Benefits sanctions hit 401 jobseekers

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A total of 405 Dungannon 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 picture is just as grim in neighbouring towns, with Cookstown jobcentre hitting a total of 248 claimants with the sanctions, while Magherafelt jobcentre is earning a reputation as operating one of the harshest crackdowns in Northern Ireland, punishing 440 claimants.

SDLP Councillor Malachy Quinn has warned that desperate people were being punished.

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.

“The aim of welfare should be to protect the most vulnerable – those least able to work for a whole variety of reasons – and to provide a safety net for those who find themselves in a difficult situation. It seems to me that many, especially those behind the Tory reform agenda, are fixated with punishing those in receipt of welfare payments.”