Men are far more likely than women to have their benefits stopped for unfair or unjust reasons, a survey by a UK-wide food bank charity strongly suggests.
The Trussell Trust survey, submitted to a recent MPs’ inquiry into benefit sanctions, asked food banks if they had seen people coming to them because they were “sanctioned for seemingly unfair reasons” and if so to give specific examples.
Responses cited twice as many men as women who had been cut off benefits unreasonably, including as a result of missing job centre appointments due the deaths of family members.
Wimbledon food bank told the survey: “Single people are hit the hardest, with no money and housing benefit stopped for 12 weeks, many are being evicted and becoming homeless. A lot of homeless men we see have been put on the streets due to sanctioning.”
‘It has totally broken my spirit’
Renfrewshire Food bank cited nine cases, seven of which were men. They included: “Young man who only completed five searches when it should have been six. His words, ‘It has totally broken my spirit’. Young man with learning difficulties wrote, ‘My money keeps getting stopped for some reason and I don’t know why’.”
A Guardian report on the MPs inquiry, included a top-ten list from the Trussell Trust survey of what the paper described as “capricious, cruel and often absurd” reasons for which people had their benefits cut – eight out of 10 cases referred to were men.
The Guardian also cited further evidence submitted to the inquiry from sources other than the Trussell Trust – three out of four of these examples also referred to male claimants.
Despite this glaring evidence that men are being disproportionately affected, neither the Guardian story nor The Trussell trust survey acknowledged that vulnerable men appear to be being penalised far more harshly than women.
The Trussell Trust initially told insideMAN: “Anecdotally we are seeing an increase of single young men coming to food banks”.
However a spokeswoman then said they were not willing to officially confirm this statement, as the survey had not specifically gathered data on gender. She added that the charity believed that overall there was a 50/50 gender split in people who use food banks.
The apparent lack of interest in examining further whether men are hit hardest by benefit sanctions, despite evidence that clearly suggests they are, follows the same pattern as coverage at this time last year of government figures showing there had been a 37% rise in the number of people sleeping rough on the streets in England since the Coalition came into power.
The news triggered widespread headlines condemning the data as evidence benefit cuts were hitting the poorest and most-vulnerable in society hardest.
However none of the articles mentioned that nearly all of those who sleep rough are men. According to the Combined Homelessness and Information Network (CHAIN), in London just under 90% of rough sleepers are male.
At the time, I contacted the Department of Communities and Local Government (DCLG), the department that released the data, to ask if they had figures on the gendered breakdown of rough sleepers and if not, why not.
They said: “It’s simply a count – the national rough sleeping statistics – there’s no other information required from councils as that would be an extra burden and every extra burden we need to compensate with extra funding.”
If 90% of rough sleepers and eight out of 10 people listed by the Guardian as being hit by “capricious and cruel” benefit sanctions were women, it would be a cause of national outrage and immediate action.
Why is the fact these people are nearly all men something that’s not even worth mentioning at all?
By Dan Bell