This week, a senior civil servant in the Department for Work and Pensions made repellent claims to the Scottish Parliament’s welfare reform committee that somehow poor and jobless exercise lifestyle choices in using food banks and are grateful for benefit sanctions.
The experiences of staff in job centres across Scotland wholly contradict the views of Neil Couling that poor and jobless Scots welcome having benefits cut because the ‘jolt gives them wake-up call they need’.
In a survey of PCS members working as advisors in job centres 70% of respondents said sanctions had no positive impact and almost two thirds said they had experienced pressure to refer claimants for a sanction inappropriately. The stricter regime has led to an increase in violence and threats towards our members in Job Centres, with 72% of respondents reporting an increase in verbal abuse and 37% seeing an increase in physical abuse.
While we do not believe it is acceptable, we understand the anger directed towards job centre staff and we have a shared interest with claimants in bringing this counter productive system to an end. We do not recognise the sort of experience set out by Mr Couling and utterly reject the idea that many people who face benefit sanctions “welcome the jolt” it can give them.
While Mr Couling spouts such vile and malicious views, members of our union will continue their good work in donating food to the PCS Scotland Foodbank collection point. This is no mere charity. Union members delivering welfare and other government services see the frontline of effects of the government policies affecting the poorest and the most vulnerable. Ourmembers who themselves have suffered years of Tory austerity pay cuts are donating food as an act of practical solidarity for those that the state should provide for.
PCS will also continue our campaigning for an alternative to the austerity policies of the Tory-led Coalition government, industrially, politically and also in solidarity with those who are suffering the most.