MP sparks benefits furore

Mark Spencer MP.
Mark Spencer MP.

Hucknall MP Mark Spencer’s comments about a jobseeker with learning difficulties, who was left without food or electricity after he was four minutes late for a Jobcentre interview, have sparked a backlash from constituents.

The remarks were made during a debate on poverty in Britain on Wednesday 4th February in Parliament after Labour MP Lisa Nandy, the shadow civil society minister, told of a vulnerable man from Wigan who suffered when his benefits were stopped under the controversial sanctions regime.

Mr Spencer said that people like him needed to learn ‘the discipline of timekeeping’, and suggested the education system needed to improve to cure the constituent’s learning difficulties.

He added: “I hope that the Hon. Lady appreciates that people who work very hard, and who might be earning very small amounts from working 50 hours a week, have to turn up to work on time. If they are late for their employment, they might be sanctioned by their employer.”

Hucknall folk took to Facebook to vent their anger, and agreement, after the story spread as far as the US political publication The Huffington Post.

Andy Coupe said: “If he had any respect he would resign from his office immediately.”

Kerry Dawson said: “As a tax payer I think the sanctions are an inhumane way of dealing with the unemployed, sick, disabled and most vulnerable.”

Speaking afterwards, Mr Spencer said: “They have twisted what I’ve said. I said that the normal people doing normal jobs, if they turn up late they would get their wages docked, and I stand by that. When it comes to people with learning disabilities, I think we should be helping them into work.”

Critics of the sanctions system, under which jobseekers can automatically lose their benefits for low-level offences like missing an interview with their Jobcentre adviser, have warned it drives people to rely on food banks to survive.