Labour would end this Government’s demonisation of benefits claimants – Chi Onwurah MP

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This afternoon I will be leading a debate on the treatment – or more accurately the demonisation – of benefits claimants.

On my website I publish monthly pie charts of the issues constituents raise with me. Benefits is consistently in the top three.

Benefits claimants are by definition going through a tough time; they may have lost a job, have an illness or disability or are in low-paid or part time work, or they are caring for young children or relatives, making it harder to work.

They need our support, our care, concern for and understanding of the challenges they face. As our Shadow Secretary of State Rachel Reeves has said: “Jobcentres, and the HMRC offices that currently administer tax credits, are vital public services that British citizens pay for with their taxes. People who use them have as much right to expect fair and respectful treatment as patients in an NHS hospital, parents dealing with their child’s school, or victims reporting a crime at a police station.”

But it has become increasingly clear to me that that is not what is happening.

I have dealt with casework where the only explanation for the inhumane way in which my constituents were being treated is that the employees of the Department and its agencies had forgotten – or had been told to forget – that benefits claimants were people, human beings with lives, loved ones and feelings.

In the debate I give three examples. I could have given three hundred.

The first a vulnerable constituent on Employment Support Allowance and incapacity allowance. He was being helped by Newcastle Welfare Rights, who told the DWP that after suddenly being found fit to work:

“..he was acutely distressed; he struggled to talk, he was having thoughts of suicide, he had also started drinking alcohol to cope and had struggled to leave the house”

Despite supporting psychological assessments, other evidence, and an attempted suicide, the decision was not reversed and in January 2014 he was found hanged by his neighbour.

The second case an IT worker made unemployed, earnestly applying for every possible vacancy.

But he was sanctioned by the Jobcentre because his work search record was judged inadequate – in the week his father died.

Now think about that for a moment. Is there anyone in this country of whatever political persuasion who does not believe that a son should be given the opportunity to grieve for and bury his father?

Whether or not he is claiming benefits.

Yet the culture that this Government has put in place is such that this is what happens. And whilst Esther McVey may claim it is nothing to do with them, organisational culture is determined by those at the top.

My third example is a constituent sanctioned at the beginning of December for not returning a review form he never received which asked him the same questions he answered when he first signed on. Despite trying to complete the form over the phone, going to the Job Centre, asking for and being promised an emergency payment he spent the whole month including the festive period dependent on handouts from friends and family, unable to afford heating or even to go and see his young daughter at Christmas.

And all the while the Government is paying for adverts on buses saying “Think you know a Newcastle upon Tyne Benefits Cheat? Report them anonymously.”

There are people on benefits who are abusing the system – who take what they can get and consider benefits both a lifestyle and a right.

But that is a very small proportion. It is estimated that 0.7% of welfare spending is lost to fraud in comparison with 1.3% lost to overpayment because of mistakes.

I have yet to see adverts encouraging people to turn in tax evaders, despite the Treasury itself estimating the ‘tax gap’ at £34 bn and others putting it much higher.

The sense that they are being treated as second class citizens, scroungers, cheats, has a terrible impact on the wellbeing and particularly the mental health of claimants.

I have some experience of that.

I was brought up largely on benefits. We were a one parent family. It was very hard for my mother who was crippled with rheumatoid arthritis and also suffered breast cancer, not only because of our poverty but also because of her shame at taking hand outs.

I am very glad she did not have to face the sort of vilification and abuse experienced now, abuse caused in part by a sustained campaign from some politicians on the right.

Contrary to what many of them would imagine, I was brought up with a strong work ethic, and also to believe that the state would provide a robust safety net for those that needed it.

I am not proud that I grew up on benefits. But I am not ashamed either. A Labour Government must and will put an end to this Government’s demonisation of those claiming benefits today.

Author: Chi OnwurahMember of Parliament for Newcastle Central.

The full debate may be read here on Hansard2.30pm, 7 Jan 2015: from Column 112WH.


 Labour MPs have persistently raised the issue of the government and media demonisation of those claiming benefits in Parliamentry debate, challenging serial offenders such as Iain Duncan Smith. Other MPs included are Glenda Jackson, Dame Anne Begg, Anne McGuire, Liam Byrne, John McDonnell and Sheila Gilmore, amongst others.

Rachel Reeves has also pledged to end the benefit sanction targets.

I am pleased that Labour have also pledged to legislate to protect disabled people from hate crime . We need to see an end to the stigmatisation of people who have to rely on lifeline benefits. After all, most people needing support have worked and paid taxes, they ought to be able to claim the support that they have paid for without being punished and scapegoated by the government and media. KSJ


Thanks to Robert Livingstone 


37 thoughts on “Labour would end this Government’s demonisation of benefits claimants – Chi Onwurah MP

  1. for the many hundreds of sick and disabled that have died over the past few years through DWP negligence i do so hope that at some point an inquiry will take place as to what went wrong and that those responsible for those deaths are brought to trial so that the families concerned can have some sort of closure and that this type of negligence never again comes about for all concerned

    for those who wish to keep updated about the untimely deaths of the sick and disabled a facebook page has been set up so that they can all be remembered and can be found here


    1. You can access manuscripts of all parliamentary debates at Since in the blog entry above states Chi Onwurah is leading the debate “This afternoon”, I’d say it will be available from either todays or yesterdays parliamentary debates, available hopefully tomorrow (most recent today is 6th Jan, so suggests a 2 day lag to compile and upload them).


