Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

No Apology for Treatment of Claimants

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

No Apology for Treatment of Claimants

Article excerpt

Byline: Jonathan Walker Political Editor jon.walker@trinitymirror.com

MINISTERS have refused to apologise after MPs from across the North East highlighted the "cruel and inhumane" treatment of benefit claimants in the region.

Officials such as Jobcentre staff had been encouraged to strip claimants of benefits for no good reason, MPs said.

In a Commons debate led by Newcastle Central MP Chi Onwurah, MPs highlighted a series of wrong decisions and abuse of benefit claimants. They included: ? Veterans injured in Afghanistan or Iraq stripped of benefits after they were told they were fit to work ? A Newcastle man stripped of benefits because he was accused of failing to seek work in the days after his father died ? A man in Bishop Auckland constituency who was a collecting a sick daughter from school and was accused of inventing a "fictional child" South Shields MP Emma Lewell-Buck said her constituents had been "humiliated" by job centre staff.

She said: "Constituents of mine have been refused a private room to discuss intimate personal or medial issues ... the general attitude of staff is confrontational and sometimes just downright rude."

Wansbeck MP Ian Lavery said Jobcentre staff provided a valuable service and took their role seriously - but they were under pressure to "sanction" as many people as possible, suspending their benefits on the grounds that they had broken rules or failed to prove they were seeking work. The debate, attended by Labour MPs from across the North East, followed long-running complaints that benefit claimants are being sanctioned for no good reason.

But Work Minister Esther McVey infuriated MPs by refusing to discuss whether the criteria for imposing sanctions were fair, despite repeated requests.

She denied her department deliberately inflames talk of "scroungers", saying: "I have never put forward a story like that and I never would. …

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