Handcuff protests over benefit sanctions system

Campaigners chained themselves to the Jobcentre in Stockton-on-Tees. Credit: ITV News Tyne Tees

Protesters chained themselves to railings outside a JobCentre on Teesside and a church in Gateshead today.

They claim penalties given to people on benefits who fail to meet government rules are pushing people into poverty.

The demonstrations marked the release in cinemas of award-winning film I, Daniel Blake. Set on Tyneside, the story highlights the impact of benefit sanctions.

But the government insists it's right people should lose of their payments if they don't do enough to find work.

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Diane Benn is 45 and lives in Blaydon. She has a range of conditions, from lung disease to anxiety, which mean she is not able to work.

In the summer, she was sanctioned, after failing to attend a medical, because she had a chest infection.

She is appealing, but more than £100 was taken from her benefits. She has had to rely on a foodbank, and been unable to fix her broken freezer, or buy a new school uniform for her 12-year-old son.

Steve McCall, from Jobcentre Plus Northumberland Tyne and Wear, told us that staff "will make mistakes from time to time, people can voice an appeal."

In March 2015, MPs on the Work and Pensions Committee recommended that there should be a "full independent review to investigate whether benefit sanctions are being applied appropriately, fairly and proportionately."

That review has not yet been commissioned, but the Department for Work and Pensions told us that the number of sanctions handed out has more than halved in a year.

Church leaders in Blaydon led calls for a rethink to the sanctions system.