CAMPAIGNERS staged a demonstration in Hartlepool against unemployed people’s benefits being stopped.
Protestors gave out information to visitors to Hartlepool Jobcentre about how to fight benefits sanctions they say are plunging vulnerable people into poverty.
Claimants’ benefits money can be stopped if employment officials believe they are not doing enough to look for work.
But Unite the Union says many sanctions are handed out for unfair reasons such as being a few minutes late for meetings and even missing an appointment on the day of a family member’s funeral.
The demonstration in Wesley Square, Hartlepool, was part of a day of national action by unions and campaigners.
Karen Jensen, of Unite, who attended the Hartlepool event, said: “People are being sanctioned and having their money stopped every day.
People are being sanctioned and having their money stopped every dayKaren Jensen – Unite the Union
“It is happening because they say claimants are 10 minutes late for an interview or to a dyslexic person that they didn’t write down enough jobs they applied for.
“If you are on Jobseeker’s Allowance and Employment Support Allowance and that stops, your housing and council tax benefit gets stopped as well.
“This can cause the most vulnerable members of our community extreme anxiety and poor mental health.”
Steve Cooke, of the Teesside People’s Assembly, added: “This vindictive government policy has plunged many people into poverty and to rely on foodbanks.
“We should invest in people, not punish them.”
Advise to claimants is to challenge unfair sanctions through the appeals process and writing to your local MP.
They also advise people to make sure their personal advisers have full details about any health conditions or disabilities, and to keep all paperwork, texts and emails, as they may be needed as evidence.
The Department for Work and Pensions said fewer people are being sanctioned.
A DWP spokesman said: “Every day Jobcentre Plus advisers work hard to help claimants into work – unemployment is falling and a record number of people are in work.
“Sanctions are only used as a last resort for the tiny minority who fail to take up the support which is on offer.
“There are no targets for sanctions – in fact the number of sanctions has gone down over the past year.”
The department added it spends around £94 billion a year on working age benefits and say it is only right claimants do all they can to look for work.