Julia Poynter on why she joined a protest against the government’s plan to shut Leytonstone Job Centre
Waltham Forest Stand Up For Your Rights recently held a protest outside Leytonstone Job Centre to oppose its planned closure in 2018 and campaign against government benefit sanctions.
The group is comprised of people who use job centres and volunteers from the local Unite trade union branch. The aim is to make people aware of their rights and empower them through training and peer support.
Unite holds a national day of action against sanctions every year on 30th March and a number of our group travelled to Westminster later that day and marched to the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) where a roll call of people was read out, including people passed as ‘fit for work’ by the DWP who died shortly after their work capability assessments, and people who killed themselves probably because of benefit sanctions.
Many people are becoming aware of benefit sanctions because of the Ken Loach film, I, Daniel Blake. People can be sanctioned for arriving late for a job centre meeting, missing an appointment on the day of a relative’s funeral, and not applying for jobs when waiting to start a new job. Since 2012 there have been over 60,000 sanctions across east London. The length of sanction can vary from weeks to three years. Once sanctioned, a person has no money to live on and foodbanks nationally reported that last year at least half-a-million people requested help because their benefits had been delayed or stopped.
Sanctions have been associated with some suicides and the DWP admitted that one in five deaths of unemployed people they had reviewed had experienced sanctions. The Stand Up For Your Rights group fears that more people locally will be at risk from sanctions if Leytonstone Job Centre closes, because they will be travelling further, with an increased risk of being late. The closure will also mean reduced access to services for people with disabilities and young children.
Contrary to the portrayals in the media, unemployed people are not scroungers and spongers. They may have been made redundant or become unable to work because of serious physical and mental health problems and many of them find it difficult to obtain work as they get older.
The Waltham Forest Stand Up For Your Rights Group will continue to campaign against the government’s cruel sanctions regime – if you would like information: