worse than criminals fined in courts, leaving people without money and unable to feed themselves and their family. It is a system out of control with decisions on guilt taken in secret and claimants not even allowed to be present to explain their case.
“Far from helping people back to work, the cruel sanctions regime harms physical and mental health and drives up food bank use and homelessness.
“It is totally counterproductive and there can be no justification for this grotesque cruelty by the government. It can’t be allowed to go on.”
A DWP spokesman said: "Decisions on sanctions aren’t taken lightly but are an important part of our benefits’ system — they are only ever used as a last resort and the number of sanctions continues to fall.
“Even when someone is sanctioned they can still get financial support through hardship payments and we continue to spend around Â£80bn a year on working age benefits to ensure a safety net is in place”