The plight of people having their benefits withdrawn because of sanctions from the DWP is causing concern across the borough. Here one Wigan man who has received no money for around seven months talks of the devastating effect on his life.
Sean Green has spent days at a time without electricity and relies on foodbank parcels and hot meals cooked by a neighbour after his Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) was cut.
In this day and age I just can’t believe it’s like this for people on social security.Neighbour Kevin Snalam
Mr Green, of Heyford Road, Marsh Green, says he was called to do fitness-for-work tests by the Jobcentre but claims he stopped going due to receiving little help from staff and having poor computer skills.
A neighbour and friend of the 49-year-old hit out at the benefits system, saying Mr Green suffers from severe learning difficulties and it should be obvious to the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) that he is incapable of full-time employment.
He has also received support from a local ward councillor and Wigan MP Lisa Nandy but the DWP has strongly defended its decisions to sanction him, saying Mr Green simply stopped attending meetings and engaging.
The DWP said his situation could be sorted out by simply going to the Jobcentre and speaking to staff and he would also be entitled to receive hardship payments.
Mr Green moved into his current flat to live with his mother due to her deteriorating health but his life went downhill following her death.
He said: “About eight months ago I was asked to do this course and that’s when all the problems started.
“They force you onto these courses to keep your money. I couldn’t do it because it was on computer and I’ve no skills but they didn’t listen and weren’t helping me.
“I got fed up with it, stopped going and I got my money sanctioned for not attending. They just keep putting me on sanctions and it’s getting ridiculous. I just can’t carry on, it’s getting too much.”
Neighbour Kevin Snalam spoke angrily about the way Mr Green has been treated and said he and his wife have been ensuring he gets enough to eat.
Mr Snalam, 68, said: “He’s not fit for work, you realise that as soon as you see him. I’ve been trying to get that over to the people in charge who aren’t helping him.
“He just spends all day in the bedroom, he doesn’t go out as often as he should. He’s genuinely in trouble at the moment.
“I don’t know how he’s actually surviving mentally with everything that’s going on.
“If it wasn’t for the food parcels he would have starved. Whenever my wife and I are making food for tea we make practically double for him, and anything not eaten is brought down to Sean hot because he has no electricity and can’t cook anything.
“In this day and age I just can’t believe it’s like this for people on social security.”
Mr Green says he is now trying to switch to Universal Credit but the DWP said it could find no record of an application.
Mr Green’s case has also come to the attention of ward representative Coun Jeanette Prescott, who has been working with a foodbank run by a local church to support him.
Coun Prescott said: “We got involved to sort out his rental problems. We’re very concerned about him.
“They seem to be stopping money for the least little reason. We’re a country that has got money and you see our own people like this. They shouldn’t have to be put through this, it’s disgusting.”
However, the DWP has robustly defended its handling of Mr Green’s case, saying sanctions are a necessary part of the system and they are only used in a small percentage of cases.
The department also said Mr Green could have received money throughout the seven months on hardship grounds, but had failed to sign on or answer phone calls made to his home.
A DWP spokesman said: “Mr Green is not receiving benefit because he has failed to sign on at the Jobcentre, as requested, to declare that he is actively looking for work.”