The independent London newspaper

Sanctions? People say thanks for changing their lives

Work and pensions secretary is quizzed over jobseeker penalties during his visit to back Zac

15 March, 2016 — By Richard Osley

WORK and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith claimed men and women thanked him for controversial government sanctions aimed at driving ­people back into work. During a visit to Belsize Park to gee-up activists campaigning for Zac Goldsmith in the upcoming mayoral elections, he said that those who fought the punishments were “never going to vote for us” and subscribed to a “classic buzz from the Left”. Mr Duncan Smith has been targeted by demonstrators who say sanctions – usually cuts in benefits – are forcing people into unsuitable work or chasing them into jobs they are not physically fit to do. Some campaigners have pointed to inquests investigating the deaths of unemployed people as evidence, including the suicide of Michael O’Sullivan, a Highgate man who feared he would lose his incapacity benefit for depression after being declared fit to work by a government panel. Mr Duncan Smith’s face was plastered over banners outside the Conservative Party conference in Manchester in October, where the New Journal reported how Camden councillor Jonny Bucknell took the unusual step of trying to talk to masked protesters about their complaints. At the time, he said he would raise the issue of how far-reaching the sanctions were if he was to meet Mr Duncan Smith, with his appearance at a Tory street stall in England’s Lane providing his first opportunity to honour that commitment. Cllr Bucknell suggested to Mr Duncan Smith that the government could use a carrot instead of stick approach, by introducing a reward system of bonuses for jobseekers. He warned the former Conservative Party leader that unemployed people in their 50s were particularly struggling to find work, and that the sanctions added to their stress. But Mr Duncan Smith launched into a defiant defence of the penalties, insisting that people were often glad of the way sanctions had changed their lives. He said: “Seventy-five per cent of all those who have been sanctioned say it helped them focus and get on. Even the people in the job centres think it’s the right thing to do… sanctions are the reason why we now have the highest employment levels ever in the UK, and more women in work. “What we say is, ‘we’ll give you all the support but at the end of the day we expect you to do something for it: go back to work, take the job, take the interviews’. And it works, talk to any of the advisers in the job centres.” Told by Cllr Bucknell that he was bringing a message from the front line of the protest, Mr Duncan Smith added: “The Labour Party had sanctions. We haven’t actually changed the sanctions regime. It’s just a classic buzz from the Left. These are just political campaigners – they leap up and down on everything. These people are never going to vote for us. You have to understand, these people hate us.” Pressed again by Cllr Bucknell on whether a system of bonuses could work, Mr Duncan Smith added: “The bonus is, you go back to work. I don’t know what else the bonus would be.” Cllr Bucknell said after their exchange he was reassured that Mr Duncan Smith had told him that nobody was sanctioned without a warning system in place of the punishments they could face.

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