Ministers lost their moral compass bearings, and most other peoples,  telling jobcentres hunger’s OK.

18 May 2017

I profoundly object to my taxes being used by the State to employ officials to make our fellow citizens hungry. 

I am saying minsters at the DWP lost their moral bearings, and ignored the moral bearings of most other people, when they approved guidance to Jobcentres which require officials to decide it is OK for the sick to be hungry so long as they are not more hungry than the healthy; hunger as government policy is never OK. To write laws or governmental guidance that make people hungry is immoral; so is writing governmental guidance the lets people who are hungry remain hungry. 

That has happened at the DWP in January 2015 after Lord Freud gave assurances to Parliament on the 25th January 2012 that all relevant facts would be taken into account by by jobcentre decison makers. To accept the fact that people are hungry, and then ignore it, is unreasonable as well as immoral. Here is the ministerial guidance followed by the background to Lord Freud's assurances.  


DWP GUIDANCE TO JOBCENTRE  DECISION MAKERS (DM) 

The DM must consider if the health of a person with a health medical condition would decline more than a normal healthy adult. 

It would be normal for a normal healthy adult to suffer some deterioration in their health it they were without ...essential items such as food... for a period of two weeks.

 

THE BACK GROUND TO LORD FREUD'S ASSURANCES

During the passage of the Welfare Reform Act 2012  Lord Ramsbotham tabled an amendment requiring Jobcentre officials to take account of the Wednesbury principles when making their decisions. They are:

"A standard of unreasonableness used in assessing an application for judicial review of a public authority's decision. A reasoning or decision is Wednesbury unreasonable (or irrational) if it is so unreasonable that no reasonable person acting reasonably could have made it (Associated Provincial Picture Houses Ltd v Wednesbury Corporation (1948) 1 KB 223). The test is a different (and stricter) test than merely showing that the decision was unreasonable".

These principles are at the heart of administrative law and require all governmental decision makers to consider relevant facts, not to consider irrelevant facts and to be rational. 

A seminar was convened to alert Lord Freud to the Wednesdbury principles and to the devastating impact of cuts, caps, council tax and benefit sanctions on the health of benefit claimants as a whole and vulnerable benefit claimants in particular.

Present were Lord Ramsbotham, Cross Bench, Lord McKenzie, Labour, Lord Kirkwood, Lib Dems and representatives of NGOs from the advice sector including CAB, Zacchaeus 2000,  Liberty and the Royal College of Psychiatrists. I lobbied for the amendment and convened the seminar for Lord Ramsbotham. 

Lord Freud gave the following assurance to the House of Lords on the 25th January 2012

We spoke about the Wednesbury principles at our seminar, and I can reassure noble Lords that the decision-making process is and will continue to be consistent with these fundamental principles of public law. The department strives to ensure that no decision is influenced by irrelevant factors and that decision-makers act in a rational and fair manner, taking into account all relevant matters before exercising a discretion. For example, the primary legislation expressly sets out that a conditionality sanction applies only if there is no good reason for the failure. In determining whether there is such good reason, decision-makers will have to consider all relevant matters raised by the claimant within a particular time period, including information about a claimant's health condition and financial circumstances. 25 Jan 2012 : just before Column 1062


 

The following letter of mine was published by The Observer on Sunday 30th October. 

Worse than in Loach’s film

Jack Munro is right to affirm the truth in Ken Loach’s I, Daniel Blake, (Viewpoint, last week) but, gruelling though the film is, it only portrays the tyranny of the Department for Work and Pensions. Worse still, other authorities bear down simultaneously on vulnerable single households. After jobcentres impose benefit sanctions, local authorities enforce rent and council tax arrears. Magistrates rubber-stamp 3.5m council-tax-liability orders a year, allowing councils to enforce arrears and to send in the bailiffs, adding fees up to £420. Magistrates also impose fines for poverty-related offences such as TV licence and fare evasion that cannot be paid during a sanction but pile up, leading to a call from the bailiffs. The benefit sanction is a penalty that lingers on indefinitely in debt, hunger and ill health for months after it has formally ended. 

The Rev Paul Nicolson 
Tottenham, London
 


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