Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Guilty of being pregnant, and telling truth at job interview

 WHEN we were young it was considered a feature unique to faraway totalitarian regimes, and unimaginable in Britain, that the state should dictate to couples whether they could have children, or how many.  Laws forbidding abortion, and even contraception, are more common, especially where the authoritarian Church holds sway.

But you can wave goodbye to your individual freedom and rights when you are poor and need to claim benefits (as distinct from the privileges of the rich), particularly if you are female.

Not content with presiding over the numerous deaths of people whose disability benefits were taken away, Tory Minister Ian Duncan Smith is looking for new ways to take away unemployment benefits. One would involve stopping women who had more than two children from registering as available for work. Remind you of anything?

Already under pressure and incentives to meet targets for claimants they take sanctions against, some officials seem to be ahead of the minister in their enthusiasm for making up new rules they can enforce.

Jobseekers are supposed to show evidence that they are making genuine efforts to look for work. But a young woman in Ashton Under Lyne has been punished for trying too hard.

The 19-year old woman was 23 weeks pregnant when she attended an interview for workfare - that is, work for nothing - at a branch of DIY and home improvement merchants B&Q.

Whilst at the interview they noticed that she was pregnant and they said they would put her on light duties. But it seems that later they changed their minds. Whereupon the jobcentre decided to take the  woman off their workfare -and benefits -list, telling her “we are sanctioning you because you told them that you were pregnant”.

This woman had walked some miles to the workfare interview, seeing it as her last chance of not being sanctioned, having previously been accused of not making enough effort to find work. She had been truthful at her interview. Had she not been, she could have been in trouble, and putting herself and her baby at risk.

We all know this government's attitude to Health and Safety regulations, - so much "red tape" to be dispensed with - but in this case a person is being penalised for not putting herself or potential employer in breach of them.

Unemployed workers and supporters have staged a demonstration outside Ashton job centre, and accuse officials there of targeting pregnant women for sanctions. 

I don't know how common this kind of thing is.  It is bad enough people being forced into unpaid work for their benefits, without being deprived for telling the truth when applying for it.

I think this calls for questions in the House from MPs at the very least.
And the PCS union, which I know has had trouble displaying posters in the Job Centres urging courtesy towards claimants, should make further efforts to advise its members, that there are limits to how far they are obliged to go in doing the government's dirty work.



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