2,000 ‘work-shy’ South Tynesiders have benefits stopped

TOUGH SANCTIONS ... Minister for Employment Esther McVey.
TOUGH SANCTIONS ... Minister for Employment Esther McVey.

A CLAMPDOWN on ‘job-shy’ people in South Tyneside has resulted in hundreds of people having their benefits suspended during the past eight months, new statistics reveal.

Under a new Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) regime, claimants who failed to do enough to find work, turned down jobs offered to them or did not attend appointments, have had their benefit payments stopped.

The total number of sanctions taken in Northumberland and Tyne and Wear from October last year to June this year was 17,470, according to Government figures.

During that same period, benefits were withdrawn on 1,430 occasions for claimants registered at South Shields Jobcentre and 600 times for clients at Jarrow Jobcentre.

Minister for Employment Esther McVey said the tough stance was bringing an end to a “something for nothing culture” and added: “People who are in a job know that if they don’t play by the rules or fail to turn up in the morning, there might be consequences.

“It’s only right that people on benefits should have similar responsibilities.”

But the approach has been questioned by South Tyneside councillor Jim Foreman, an outspoken critic of the government’s welfare reforms programme.

Coun Foreman, the council’s lead member for transport and housing, said: “If you walk into South Shields Jobcentre, there is generally 700 to 900 vacancies available.

“How many people do we have on the dole in the borough, 6,000 to 7,000? Those are telling statistics.

“I have no sympathy for people able to work who don’t make themselves available for work, but we need to look at the other side of the coin.

“The Government makes great play about the work-shy, but people need more support to fill out the complex forms they need to.

“There are many people who are not computer literate, who are not numerically OK. These people are in a lose-lose situation.

“They are at risk of having their benefits cut and falling into the hands of loan sharks. It’s a never-ending cycle.”

The statistics show there has been a rise in the number of sanctions nationally compared with last year.

Between November 2012 – the first full month of the new sanctions – and June 2013 there were 553,000 sanctions.

This compares with 499,000 between November 2011 and June 2012.

The most common reason for a JSA sanction (36 per cent) was a failure on the part of the jobseeker to actively look for work.

Mrs McVey said: “This Government has always been clear that in return for claiming unemployment benefits, jobseekers have a responsibility to do everything they can to get back into work.

“We are ending the something for nothing culture.

“We always make the rules very clear – it’s only right that there is a penalty if people fail to play by them.”

Twitter: @shieldsgazpaul