This article was written by Patrick Wintour, political editor, for The Guardian on Thursday 23rd October 2014.
An inquiry into how the benefit sanctions regime is administered is to be mounted by the Department for Work and Pensions select committee.
The Commons all-party committee has already looked at the issue during other inquiries, and the DWP has held internal and external reviews specifically into how the sanctions regime is communicated on the Work Programme.
The new select committee inquiry, likely to be completed before the general election, follows the death of an ex-soldier after his jobseeker’s allowance was stopped.
More than 211,000 people signed a Change.org petition started by Gill Thompson after her diabetic brother, David Clapson, 59, was found dead in his home.
Thompson’s three-month campaign called for an independent inquiry into benefit sanctions – when money is withheld from claimants if they fail to meet terms agreed.
Clapson, of Stevenage, Hertfordshire, who worked for 29 years, had his £71.70 weekly allowance stopped and died three weeks later. When his body was found by a friend, his electricity card was out of credit, meaning that the fridge where he kept the insulin on which his life depended had not been working.
There is intense controversy over whether jobcentres are asked to work to targets for the number of claimants sanctioned each month. The DWP acknowledges that statistics on sanctions are collated centrally and that managers can be contacted if their performance is out of line with other jobcentres. But the DWP says this is a matter of good management, and no league tables are compiled or targets set.
“It’s wasn’t just for David. Nothing can replace him, but the one thing I thought I could do was to make sure this doesn’t happen to anyone else. I’m not normally a campaigner and David wasn’t someone who liked being made a fuss of, but sometimes in life there are certain things you have to do – and starting this petition was one of them.“
The issue is one that all frontbenches are reluctant to take up, partly because public opinion is thought to be hostile to so-called “benefit scroungers”.
Source – Welfare Weekly, 24 Oct 2014