A motion on the impact of sanctions on benefit claimants which originated in the Airedale Deanery, and was given backing by the West Yorkshire and the Dales diocesan synod, has been given full national support by General Synod meeting this week in London.
Members from across the country voted unanimously to call on the Government to fully implement the recommendations of the All Party Inquiry report into hunger in the UK – the ‘Feeding Britain’ Report. They also call for a full independent review of the impact of benefit changes.
Leading the debate, the Revd Canon Kathryn Fitzsimons (pictured), Priest in Charge of the Epiphany Gipton, Leeds, said, “We are questioning recent substantial increases in the severity of the sanctioning process and in the frequency of sanctions being applied. Does the sanction fit the crime is a key question. We are concerned about the disproportionality of the measures currently being applied.” She went on the describe changes to the process including late for a job centre interview which leads to an immediate loss of benefit for at least four weeks.
Many others stood to give examples of this in their own parishes.
Camilla (Milly) Holmes (pictured right), who is Lighthouse Pioneer Pastor (in training) gave examples from her work with the Lighthouse, a fresh expression of church working with St George’s Crypt. She was given warm applause as she called on Synod to support the WYAD motion and quoted words from Isaiah 58 – “Remove the chains of oppression and the yoke of injustice, and let the oppressed go free.”
The All Party Inquiry was chaired by the Bishop of Truro who also spoke in the debate and Frank Field MP. Among its recommendations, is that “claimants should be given a ‘Yellow Card’ warning with the chance to provide an explanation for a first offence, and perhaps being given additional requirements to be met, before a sanction is applied.”
The motion was amended and reads, That this Synod
(a) welcome the extensive work already undertaken by the Church of England in partnership with others to evaluate the impact of benefits sanctioning and to identify and promote recommendations for the reform of sanctions policy and practice;
(b) call on Her Majesty's Government to implement the recommendations numbered 58-63 inclusive, made in December 2014 by the All Party Parliamentary Inquiry Report into Hunger in the UK Feeding Britain in respect of the use of sanctions upon benefit claimants;
(c) call on Her Majesty's Government to initiate a full independent review of the impact and efficacy of the sanctions and conditionality regime; and
(d) encourage every part of the Church of England to offer practical and pastoral support to those experiencing benefit sanctions, building on the Church's work with food banks, credit unions and debt advice.
For: 320; Against: 0. 2 abstentions were recorded.