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The Right to Silence

Volume 556: debated on Monday 7 January 2013

The Petition of Mr Martin Burke of Elizabeth Regina Love in Manchester,

Declares that if a constituent visits their Member of Parliament at the House of Commons by appointment, and that in the meantime the Department of Work and Pensions arranges a meeting at a Jobcentre which the constituent is required to but does not attend, and the constituent does not give a full explanation, then their benefits will be stopped (at least 2 instances).

Further declares that benefits are stopped with no regard to the means to buy food.

Further declares that civil servants are fully aware of the health consequences and that it threatens people’s lives and are acting to cause harm.

Further declares that as they understand the consequences it is done with the intent to cause harm, injury that may kill.

Further declares that those listed in Early Day Motion 454 Fatalities in Afghanistan (No. 11) and countless others in previous conflicts including the Second World War and the First World War gave their lives so that people would not be treated this way. Declares that this officer is asking that it be stopped.

Further declares that the following are participant members of the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP): Phil Allen, Mike Baker, Sarah Britton, Jim Crook, Stuart Erskine, John Finn, Ros Flatters, Lynn Gandy, Heather Hayes, Richard Heaton, Steve Hopwood, Mark Inman, Mary Lengden, Leigh Lewis, Phil Lowthian, Wendy Mayer, John Milligan, Paul Mooney, Sarah Morgan, Sarah Ryan, Adam Sharples, Sue Owen, Darra Singh, Gurbux Singh, Mike Smith, Nicola [Surname not given], Dorothy Stafford, Wendy Stockton, Jackie Wall, and at least three others names not given.

Further declares that questioning by civil servants in job centres is conducted under conditions of deliberate stress; the use of shouting, with members of the public unknown to the interviewee sat just behind; numerous interviews at irregular intervals over a long period of time; prolongation of the duration of meetings (“as long as it takes”).

Further declares that other small stresses are designed to have a cumulative effect: staff entering personal space; uncomfortable chairs; unable to sit under the desk fully; sitting with the back to a busy room looking either at the interviewer directly or the wall; conversation interruptions; the use of two interviewers and different interviewers; forced to sit close next to and face to face opposite strangers in the waiting areas; deliberately keeping people waiting; disclosure of personal information in public; the giving of wrong and misleading information; unreasonableness (“I ask the questions”); telephone calls to “Decision Makers”; deliberate delay in replying to correspondence.

Further declares that these are under the general threat of loss of benefit when there is little money for food, nor money for heating in winter, and that these actions are designed to condition a person into signing one-sided contracts.

Further declares that the life-threatening health consequences of stress are known.

Further declares that the interviewees do not consent to this treatment.

Further declares that civil servants who do this are skilled and experienced, trained and managed, enthusiastic, enjoy what they do and work as a team.

Notes that the restriction of access to and the denial of food was a tactic used in the Malayan counterinsurgency.

Further notes that for adults to use starvation as a weapon against children is a criminal offence.

Declares that the Petitioner is fortunate that he can read and write.

The Petitioner notes that the House of Commons asks that requests made in a Petition to the House be addressed to the “Government”, however a distinction has to be drawn between elected Members of the House of Commons and civil servants.

The Petitioner asks the House of Commons to make a law so that when a constituent has any business with their elected Member of Parliament they are given explicitly the right to silence without punishment when questioned by civil servants;

Further asks that the mistreatment voters are being subjected to by civil servants described above, and more, be stopped;

Further asks that members of the House of Commons ensure that the people, who include their constituents, are always fed properly.

The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons consider the matter of the Right to Silence and that were the questions put the House consent to what is asked in this Mr. Burke’s 19th petition first posted to the House on 18 October 2012, and formalised on 29 November 2012.

And the Petitioners remain, etc.—[Presented by Sir Gerald Kaufman, Official Report, 4 December 2012; Vol. 554, c. 7P.]


Observations from the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, received 2 December 2012:

The Government believe that—for those benefit claimants who are able to—work is always the best option. Many people play a full and active role in the labour market, and there is evidence that work is good for people’s physical and mental wellbeing. In line with this many benefit claimants are, in return for financial support, expected to comply with reasonable requirements designed to help them move into work as quickly as possible.

Jobseekers Allowance (JSA) claimants, in particular, must be available for and actively seeking work in order to be eligible for the benefit. JSA claimants must also meet other mandatory requirements—including engagement with Jobcentre advisers in interviews. All such requirements are intended to be beneficial, helping the claimant move into or towards work. Interviews, for example, can be used to: check compliance with requirements—ensuring claimants are doing all that is necessary to find work; identify a claimants barriers to work; identify the relevant support available to help claimants address those barriers; and to make referrals to the help available locally.

Where there is a failure to comply—without good reason—with any mandatory requirement or condition of entitlement then legislation requires Jobcentre staff to apply sanctions or disentitle the claimant.

Sanctions play an important role in encouraging claimants to comply with requirements to help them move into or prepare for work. Research suggests that 40% of claimants say they are more likely to look for work due to the existence of sanctions. Of those who are sanctioned the vast majority receive just one sanction during their claim and most say they would not repeat the behaviour which led them to being sanctioned.

In reaching a decision to impose a sanction, impartial decision makers will consider all relevant information from both the adviser and the claimant to assess whether the claimant had good reason for not complying. This decision is subject to formal appeal rights to help ensure we get it right. Claimants may appeal to the First Tier Tribunal if they are not satisfied with any decision to reduce or stop their benefits using a sanction or disentitlement.

Outside of consideration of good reason, legislation does not allow Jobcentre staff discretion to waive or vary a sanction to reflect the wider circumstances of the claimant, including any health implications. However, once sanctioned claimants can apply for hardship payments which does consider these issues. If claimants are eligible for hardship payments they will normally receive 60% of their JSA personal entitlement allowance for the period of the sanction.

Jobcentre staff are trained in the skills required to support a range of claimants and to respect their individual needs. This approach ensures they are skilled to deal with a diverse set of circumstances, whilst treating everyone as individuals. Jobcentre Advisers, in particular, have access to a comprehensive training programme which focuses on raising awareness of the individual’s personal circumstances, and also recognises that those circumstances can affect individuals in different ways.

The Department’s service delivery standards are set out in the DWP Customer Charter. This is based on what claimants said were the most important elements of customer service: Right Treatment, Right Result, On Time and Easy Access. The Department is committed to giving customers the right information, making it clear what they can expect from the Department. In return, claimants are asked to tell staff if their personal circumstances change, keep any appointment they have with the Department (or advise as soon as possible if they cannot), treat staff with courtesy, and advise if they need to be communicated with in a different way. More information about the DWP Customer Charter is available at: