Bridgwater, Benefits and Foodbanks

Wes Hinckes with other campaigners against Benefits Sanctions

Bridgwater and West Somerset Parliamentary candidate for the Labour Party, Wes Hinckes, has been meeting the people in his constituency who have been suffering at the sharp end of Tory austerity measures and here presents his findings;-

I learnt some stark and shocking facts last week.

2,923 local people were fed by Bridgwater Foodbank in the last 12 months.

920 of these were children.

30% more people are now relying on the foodbank than in the previous year.

These are ordinary people, families and children who you see walking through town or in passing on the street. Families where parents go without food every other day to ensure that their children can have enough to eat. Children who go to your local school who are hungry, tired and unfed.

This is Britain in the 21st century and we have seemingly stepped back into Dickensian times where hunger and squalor were the norm.

Foodbanks are picking up the shattered pieces of a broken social security system that has resulted from failed government reforms. Reforms which were as cold, inflexible and distant as the ministerial minds which dreamt them up.

Wes joins the campaign against benefits sanctions outside Bridgwater job centre

How could they not have known the damage they would cause? Everyone told them. Everyone could see what would happen. Arrogantly the conservative government decided that they knew better.

Shame on them.

Their decision led us to become a country that would harm its own. The first country in the world ever to be investigated by the United Nations for grave and systematic violations against the rights of vulnerable citizens.

Shame on us.

For the past few years I have been involved with Unite Community as an activist and I remain a member of the Bridgwater and Taunton Unite Community group.

In those years I have assisted with the campaign against benefit sanctions, one of the many welfare reforms introduced by the conservative government, and will continue to do so. It is something worth fighting against.

Benefit sanctions are a punishment applied by jobcentre staff to job seekers that they feel have infringed jobcentre rules. The sanction cuts or stops the person’s benefits and can last for up to 3 years. Between 2011 and 2015 almost one in four people claiming their entitled benefits were sanctioned.

As there is no due process in the benefit sanction regime, people are being sanctioned almost upon the whims of individual staff members. Stories of cruelty and absurdity are everywhere.

People have had their benefits stopped for attending a job interview even when they have called to notify the jobcentre. People have had their benefits stopped for attending a family member’s funeral. People have had their benefits stopped for not having enough money for the bus fare needed to reach the jobcentre.

Benefit sanction are causing psychological harm to people who are in difficult circumstances and in the most unfortunate instances have been implicated as being a contributory factor in claimant deaths and suicides.

These are vulnerable people who need help not punishment and our government’s behaviour towards them is inexcusable.

Wes at a Unite Community rally

Innocent people are being treated worse than criminals.

In our criminal justice system a court will decide a person’s guilt and the punishment, yet in our jobcentres it is a decision made by a member of staff.

In a court mitigating factors will be taken into account, yet in our jobcentres staff can be incentivised to ignore and disbelieve claimants in order to meet targets.

When deciding upon any financial punishment a court will look at a person’s ability to pay and they will not be left in a position whereby they cannot afford to live, yet in our jobcentres no such consideration is being applied.

A person’s benefit ‘entitlement’ in the UK is based upon the minimum amount that it is considered a person should be able to live on, yet this is being arbitrarily reduced without due consideration and in some instances benefit sanctions are removing this entitlement from a British citizen for up to 3 years . That’s 3 years without money that you as a citizen are entitled to.  This is a devastating and inhumane punishment.

This is no way to help people in need of support.

It can only hurt and cause damage to them, their families, their lives, and their communities.

I’m angry that a government can behave in this manner towards its citizens. Its legality is surely questionable. Benefit sanctions demonstrate a government that is willing to inflict psychological and financial harm on its own people including vulnerable members of society and those living in poverty. These are people who are most in need of our assistance.

I will always support Unite Community’s campaign to bring to an end the benefit sanctions regime.

I want to see our nation enable people to live the best lives that are possible and I would like to see a thorough review of how we create a welfare system fit for the 21st century, one that increases opportunities and improves the life chances of each and every person in the UK.

I know that Unite Community will not stop until we have ended the current benefit sanctions regime and I will continue to work with them to achieve this goal.

Wes on the ‘defend the NHS’ stall at Bridgwater Cornhill with Labour Town Council Leader Brian Smedley

Would you like to get involved?

Bridgwater and Taunton already have an active Unite Community group and Minehead will follow soon after the general election.

Weston-Super-Mare is also nearby and supporting local people.

We are always welcoming to new members and understand that we are stronger together.

If you would like to learn more about Unite Community in your area please contact me and I will put you in touch with someone who can answer your questions –

Find your ward using the SCC ward finder

Privacy Policy

To read our Privacy Policy and GDPR compliance statement click here.