Campaigners gathered outside the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) in London and job centres across the country on Thursday 30 March as part of a national day of action to stop benefit sanctions.
Led by members of Britain's biggest union, Unite, the protesters reiterated their call for the government to stop its 'cruel and ineffective' benefit sanctions regime.
Since the Tories first came into power in May 2010 over 3 million individuals have been referred for a sanction 8 million times, says the union. Over 318,000 people have had their welfare payments cut or stopped without warning in the last year, affecting thousands of children and dependent adults. Sanctions are given for reasons such as missing or being late for appointments with the job centre, or being too sick to 'actively seek work'. As a result, many families have been plunged into poverty, unable to heat their homes or even eat. 'How is this meant to help prepare people for work?' asks Unite.
Liane Groves, head of Unite Community said: "The government really needs to stop the cruel use of benefit sanctions which are destroying lives. The stress they are putting on people, and the effect on their children and wider families, is unacceptable. We should all be shocked.
"The government has shown no evidence that benefit sanctions are working. The opposite is true, when people are in survival mode, fighting to put food on their family's table or stressing how they will pay their bills means their mental and physical heath suffers and finding work is so much harder.
"Rather than punishing the unemployed for not having a job the government should be helping people get jobs. People need a hand up – not a slap down."
According to the Trussell Trust, one of the main providers of food banks, more than 500,000 three day emergency food parcels were distributed to people in crisis in the first half of 2016/17 – over 188,500 to children. The most common reason given for people turning to the food bank charity was problems and delays with their benefits.
Unite is also concerned that if people do not appeal against their first sanction, if they are sanctioned again, they will be sanctioned for longer - leaving people without money for three months or up to three years depending on the level of 'offence'.