New figures show that 850,000 people on jobseekers allowance have been 'sanctioned' - that is, had benefit docked for 13 weeks or more in the year to June 2013 - because they were not trying hard enough to find work.
The minister responsible, former daytime TV presenter Esther McVey, says the clue to why this is happening is in the name of the allowance - 'jobseekers'. You are paid, she said, only if you are doing all you can to get a job.
This is an interesting effect of changing the name of a benefit. Many years ago, this payment was called 'unemployment benefit' and it was part of a social security safety net that ensured that people who had lost their job didn't go without food, utilities and housing. It was not a payment made as a reward for seeking work but a payment from a society that believed it had a responsibility to those unfortunate enough to be without work. The system offered support and encouragement to those without work to find new gainful employment while assisting with their essential bills.
Sadly the name change - made many years ago - indicates a change in our understanding of society's obligation to those struggling with the circumstances in which they find themselves. And it is one of the factors that accounts for the fact that 500,000 people in our land are dependent on food banks to feed themselves and their families.