    1. It won’t happen if people abdicate their responsibility and sit back, allowing others to choose who is in office. Vote. Cynicism is an excuse to do nothing.

      Make sure you inform your decision by looking at costed and evidenced policies that will make a difference.

      That’s what I will be doing.


  2. Reblogged this on Beastrabban’s Weblog and commented:
    Chi Onwurah, the Labour MP for Newcastle Central, defends benefit claimants from the vilification and bile heaped on them by the government, and particularly the DWP under Iain Duncan Smith. He gives three examples of claimants, who were unfairly sanctioned by the Jobcentre. One was a disabled man, who was so upset that in the end he took his own life. Another was sanctioned for not looking sufficiently hard for jobs, in the week his father died. This would obviously have put other things on his mind, like grief and the need and desire to give his father a suitable burial. Even in the army you got compassionate leave for such events, but not under Major Duncan Smith (T*sser, RTU). And finally there was another man, who was sanctioned for not filling out a form he didn’t receive. Finally, Mr Onwurah gives his own experience, growing up in a household where his mother was on benefits because of cancer and rheumatoid arthritis. This is a very welcome article, as it shows that some Labour politicos at least are taking seriously the way benefit claimants are victimised and demonised by this vile government of the rich for the rich.


  3. There are thousands of people crying out for justice. I have family who have been victims of this orchestrated vilification. I feel for all those who have suffered under this regime. We can do without cynics who claim “they are all the same” that in itself is a pro Tory Mantra. In my book anyone who uses it does not want change and is a defeatist. There are good honest people out there who are working tirelessly and they are having some success now. The tide of opinion, despite all the distorted polls of the right wing media, has changed and the only poll that counts is on the day of the election. For the sake of all those who have been sacrificed on the false altar of austerity we need this hope of good people with good intentions. It is my belief there are millions out there who are genuinely good.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Reblogged this on amnesiaclinic and commented:
    This demonisation of benefit claimants is appalling. 0.07% for benefit fraud but £34bn of corporate tax evasion???
    And another benefit cheats programme rolled out on the box – such a culture of hate is unacceptable.


  5. I wish I could believe this. However since the same Rachel Reeves one said Labour would be tougher than the Tories on welfare, I am afraid to say I am a sceptic. Labour have refused to own up for introducing the wca and, even though most disabled people have lost all faith in the system, they will not commit to dumping it. There are good Labour MPs out there who have stood up for us, but the front bench is a shambles who are doing little to oppose the Tories.

    I am visually impaired and worked full time for 20 years. I was bullied out of my job and instead am now being bullied by the Job centre. To politicians the only people of worth are in work Their only concern is to get those on benefits back into work. Never mind that they may be too ill to do this, or that a previous bad experience means the prospect of doing so causes extreme stress. Until politicians realise there are other ways to value people then nothing will ever change.


    1. First of all, Labour HAVE said the WCA was flawed, as they undertook a review of their pilot and were aware that there were grave problems with the assessment picking up on ‘fluctuating conditions’ particularly , including mental health problems. However, The tories would not listen to Labour’s concerns, and paid no heed to the review of the WCA, and it was IDS who made that law, not Labour. See: Welfare Wrongs and Human Rights: a dialogue with Anne McGuire –

      IDS also wrote targets into Atos’s contract when it was renewed in 2011. Labour commited ages ago to sacking Atos, and have tabled many debatres in Parliament to defend the rights of disabled people, challenge, oppose, and to raise the fact that people are dying as a consequence of this governments’ policies. I have lobbied Labour MPs regarding disabled people’s rights, and know first hand the hard work that peope like Dame Anne Begg, Anne McGuire, Sheila Gilmore, Debbie Abrahams, John McDonnel and Dennis Skinner, amongst others, have put in on our behalf.

      The front bench DO oppose this government, within a party there is a division of labour – that’s why we have ministers. In debates, those ministers who have knowledge of the topic tend to be delegated to attend. That’s how it works. If you have a look on the Hansard site, you may get an idea of how many debates and committee meetings there actually are in a day!! That’s why the division of Labour is needed.

      We have a government in office that is authoritarian. It does not inform the opposition of its intentions, policy details and does not respect democratic process. The Front bench and back bench of the Labour party do an outstanding job, under the circumstances particularly, of opposing this government, and would suggets you go and read the Hansard record for verification of that.

      I worked until I became too ill to do so too. I’ve been through assessment, appeal and being bullied.

      And I want ths to change for all of us. That’s why I have worked with Labour on the issues facing us, and they have responded positively.

      That’s why they will get my vote.

      The alternative? 5 more years of the Tories, and many of us will not survive that


    2. With regard to your second comment about Reeves , she was misquoted by the media. She actually said she would be ‘tougher on the causes of high welfare spending’. She released a statement following the article that misquoted her, and I’m disgusted how many people trot that one out for political gain. Caroline Lucas, for example.

