A two-day protest against benefit sanctions took place outside Ashton-under-Lyne, Jobcentre, on Wednesday and Thursday of last week. The demonstration was called after Eleanor Coulthard, a 19-year-old girl from Ashton-under-Lyne was sanctioned after telling her placement provider B&Q, that she was 23-weeks pregnant.
By all accounts, the DIY firm had offered her a placement working unpaid and had said that her pregnancy was not a problem as they would give her light duty work to undertake. She then discovered that they had changed tack and contacted the Jobcentre in Ashton-under-Lyne to say they didn't require her services because she was pregnant. The Jobcentre then told her she was being sanctioned because she should not have declared her pregnancy.
Having first claimed claim Jobseekers Allowance (JSA) three months ago, this was her third sanction by the Jobcentre. On the first two occasions, she was told that she was not doing enough to find work although she was looking and applying for work.
Although the Department of Work & Pensions (DWP), deny that they target people for sanctions, there have been reports that vulnerable people have been targeted and that DWP staff, are being forced to hit sanction targets or face disciplinary action. One Jobcentre Plus office is reported to have offered Easter egg prizes to staff who sanctioned the most customers.
Eleanor's mother, Charlotte Hughes, who attended the demonstration with her daughter, told Northern Voices:
" This was an unfair and unjust sanction of a pregnant young woman which left her with no money to eat or live. My daughter was sent to B&Q in Ashton-under-Lyne, for an interview for unpaid work while she was already sanctioned. She had to walk from Dukinfield to the Snipe Retail Park on the outskirts of Ashton-under-Lyne, because she couldn't afford the bus fare to get to the interview. When my daughter told Jobcentre staff that she had been left with no money to feed herself and her child, they told her - "you're pregnant, not ill, and you shouldn't have told B&Q that you were pregnant." As for B&Q, I think they should hang their head in shame."
The Demonstration which was organised by 'Tameside Against the Bedroom Tax and Cuts', 'Tameside Unemployed Workers' Alliance', 'Tameside Trades Union Council' and the 'Green Party' attracted local media interest. The protesters say that they intend to continue with further protests against unfair sanctions and intend to target businesses in Tameside that are participating in the government's unpaid forced labour schemes for the unemployed.For further details of future demonstrations contact: Steve.Starlord@Sky.com