Almost 250 jobseekers punished in Cookstown for failing to look for work or missed meetings

Unemployment is falling in Mid Ulster
Unemployment is falling in Mid Ulster

A total of 248 Cookstown jobseekers have been punished for missing meetings or failing to look for work.

The maximum penalty possible – removal of living expenses excluding housing benefit for three years – represents a loss of £11,000.

The figures, which cover April 2012 to January 2015, the latest date for which statistics are available, show that across Northern Ireland 24,500 JSA claimants have been subject to penalties in response to a failure to comply with jobseeker rules.

Sinn Fein MLA Bronwyn McGahan has branded the penalties ‘unacceptable’.

“The penalty of removing benefits for up to three years is draconian to say the least as these are basic human rights and the benefits need to be reinstated immediately.

“This will lead to an increase in child poverty, families splitting up and creating more problems than resolving all in order to make figures look good.

“These sanctions will not help people back to work but in fact hinder the search for work as people would not have the money to attend interviews.”

Charities who work with the jobless claim sanctions have left some people unable to buy food for more than a week, and have led to shoplifting, isolation and physical and mental health conditions.

They also warn that sanctions can also have a devastating impact on claimants’ ability to look for work, as “the horizons of people who have received a sanction dramatically shrink to focus on the immediate problems of finding the next meal”.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) said that only a very small percentage of benefit claimants were sanctioned.

However, charities warn that large numbers of those who are sanctioned go on to face long-term stoppage of their benefits.