Cuts: tricking people out of benefits does not an economic recovery make

We discovered today, through UK Uncut, that Jobcentres are being encouraged to ‘save money’ by cutting off the benefits of people who rely upon them while looking for work. This article in the Guardian details the targets jobcentre workers are being set — namely to ‘sanction’ three people a week. Sanctioning involves halting benefits for as much as six months, sometimes for crimes as minor as one failure to apply for a job or arriving late for a single appointment.

An unnamed whistleblower, who is quoted extensively in the article, says that “most staff go into work and they’re thinking about it from moment one – who am I going to stop this week?” Hardly a culture with the prospect of helping people find their way into satisfying and sustainable employment.

The same source also dispels any idea that the shift is preventing benefit fraud, commenting that it is usually more vulnerable claimants who fall into the trap of being sanctioned. “You very rarely see the hardcore taken because they know the forms – they know it better than the staff, the system.” All of which points to the conclusion that the government is deliberately and brutally cutting off the money of people who lack other sources of support and who badly need help.

Quite aside from the humanitarian aspect, this makes zero economic sense. If George Osborne plans to create a criminal underclass, totally disenfranchised and bereft of hope that their circumstances can improve, he’s going about it the right way. Lest he’s forgotten, criminal underclasses cost a lot of money to police and imprison. People struggling to reach a decent standard of living need as much assistance as we can afford them, not increasingly punitive measures designed to force them into compliance and/or despair.

What perturbs us even more, and must be obvious to even the most blinkered MP, is that recent tax scandals such as the revelation that Vodafone dodged around £6 billion in tax with the approval of the Inland Revenue’s head of tax, David Hartnett, are costing us far more than hundreds, thousands, possibly even millions of people on a low income.

If we continue to victimise the most vulnerable members of society while we extend unlimited indulgence to the most privileged, we run the risk of fundamentally altering the character of our nation. We run the risk of shifting from being a society that still maintains basic values of compassion and fairness to one based purely on callous individualism. If that happens, we’ll all be impoverished, however rich we are.

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