Think Tank Work To Tackle Poverty

A woman denied benefit money after being late for a Jobcentre appointment has compared the feeling to her experiences as a victim of domestic violence.

The Paisley woman in her 40s, now in work, said she would rather go hungry than sign back on for Jobseeker's Allowance.

She told a panel looking into poverty in Renfrewshire: "You can't be assertive because they've got your money and you need it to live on.''

The Tackling Poverty Commission is calling for more action to help families in the area, home to some of Scotland's most deprived zones where one in five children lives in poverty.

The rate of JSA sanctions has more than doubled since 2010 and Paisley Jobcentre has the highest number of sanctions in the west of Scotland, it said.

A new report features the case study of the unnamed woman, who said she lost her benefit payment of £120 a fortnight for six weeks after arriving a few minutes late for an appointment in 2012.

She said: "When you go to the Jobcentre, they make you feel like they're giving money out of their own pocket. And if you've not looked enough for jobs that week, or if you're late, they tell you 'we can stop your money'.

"They spoke about me as if I wasn't there, saying 'has she been late before?' and said it had to go to a decision-maker.

"Even though its £120 a fortnight, they've got control over your life.

"I went through domestic violence and it's the exact same feeling you get. You've got to act a certain way - say 'oh I'm really sorry I was late... you're right... I'll never do it again'. You leave there feeling rotten. You can't be assertive because they've got your money and you need it to live on.''

The Commission, set up by Renfrewshire Council in April last year, has issued a list of 24 recommendations and is asking the UK Government to "re-think'' benefit sanctions.

It wants to see the number of workers paid less than the Living Wage halved and the provision of nurseries offering flexible childcare that are used by low-income families.

Councillors will meet on March 23 to discuss the report's findings and consider future action.

Chairman Mike Holmes said: "We have the third busiest foodbank in the country and enough is enough. We cannot leave behind another generation because of the inequalities poverty brings.

"Child poverty across the country is predicted to rise, and we want to buck that trend in Renfrewshire. The council brought together experts and front-line workers to form the Commission - to be a critical friend to the council, its partners and to the wider public sector.

"We gathered a significant amount of evidence. And we know that while there are still areas in Renfrewshire facing high deprivation levels, the face of poverty is changing with more households living in poverty now working than not. We also heard evidence that the welfare system no longer provides a safety net for the people it's supposed to support and is actually pushing them into crisis.

"Research makes a clear link between sanctions and foodbanks, so when you reach the point that children go hungry because a so-called work incentive removes their parent's only income - something has gone very wrong. That's why we're asking the UK Government to produce and trial a new approach to benefit sanctions and work incentives in Renfrewshire.''

Jim McCormick, Scotland adviser to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF), was part of the Commission.

He said: "More households need to have access not just to work - but to work that provides an acceptable standard of living and opportunities for progression.

"Too many people are at the mercy of low pay and insecure contracts. We need more people to be paid the Living Wage, wider access to in-work training and quality childcare that helps parents into work.

"This week, JRF published findings that show while the job of reducing poverty continues to be done against a backdrop of tightening austerity, areas with high levels of deprivation are being hit hardest by spending cuts. While Renfrewshire is no different in facing tough financial decisions, it's leading the way in its approach.''

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