Thursday, 12 March 2015

"Pregnant, sanctioned and hungry": Ashton Jobcentre slated for abominable behaviour!

The weekly protests outside  Ashton Jobcentre have now been taking place for over seven months.
They began last August, when  19-year-old Eleanor Coulthard, from Ashton-under-Lyne, was sanctioned for a third time, after telling an employer that she was 23-weeks pregnant. Previously, she had been sanctioned when the jobcentre said that she was not doing enought to find work. Although Eleanor had only been claiming Jobseeker's Allowance for 3 months, she was sanctioned for a third time after the Jobcentre told her that she shouldn't have mentioned her pregnancy during an interview for an unpaid work placement, with  B&Q at the Snipe Retail Park in Ashton-under-Lyne.

The government deny that they have national targets for sanctions. Government employment minister, zero-hours champion, Esther McVey, recently told a parliamentary select committee: "there are no sanction targets, there is no harassment." Yet the PCS union says that  Jobcentre workers, based on staff surveys, are put under pressure to make sanction referrals and are rewarded for sanctioning claimants. Mark Serwotka, General Secretary, of the PCS union told the Work and Pensions Select Committee that:

"Assaults on staff have increased dramatically since the regime was tightened up and what we now see is civil servants, many of whom are fantastically low paid - 40% would be entitled to universal credit, becoming a target because people think they are to blame."

In the recent Channel 4 'Dispatches' programme - 'Britain's Benefit Crackdown' broadcast last Monday, two former Jobcentre workers from Leicester told how they had been disciplined for not meeting sanction targets. Alan Davis, a DWP personal adviser told the programme - "The pressure was enormous, I just felt what they were asking me to do, was totally wrong - they were asking me to 'hammer people' who in their own way were doing their best to get a job..."

Among those who appeared on the programme was plucky Eleanor Coulthard, now the proud mother of baby Malachi, who attended his first Jobcentre protest two weeks ago. She told 'Dispatches' that because of the stress that she was put under by Ashton Jobcentre she developed Bell's Palsy, a facial paralysis associated with stress and gave birth five weeks prematurely. Eleanor added:

"I don't think pregnant women should be sanctioned because its not just you it's affecting. There's an unborn child that's growing inside you, that needs food, and nourishment from you. And if you're not getting it, the baby is not getting it."

One of those who was 'hammered' by the Jobcentre and was referred to in the 'Dispatches' programme, was ex-solider, David Clapson, from Stevenage, Herts. A type one diabetic, David died skint and starving, five days after Jobcentre officials axed his benefits: he had £3.44 in his bank account. An autopsy found that he had no food in his stomach and had died of ketoacidosis, caused by a lack of insulin. Having no food or electricity, David had been unable to store insulin in his fridge safely. His sister, Gill Thompson, told the programme that leaving a type one diabetic with no money was tantamount to passing a death sentence on them.

Last Thursday, a jobseeker at Ashton Jobcentre, told us that he had been sanctioned for 3 months, because he arrived 2 minutes late for an interview. When he later complained about his benefit advisor being 15 minutes late for an appointment, he was told shut up or he would be sanctioned again.

Although the weekly Ashton Jobcentre protests have attracted support from a number of groups, including the Green Party,  Labour party  members in Tameside have been conspicuously absent. Indeed, one Tameside Labour councillor, and gravy train rider, who is known to own at least two Spanish villas, has referred to Eleanor's mother, Charlotte Hughes, the Green Party parliamentary candidate for the Ashton constituency, as the 'bag lady'. He recently tweeted that she should get a job instead of protesting outside Ashton Jobcentre.

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