It’s not benefit sanctions that get people back to work – it’s respect.
How do you get a person who is homeless back into work? It isn’t by stopping their benefits and leaving them destitute. Instead you must talk to them, identify what holds them back and help them overcome these barriers one at a time.
Crisis has led the way in showing the human cost of the current sanctions regime. We have done so because we’ve seen people who have been made homeless because of sanctions. They’re not alone. We’re now running at a rate of a million benefit sanctions each year.
This is no way to help someone back into work. We do things very differently at Crisis.
Today sees the launch of Employment Fortnight where in centres across the UK homeless people will boost their job prospects by meeting with local employers. This is just a small part of a Crisis service that lifts people from homelessness back into work and a better, independent life.
Everyone has different reasons for ending up homeless. So when someone comes through our doors, the first thing we do is listen to them. Our frontline staff identify the problems that led them on the downward spiral to homelessness. We then match them to the range of services, classes and courses we have on offer, to help them solve their problems one by one.
Here are the words of one Crisis client. He came through our doors after a period of homelessness. Speaking to him about his situation, it was agreed he should attend IT, Literacy, CV building and interview skills classes. We even sorted him out with a suit. He said:
“Crisis is an all-around place – whatever you need in life, they’ll help you… They’re quite hands on when it comes to rebuilding your life from scratch. The vibe is nice, the people are nice…I thought they were just going to scratch on the edge. They actually pull you apart, and then they build you back again. In a good way.”
I’m incredibly proud to say he now has a job and a rented home. Using this holistic approach, we found work for 550 people last year.
Now compare that to the experience of Carlos, whose brave piece in Indy Voices picks up his story as he loses the job he loved as a swimming instructor. It wasn’t long until his benefits were sanctioned. He said:
“I had no money to pay for anything. I was borrowing here and there from friends to get food and pay bills. I thought to myself: ‘I’ve got enough debt as it is – now I owe people I know money’. Those two months were a real low moment. You’re just trying to get your basic human needs: food, water, and somewhere to stay. It’s practically impossible to think about anything else. I wasn’t well – just worried.”
He ended up sleeping on the street, under a motorcycle rain cover. I first met him soon after he had come to Crisis at Christmas. It still makes me angry that a person who so plainly wanted to get on in life could be brought to such a desperate pass.
The situation is not entirely bleak. The Work and Pensions Select Committee has called for a full independent review of benefit sanctions. This cannot come soon enough. If I am called before this review, I will tell the stories of these two men whose lives were sent in opposite directions because of how they were treated at a time of personal crisis.
I will talk about the importance of a system that treats people as individuals rather than statistics, that gives them the tools they need to help themselves back into work rather than takes them all away with cruel benefit sanctions.
I will ask that a new system is built not under threat of punishment, but on a foundation of decency, humanity and respect.