A national day of protest against benefit sanctions saw Greater Manchester Unite Community Branch (GMUCB), and other campaigning organisations, demonstrating outside job centres across Greater Manchester (GM).
Benefit sanctions are applied as a punishment to benefit claimants who have broken jobcentre rules. If someone on benefits does not apply for enough jobs, or turns up late for an appointment they can initially have their payments stopped for a minimum of four weeks, with longer periods possible after that if they break the rules again.
Unite Community, a branch of Unite the Union for those not in regular employment, are calling for an end to the benefit sanctions regime, which they describe as:
“Causing misery and anxiety on individuals, families and communities across the country. Far from encouraging people back to work, they’re leaving vulnerable people without any money to live on – sending many to food banks and pushing them further into debt.”
Demonstrations took place, on Thursday 30 March, in Manchester (Openshaw), Rochdale, Salford, Eccles, Stockport, Bolton and last but not least Ashton-Under-Lyne
In Ashton it was just another day for us as we have been demonstrating against social security cuts outside Ashton-under-Lyne Jobcentre every Thursday for over three years. Members of Tameside Against The Cuts, GMUCB and members of the public joined us to celebrate this day of action. Ashton Under Lyne, along with Oldham and Wigan were chosen by Ian Duncan Smith to become ‘trial’ areas for Universal Credit, which was a major reason for starting our weekly protest in Ashton.
I arrived with a comrade John, and we began to set up for todays event. I was pleasantly surprised with the amount of people that came along and showed their support. Every week we hand out food parcels along with leaflets containing vital information for claimants to use. Without these we know that people will starve.
Five food parcels were delivered by Pauline and four of them didn’t even touch the ground, literally. They were taken straight away by people who were desperately in need of food. Within half an hour they had all gone and I took a man to the shop next door for some much needed food.
The troops then arrived from Glossop. They are amazing. On a map it might not appear to be too far away, but in reality it is quite a long drive. They had brought some big bags of food with them, I think there were around four and we handed them out straight away. The need for food parcels this week was unprecedented. I really appreciate the Glossop Gang doing this, as they were going on to hold their own day of action after they had visited us.
I spoke to quite a few people that had been sanctioned, or have been told that their sanction will be implemented the following week. Sanctions triggered by job centres across GM are ratified by decision makers at Department for Work and Pension hubs, such as the one in Bolton. This was selected for extra attention during the day of action with GMUCB members from Manchester and Trafford travelling there to join comrades from Bolton Trades Council and Bolton Against the Bedroom Tax.
The people sanctioned aren’t just single people, they are people with families, pregnant ladies and women that should be enjoying their retirement but are unable to due to the changes in the state pension for women. It’s appalling.
We spoke to a lady who seemed rather confused. She said she is claiming Universal Credit, and that it is wonderful. People, according to her, shouldn’t get something for nothing. However she has never been sanctioned yet, and she thought that it was ok for the DWP to treat people like rubbish.
Her only complaint was, it seems was that the front line staff in the job centre are, “horrible”. She couldn’t see that they are part of the system created to humiliate and degrade her. She walked off, but we did tell her we would be there to help her when she encounters any problems.
Despite all this and more, the solidarity today was amazing. We could feel it, and to know that lots of other groups of people would be protesting outside other job centre’s and DWP related buildings across GM and up and down the country today was amazing. I would love it if more people did weekly demos.”
Charlotte Hughes – Ashton Against the Cuts and GMUCB member.
Charlotte regulary blogs about her campaign in Ashton-under- Lyne in The Poor Side of Life
Other reports of the campaign from around the UK can be found by searching for the hashtag #No2Sanctions on Twitter and Facebook.
Featured Image: Conrad Bower (#No2Sanctions protestors outside Bolton Jobcentre)
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