The Tory Government has been accused of unfairly targeting vulnerable people and those on low-income, in what one MP described as an “all out assault on the poor”.
Anne McLaughlin, the Glasgow North East SNP MP, told David Cameron during PMQ’s that one of her constituents, who is an employee at the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP), had informed her that staff are “under pressure” to hit benefit sanctions “targets”.
Ms McLaughlin added: “There have long been allegations of DWP staff being under pressure to hit targets for the number of benefit sanctions they slap on the vulnerable.
“But it doesn’t matter what you call them – targets fail to take account of the devastating impact the withdrawal of vital welfare payments has to an individual.”
“Benefit sanctions also do nothing to support people into work”, she added.
Ms McLaughlin said the PM should “aspire to actually help people on low incomes, instead of unfairly targeting them as part of the Tories’ all-out assault on the poor”.
However, seemingly oblivious to her concerns, the Prime Minister defended the controversial regime and insisted that sanctions are being “fairly applied”.
“Sanctions in a benefits system are important,” he said.
“We want a benefits system that is there for people who cannot find a job and need support, but it not should not be a lifestyle choice and if people can work, they should work.
“That is why we have a sanctions system, and I believe that the sanctions system is fairly applied.”
The PM’s choice of words have since been branded as “incredibly insensitive” by a leading UK charity.
Steve Ford, Chief Executive at Parkinson’s UK, told the Mirror: “A ‘lifestyle choice’ is an incredibly insensitive phrase to describe the heart-wrenching decision someone with Parkinson’s has to make to give up work as their symptoms become more and more severe.”
Official government statistics show that more than 120,000 sick and disabled people, who the DWP accept were unfit for work, had their benefits docked between 2008 and 2014.
Elliot Dunster, head of policy at disability charity Scope, said: “Nine in 10 disabled people have worked, but only half are in work now.
“They are often caught in a ‘revolving door’ of brief periods of employment followed by time on out-of-work support.”
“This isn’t a lifestyle choice”, he said.
“Disabled people are pushing to find jobs and get on at work, but they continue to face huge barriers, from employer attitudes to inaccessible workplaces.”