      I had a lot of respect for Caroline Lucas, until, in the middle of crucial debate about the WCA and the plight of our disabled people, initiated by the WOW campaign, Lucas lost all of my respect when she chose political point scoring instead of constructive debate and said this:

      Caroline Lucas (Brighton, Pavilion, Green); I was disappointed that Rachel Reeves, on taking up her post as shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, used the opportunity of her first interview to say that she would be tougher than the Tories on people on benefits.

      Kate Green (Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions); Stretford and Urmston, Labour)
      My hon. Friend the Member for Leeds West did not say that. She said that she would be tougher on welfare spending, not on people on benefits.

      Sheila Gilmore (Edinburgh East, Labour)
      Does the hon. Lady agree that there are some forms of welfare spending that we should bring down? In my view, one of those is the excessive amount that is paid to private landlords through housing benefit. I am certainly in favour of reducing that form of welfare spending. Is she not?

      Caroline Lucas (Brighton, Pavilion, Green)
      I am very much in favour of that if the hon. Lady wants to put it under the heading of welfare spending…

      Source: Hansard.

      Nonetheless she has continued to misquote Reeves, to my disgust, using negative campaigning and smear tactics akin to the Tories to promote her own party.

      Further info on what Reeves actually said:

      It really matters that we each take some responsibility to check things out and make sure they are true before accepting them, and worse, sharing inaccurate info around, because until people grasp the importance of evidence, thinking critically and intelligent decision making, we won’t change a thing for the better in this society.


  6. Officially there are no benefit sanction targets. The problem is with the sanctions regime which has no procedure of warnings before sanctions and demands that people do almost impossible things in order to avoid being sanctioned. I have no idea how I could spend 35 hours a week actively seeking work if I were unemployed or how I could afford to do so on Jobseeker’s Allowance. How can anybody diligently spend 7 hours every weekday all on their own looking for work? Does that much work even exist for most citizens living around the country, especially in rural areas? I wonder how many people have been sanctioned for failing on that one? I would be sanctioned almost straight away I think.


    1. That’s exactly why they were introduced into the Tory ‘conditionality’ part of the’reforms’. And of course, as the work and pensions committee have recently pointed out, sanctions are being used to massage unemployment figures by the government, to add further insult to injury.The inquiry into sanctions is ongoing. I am hoping that after May, legal proceedings will be taken against this government by a new adminstration. Not least because of the Human Rights abuses of this Tory-led authoritaran regime


    2. This is precisely why I gave up working for dwp last March after 22 years service! I found it impossible to work like that and narrowly escaped a nervous breakdown. 😦


    3. The thing is that according to a FOI request I have read, there is absolutely no guidance rules on the amount of jobseeking a jobseeker must do in a given time period. The rule is set by JCP advisors. The 35 hour weekly jobsearch is not part of the DWP guidelines and there is no requirement on the part of the jobseeker to do 35 hours job search.


  7. I’m so sorry to hear you suffered so much, and it’s easy for us to forget that many staff at the DWP will have also suffered under this govt 😦 But you know what, anon? You are stronger and a better person than those that carry on without any worry and remorse about what they are doing. It’s unfair you have suffered. Bless you x


    1. Interesting that you refuse to allow a post that proves Labour don’t care, Well I’m due to brief MP’s and The Press at Westminster later this month, I will be sure to mention this


      1. I moderate my site, allowing reasonable comments. I don’t have time to address those that are unreasonable. However, this one, I will address. I would think that MPs and the press are not very interested in the comment goings on here on a humble blogsite. I should imagine there are more important issues to discuss. I work lobbying Labour MPs and campaigning for our rights, particularly for the rights of disabled people. I’m disabled myself. You mentioned ‘suicide conditions’ and ‘the most painful condition’, well I have two classified as ‘suicide conditions’ and my illness affects my nerves, too. Both conditions arose because I have lupus.

        I would not endorse a party that did not care. No party has worked as hard as Labour in fighting on our behalf, take a look at the work of Anne Begg, Sheila Gilmore, Debbie Abrahams, Anne McGuire, John McDonnell, Dennis Skinner, Glenda Jackson, Chi Onwurah, and many others. Pay more attention to the Parliamentary debates. All of this tells a different story to the one you tried to tell me. I meet MP’s face to face and communicate with them frequently. My trust is not misplaced.

        So don’t throw a strop when you don’t get your own way on my site and threaten me with ‘I’ll tell’, because that just makes me laugh. Use your time at your briefing to discuss important issues, do something constructive with yours and their time. Make a positive difference.

        All the best.

        Your post did not ‘prove’ that ‘Labour don’t care’ at all.

        With regard to your lengthy and very detailed letter to Andy Burnham about RSD/CRPS, I’ve not posted it here because it isn’t relevant to the post. I understand your campaign, but currently Andy Burnham is spending all of his time working on saving the NHS. If he doesn’t succeed, and the Tories get their way, all of your work will be in vain anyway. And RSD/CRPS sufferers won’t be the only chronically, seriously ill people to lose their right to free health care.


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