A leading homeless charity has warned of a ‘postcode lottery’ in the benefits sanctions regime, exposing a ‘deeply flawed system’.
An independent report reveals how a flawed and punitive benefits sanctions regime is having devastating consequences for homelessness, food poverty and health.
The report – ‘Benefit Sanctions and Homelessness’ – carried out by the Centre for Regional Economic and Social Research at Sheffield Hallam University for the homeless charity Crisis, shows wide variations in how benefit sanctions are imposed across the UK.
Evidence was also uncovered into how large numbers of “unfair and inappropriate” sanctions are being dished out against benefit claimants.
Around half of all benefit sanctions which are later appealed are overturned in favor of the claimant. Jobcentres and Work Programme providers admitted to not always understanding how the rules should be applied, with Work Programme sanctions the most likely to be overturned (19%).
Homeless people are being ‘disproportionately affected by sanctions’, the report says. Many homeless people face obstacles and barriers that make it more difficult to meet requirements placed upon them in order to continue receiving benefits, including mental and physical health problems, a history of domestic violence and poor literacy and IT skills.
According to the report, sanctions can increase the risk of homelessness and leave vulnerable adults unable to feed themselves. Affected people are forced to borrow money from family and friends, leading to family problems and arguments.
Sanctions can also make it harder for unemployed people to find work; travel to interviews, purchase suitable clothes and can “de-motivate people from engaging with the system”.
Jon Sparkes, Chief Executive of Crisis, said:
“The Government has assured us that benefit sanctions are only for those who refuse to play by the rules. But evidence is mounting of a punitive and deeply flawed regime.
“Sanctions are cruel and can leave people at severe risk of homelessness – cold, hungry and utterly destitute. At the same time, people who are already homeless can struggle to meet the conditions of the regime. Many are trying to rebuild their lives, and losing the support of benefits can be disastrous.
“This isn’t helping people into work. It’s kicking them when they’re down.
“We want our next Government to commit to an urgent, wide-ranging review looking at the appropriateness and effectiveness of sanctions, especially for people at risk of or experiencing homelessness.”
Report author, Dr Kesia Reeve of Sheffield Hallam University said:
“This evidence review raises serious questions about the appropriateness, effectiveness, and consequences of benefit sanctions, particularly for homeless people.
“The evidence at present is limited, but points clearly to a system that is more punitive than it is supportive and that fails to take into account the barriers homeless people face.
“The scale and magnitude of sanctions is startling, as is the wide variation found across the country.
“Over the coming year we will be building a robust evidence base, so that informed debate can take place about the appropriateness and effectiveness of welfare conditionality and benefit sanctions in the context of homelessness.”
Source – Welfare Weekly, 10 Mar 2015
Research shows the employment rate in coalfield areas is lower than elsewhere, with fewer jobs per people, more than 25 years after the pit closures of the 1980s.
More people in those areas also report long-term health problems and more claim out-of-work benefits.
Now, an MP in the region has claimed the coalfields “haven’t recovered from the devastation of the ideological attacks of the eighties and nineties” and blamed “recent government policies” for making matters worse.
Dave Anderson, Labour MP for Blaydon joined a body set up to regenerate Britain’s coalfields in calling on the government to invest in former pit areas.
Yet Conservative councillor David Bawn defended the government, insisting employment in the region overall is actually on the up.
The ‘State of the Coalfields’ report was commissioned by the Coalfields Regeneration Trust and carried out by the Centre for Regional Economic and Social Research at Sheffield Hallam University.
It found the employment rate in the largest UK coalfields is between 2% and 7% lower than the average for England and Wales, and between 5% and 10% lower than the South East.
There are only 50 jobs for every 100 adults of working age in the coalfields, where more than 5.5 million people are said to live, significantly lower than the national average of 67%.
It also claims 11.7% of people living in the coalfields report long-term health problems compared to 8.6% nationally. Some 8.4% of adults claim incapacity benefit, 2.2% higher than the national average and almost double the South East England average.
The report also claims that 14% of adults in the coalfields are on out-of-work benefits, 4% higher than the national average.
Mr Anderson, chairman of the Coalfield Communities All-Party Parliamentary Group, said: “This report confirms what those of us who still live in the coalfields know only too well, that as always it’s the people at the sharp end of society who get hit the hardest in times of austerity.
“The coalfields haven’t recovered from the devastation of the ideological attacks of the eighties and nineties and this report shows that recent government policies have only made matters worse.
“Now more than ever we have to champion the work of the Coalfields Regeneration Trust and demand that it is properly funded on a sustainable basis.”
Chairman of the regeneration trust Peter McNestry added: “We have come a long way in the last 15 years but the recession had a disproportionate effect on the people living and working in the coalfields, which means they continue to need our support, guidance and funding.
“The coalfields simply want the opportunity to get back on their feet. These towns and villages could thrive and make a positive contribution to the country if we give them the chance.”
Yet Conservative Mr Bawn, a Northumberland County Councillor for Morpeth, said some of the data is out of date and “the periods quoted vary between 2011 to 2013 and therefore make meaningful comparisons difficult.”
He added: “However, if you refer to the lastest figures released by the Office for National Statistics showing the figures up to April this year you will notice that employment in the North East has increased by 1.5% and is one of the largest increases in the country just behind the South West on 1.6%.
“We are not out of the woods yet, but the Government’s long term plan is working. The economic indicators are getting better all the time, and the main thing that could derail our recovery is the prospect of Ed Milliband in Downing Street.”
Source – Newcastle Journal, 29 July 2014
North-East coalfield communities continue to be blighted by deprivation, ill health and unemployment, an independent report has found.
The State of the Coalfields study paints a grim picture for the 599,000 people who live in County Durham’s former pit towns and villages.
The report noted that 8.6 per cent of residents in the communities had bad or very bad health, compared to a national average of 5.6 per cent.
The percentage of people who claimed disability living allowance was also higher in these areas – 8.2 per cent compared to 5.4 per cent across Britain.
The report, carried out by Centre for Regional Economic and Social Research at Sheffield Hallam University and commissioned by the Coalfields Regeneration Trust, found there were fewer jobs in all 12 mining areas examined, including those in County Durham.
Figures showed there were just 48 jobs for every 100 working age residents in the county’s mining areas in 2012. The national average is 67.
The communities’ employment rate of 71 per cent was below the England and Wales average of 76 per cent, while the number of people claiming unemployment benefits was 15.8 per cent, compared to a national average of 10.9 per cent.
“The consequences are still all too visible in statistics on jobs, unemployment, benefits and ill health. The coalfields communities are seriously adrift of the national average.
“The job losses of the 1980s and 90s still cast a very long shadow.”
Peter McNestry, chair of the Coalfields Regeneration Trust, said the tough reality for coalfields residents was that these problems would not go away overnight.
He added: “We have worked for 15 years to support these communities and to provide them with access to the resources, practical advice and funding that they need to help themselves.
“We have come some way to improving the situation in the coalfields but this report proves there is still a great deal of work to be done.“
The report concluded that there was a compelling case for continued support and access to funding for coalfield communities.
It added that regeneration did work, noting that there was substantial growth in employment in other sectors of the coalfield economy, at least up to the start of the recession in 2008.
Source – Northern Echo, 19 June 2014