Janan Ganesh of the FT talks about the unique moral arrogance of the left. They have too often “impugned the motives of Conservatives”. He says that “the reality of politics in a rich, modern country is that parties are squabbling over marginalia”. He is wrong, and should get out more.
For example, take the issue of benefit sanctions. No doubt he might say that sanctions existed, and indeed the regime was tightened, during the Labour government. But the reality is that something very horrible, and morally shameful, is currently going on. The number of sanctions per claimant remained below 4% from 2000 to 2010. In 2013 it peaked at above 7%, and in 2014 was between 5% and 6%. Behind these statistics are a wealth of examples of where sanctions have been applied for minor infringements, and have ignored excellent reasons like the death of a spouse, or the long que at the jobcentre. Frances Coppola gives these and more examples here.
She points out that Department of Work and Pension (DWP) guidance states “It would be usual for a normal healthy adult to suffer some deterioration in their health if they were without essential items, such as food, clothing, heating and accommodation or sufficient money to buy essential items for a period of two weeks…” Sanctions often operate for 4 weeks or even longer. It is causing people to become homeless, and children to go hungry. This is not “marginalia”.
The current sanctions regime is one of the main causes of the increased use of food banks in the UK. Yet Ganesh instead likes to focus on inaccurate use of foodbank data. The DWP says that the sanctions regime is important in providing incentives to get people back to work. But is there any evidence that it does this? You would think that the department would have produced some evidence by now, although one of the comments on Frances’s post (and yes, we cannot know it is genuine) suggests why we have not. Yet this did not deter the department. They put out on their website (now unsurprisingly withdrawn) quotes and a picture from ‘Sarah’ who had been sanctioned and as a result had been encouraged to produce a CV. The only problem was that Sarah was completely fictitious.
There is widespread talk of jobcentre staff being put under pressure to sanction. The relevant select committee of MPs has asked for an inquiry, but this has been refused. Benefit sanctions are just one of a range of policy mistakes by this department that is causing real harm to the disadvantaged, and will continue to do so. All these problems were quite clear before the election, but the Prime Minister has kept Iain Duncan Smith in post. George Osborne has been happy to feed off the stigmatisation of benefit claimants stoked by the tabloids.
So please, Mr. Ganesh, no more lectures about moral arrogance on the left. Not, at least, until you have recognised what is actually happening to many of those who are unfortunate enough to be claiming benefits administered under this government, and the government’s apparent indifference to that.