A group of churches and charities have called on the UK government to hold an urgent independent review into the benefit sanctions regime.
The group argue that the government has failed to heed the recommendation of the Work and Pensions Select Committee, who called for a full independent review of the benefit sanctions system earlier this year.
Dame Anne Begg, who chaired the Committee’s investigation, said:
“The implementation of the present sanction regime is controversial with the government claiming it is effective in helping people into work while many others say sanctions are causing real distress to families and are actually acting as a barrier to participation.”
She added: “If sanctions work as a deterrent, why are so many people still facing multiple sanctions?
“As there are so many questions about the effects on people who have been sanctioned, it is time the government implemented the recommendation of my Select Committee in the last Parliament to carry out a full, independent review of the whole sanction regime.
“Many believe that sanctions are being applied to the wrong people for often trivial reasons and are the cause of the increased use of foodbanks. Only an independent review can get to the truth of what is actually happening so that government policy can be based on evidence and not seen as merely punitive.”
In a 100 day period last year, 346,256 people who were on Jobseeker’s Allowance and 35,554 people on Employment Support Allowance (ESA) were referred for sanctions. These resulted in 175,177 sanctions for Jobseekers and 11,129 for sick and disabled people claiming ESA.
92,558 were blamed on a bureaucratic error.
The call for a review is supported by the Baptist Union of Great Britain, the Church of Scotland, the Church in Wales, the Methodist Church, the United Reformed Church and by charities Church Action on Poverty, Gingerbread and Mind.
Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith has confirmed that part-time workers could face benefit sanctions under Universal Credit.
IDS told the Work and Pensions Select Committee that trials were being carried out in parts of the North-West of England, on removing benefits from part-time workers who refuse to take on extra hours.
“In work conditionality” within the Universal Credit system could encourage part-time workers and the low-paid to seek additional hours, said Mr Duncan Smith.
However, Labour MP Debbie Abrahams said people were dying as a result of the having their benefits docked, a claim dismissed by Mr Duncan Smith.
Mr Duncan Smith told Debbie Abrahams that the benefit sanctions regime was “helping people focus” on finding work or additional hours, adding “a job doesn’t stay static at 16 hours – you want it to develop”.
Ms Abrahams asked the Work and Pensions Secretary:
“Can you confirm that there is an intention to introduce in-work conditionality with Universal Credit and, if so, what sanctions could be applied, and under what conditions to the 3.5 million people in work on low pay and in receipt of tax credits?”
Iain Duncan Smith replied:
“That is being investigated, as to whether we can now work to in-work sanctions – in other words, conditionality – so people get an opportunity to move up the hours if they can, and if they don’t wish to do that, we will see whether or not that system of conditionality works. We are trialling that.”
Ms Abrahams also accused Duncan Smith of a cover-up after he said no money had been lost during the botched introduction of Universal Credit. The DWP has already been forced to write-off £40 million in failed IT software, with an additional £91 million predicted to be lost over the next few years.
Universal Credit is replacing a number of existing benefits, including Housing benefit and Income Based Jobseeker’s Allowance, and rolling them into one single monthly payment. However, the government’s flagship welfare reform has been beset with delays and costly IT failures.
Up to a million households were originally expected to be in receipt of the new benefit by the end of 2014. But DWP figures show that less than 15,000 households or individuals were on Universal Credit by the end of September – mostly single people. The national rollout is scheduled to be completed by the end of 2018.
Mr Duncan Smith said trials of Universal Credit in the North-West of England had resulted in claimants finding work more quickly or taking on extra hours, leading to “early savings to the Exchequer”.
He added that businesses were more willing to take on people claiming Universal Credit than Jobseeker’s Allowance claimants, because those people could accept additional hours while keeping more of their benefit.
“Normally in a business, a job doesn’t stay static at 16 hours – you want it to develop”, he said.
“Businesses know that many people will not work more than 16 hours because they don’t think it is viable for them to do so because of all the withdrawals.
“What we are beginning to experience in areas of the North-West is they can now work to progress that individual and set training programmes around them, so it is worth investing in that individual to develop their own skills and their own productivity.
“In the North-West, many businesses are now asking to have people on Universal Credit to come and take interviews, because they know they can develop them all the way through.”
Sourc e – Welfare Weekly, 09 Nov 2014
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
Minimum length benefit sanctions are ‘setting people up to fail’ and pushes unemployed people further away from the world of work, figures released by the Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) suggest.
Figures released by the CAB on Tuesday, show that unemployed people who have had their Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) sanctioned under the current system are left ‘distracted from job-hunting as they have to focus on putting food on the table and keeping a roof over their head’.
Benefit sanctions are also pushing people into debt, which in-turn is having a detrimental impact on their health and making it even more difficult for them to spend time looking for a job, the CAB say.
> Who’d have guessed that would happen, eh ?
According to the CAB, of the 100,000 food bank vouchers handed out by the charity last year, sixteen per cent were due to people having their benefits sanctioned.
The CAB has called on the government to implement the ‘more responsive sanctions model’ used in Universal Credit, which the charity claims is ‘more focused on getting claimants back on track with their job-hunting rather than the often more punitive approach of the current system’.
Under the new benefit sanctions system in Universal Credit, Jobcentre staff would be able to use a more ‘proportionate’ approach to sanctioning claimants, rather than the often disproportionate minimum four-week period currently in use. Benefits could be sanctioned for as little as a week under the new system, the CAB say.
> But do benefits need to be sanctioned at all – surely that’s the real question? The current surge in sanctions isn’t because claimants are acting worse than before, its because Jobcentre staff are trying to hit targets, so that they don’t lose their bonuses.
If anything, the surge is because jobcentre staff are acting worse than they used to !
Some of the CAB’s key findings include:
- 1 in 4 Citizens Advice clients with a JSA sanction problem had dependent children
- 1 in 4 identified as being disabled of suffering from a long-term health condition
- 1 in 6 also had a debt problem
- 1 in 10 had issues with rent arrears or threat or reality of homelessness
Citizens Advice Chief Executive, Gillian Guy, said:
“The minimum four week sanction is setting people up to fail and creating a barrier which can stop them from looking for work. Four weeks is a long time to go without money to get by and people are struggling to make ends meet.
“The success rate of sanction appeals reveals a culture of ‘sanction first and ask questions later’. This is not only ineffective and a huge waste of money but also has a devastating effect on thousands of people’s lives.
“People need a system that can take into account their situation, set suitable work search requirements and where necessary apply sanctions at a level that won’t limit their chances of employment. Whilst it is vital that people receiving taxpayers’ support do their utmost to find work, the model needs to work and not make it harder for claimants to find a job.
“To date, Work Programme contractors have been responsible for twice as many sanctions on the people referred to them as they have successfully helped people find work. Combined with Citizens Advice’s latest figures this paints the strongest picture yet that the system is not working as it should.”
Source – Welfare News Service 18 April 2014