“There is clear evidence that the benefit sanctions regime has gone too far and is leading to destitution, hardship and hunger on a large scale.”
Not our words, but the findings of Oxfam’s report Walking the Breadline, which links the rise in the use of food banks to the rise in the number of people having their benefits sanctioned. The DWP have postponed the release of the latest sanction figures, but we know that the number of people sanctioned and using foodbanks stand at record levels.
Many of these sanctions are as a result of workfare, and many are being handed out for the pettiest of reasons. The imposition of a workfare regime has created a situation where the Red Cross are now having to deliver food aid in the UK for the first time since the Second World War.
Back in May the PCS union (the main union for DWP workers) had a real chance to address this state of affairs.
PCS branches put forward motions to their annual conference calling for action to be taken in solidarity with claimants being forced to do workfare and being made destitute by sanctions. Disgracefully, the response of the PCS leadership was to rely on overcautious legal advice to block any discussion of these motions, which angered many. They did however pass Motions A92 and A533.
Motion A92 is designed to instruct PCS members to refuse to sanction PCS members who work part-time in Job Centres, whilst they continue to sanction everyone else. This is because, when Universal Credit is fully rolled out, the same ‘conditionality’ (i.e. sanctions and workfare if you aren’t doing what the Job Centre thinks you ought to be) will apply to everyone, whether they are unemployed, disabled, in part-time work, or self-employed.
Emergency motions submitted by PCS branches which called for action to be taken against all sanctions were either not accepted or guillotined. In the end, motion A533 was also passed: this merely instructed the National Executive committee to “explore the possibility of including non-cooperation with sanctions in the next industrial action ballot”. So far they have failed to do even this.
So what have the PCS actually done? After all this pressure from claimants and their own members, the PCS have declared they are responding by “spearheading a campaign against benefit sanctions”. They call on others to take action, but what exactly the PCS think others can or should take is not specified. There is no real PCS counter-narrative questioning the morality or implementation of workfare or sanctions. There is no real strategy for changing the current intolerable situation which sees people made destitute, and PCS members being instructed not to send people to foodbanks.
Their whole campaign is an empty PR exercise, designed to cover up their real lack of action and pacify an increasingly restless membership.
The PCS may claim that they are unable to take action because it would be illegal to do so. But there is a legal basis for action. The PCS may claim that to call for real action is an attack on their members. It is not. It is simply a call for solidarity: for an end to the implementation of policies which are an attack on all of us – and on the very idea of a welfare state.
Sanctions are a form of structural violence targeted at the poorest and most vulnerable. The workfare regime currently being imposed by the DWP is causing destitution, hardship and hunger. It is leading to an increase in homelessness and, tragically, to suicides. The PCS have had plenty of time to “consider the possibility of non-cooperation”. They should now ballot their members on a boycott of workfare and sanctions.
The PCS publicly claims “to stand up for public services and social justice”. The facts, and now its bizarre public attack on this campaign, clearly state otherwise. We’ll let you make your own mind up about what the PCS leadership really stand for. We stand with those who are left with nothing due to workfare and sanctions. Stand with us.