The silenced. the sanctioned and the dead

17_june_2015A letter a day to number 10. No 1,120

Wednesday 17 June 2015.

Dear Mr Cameron,

UK wide, we are in the midst of a humanitarian crisis the like of which I have not witnessed before nor ever expected to, which, apparently coincidentally, began with the welfare reform bill, the introduction of universal credit and, in particular, the use of sanctions by the DWP to enforce obedience to its ever more punitive demands on benefit recipients.

Prior to your first term as Prime Minister food banks were not a news item with just 56 Trussell Trust food banks across the UK in 2009/10. In you first year in office that rose to 90, then 185 in 2011/12, 328 in 2012/13, 423 in 2013/14 and 445 in 2014/15 with the total of all food banks at 1,500. 1.1 million emergency food parcels were handed out to approximately 500,000 people with 400,000 food parcels issued to children.

Last year the British Medical Journal warned that in the UK food poverty “has all the signs of a public health emergency that could go unrecognised until it is too late to take preventive action.”

Of course the proliferation of foods banks and food poverty really isn’t even the half of it. In February this year the Guardian asked “How many benefits claimants have to kill themselves before something is done?”

What facts and figures disguise is the scale of human suffering and torment that poverty inflicts on the millions living with it day in day out, year in year out and that’s before they fall foul of the brutal conditionality regime and sanctions regime of Iain Duncan Smith. Let’s be clear, Jobcentres do not make policy, they merely follow orders and those orders ultimately come from the man in charge of the DWP.

People live in abject terror of the DWP and Jobcentres knowing that welfare has turned into a system of punitive benefits denial and sanctions (with targets) which are not, as Smith and the DWP insist, ‘used as a last resort in a tiny minority of cases where people don’t play by the rules’. Sanctions are routine and imposed for the most spurious reasons with vulnerable people being treated worse than criminals, sentenced without trial to losing the means of survival. People living with relentless apprehension and fear only to lose the very means of their survival eventually give up, taking their own lives. The most telling response I’ve seen to this humanitarian crisis was footage of members of your government mocking and jeering the poor in a food bank debate leading Jamie Reed MP to say, “I regret to say the laughter from the Government benches says more about this issue than words ever could” although your own silence is chillingly telling.

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