Social security (benefits) claimants are treated worse than offenders

27_february_2015A letter a day to number 10. No 1,013

Friday 27 February 2015.

Dear Mr Cameron,

Dr David Webster, Honorary Senior Research Fellow, Urban Studies, University of Glasgow, in written evidence to the Work and Pensions Committee on Benefit sanctions wrote the following: “A combination of ‘silo’ thinking by officials in the DWP and its predecessors, and ideological gestures by politicians, has led to the growth of what is a huge secret penal system, rivalling in its severity the mainstream judicial system but without the latter’s safeguards.  Claimants are treated worse than offenders.”

Writing in the ‘Centre for Crime and Justice Studies’ Webster states: “Sanctioned benefit claimants are treated much worse than those fined in the courts. The scale of penalties is more severe (£286.80 – £11,185.20 compared to £200 – £10,000). Most sanctions are applied to poor people and involve total loss of benefit income. Although there is a system of discretionary ‘hardship payments’, claimants are often reduced to hunger and destitution by the ban on application for the first two weeks and by lack of information about the payments and the complexity of the application process. The hardship payment system itself is designed to clean people out of resources; all savings or other sources of assistance must be used up before help is given.”

In the year that marks the 800th Anniversary of the signing of Magna Carta on the 15 June 1215, note that one of the freedoms enshrined in the document was freedom from cruel and unusual punishments and freedom from “fine and forfeiture” without trial. Why was this included? It was included to protect people from arbitrary and unjust treatment by the sovereign or state. In other words to protect us from precisely the unjust conditions being imposed upon us by you and your government and specifically Iain Duncan Smith and his unjust and illegal regime of sanctions.

King John, who set his signature and seal on Magna Carta, quickly reneged, as the Barons had feared he would and yet, through bitter strife, Magna Carta became revered the world over and formed the basis of civil liberties and the Human Rights Act in Britain, human rights across the world and the US Constitution.

You might like to consider the form of redress to state treachery granted in Magna Carta (If we (the monarchy) our chief justice, our officials, or any of our servants offend in any respect against any man) to the Barons with the support of “the whole community of the land” who: “may distrain upon and assail us in every way possible, with the support of the whole community of the land, by seizing our castles, lands, possessions, or anything else saving only our own person and those of the queen and our children, until they have secured such redress as they have determined upon.” Justice wears a blindfold which ‘represents objectivity, in that justice is or should be meted out objectively, without fear or favour, regardless of money, wealth, power, or identity’. Think on, Mr Cameron, you’ll have no one to blame but yourself.

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