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
This article was written by Patrick Wintour, political editor, for The Guardian on Tuesday 18th February 2014
Iain Duncan Smith’s Department for Work and Pensions is presiding over “a culture of fear” in which jobseekers are set unrealistic targets to find work – or risk their benefits being taken away, leading charities have told an official inquiry.
Hostel residents with limited IT facilities are being directed to apply for 50 jobs per week, while single parents are being told they must apply for full-time jobs to continue receiving jobseeker’s allowance, the charities say in evidence to an official inquiry. On Wednesday, new figures are expected to show a record number of claimants have had cash withheld.
The weight of evidence also supports controversial claims by Vincent Nichols, the leader of the Catholic church in England and Wales, in the week he is due to be made a cardinal by the pope. “Something is going seriously wrong when, in a country as affluent as ours, people are left in that destitute situation and depend solely on the handouts of the charity of food banks,” Nichols said on Tuesday.
The Department for Work and Pensions acknowledged mounting concerns about the increasing use of benefits removal – a process known as sanctioning – by appointing a former Treasury official, Matthew Oakley, to look at how the DWP is operating its tougher regime. His review, due to be published next month, has been criticised for its limited terms of reference, but nevertheless it has been swamped by criticism of how the unemployed and the disabled are being driven off benefits, often due to poor communication, bad administration or unexpected expectations being placed on the vulnerable.
In evidence to the Oakley inquiry, the charities Drugscope and Homeless Link warn that “the current sanctions regime creates a culture of fear of doing or saying the wrong thing. That may in fact lead to further benefit dependency and harming engagement with employment services, as vulnerable clients fear having benefits removed and never being reinstated.”
Crisis, the homeless charity asserts: “People who have been sanctioned are already on very limited incomes and face a significant further reduction, meaning they are left facing decisions between buying food, paying for heating and electricity and paying their rent. Debt is common and many face arrears, eviction and in the worst instances homelessness”.
In its evidence, Gingerbread, which lobbies for the rights of single parents, also warns: “While sanctions may be necessary for a small minority of claimants who deliberately evade their jobseeking responsibilities, the current high levels of sanctions across all [jobseeker’s allowance] claimants reveal a system in crisis and one that is systematically failing single parent jobseekers.” It says single parents are being told they must work full-time.
The National Association of Welfare Rights Advisers says “claimants are being sent on schemes with no discussion about whether they are appropriate to their needs and no opportunity for them to make representations about it . Adequate notification is also not routinely being given”.
It says some claimants have been told: “You need to spend 35 hours per week doing job searches and show evidence of 50 to 100 job searches or job applications per week.”
The evidence acts as a counterpoint to those who suggest welfare claimants are seeking a life on benefits. The government has been sufficiently embarrassed by the allegations that it has conceded it will look at a further inquiry into sanctions once the Oakley review has completed.
The number of sanctions in the year to 30 June 2013 was 860,000, the highest for any 12-month period since statistics began to be published in their present form. The figures due to be published on Wednesday cover the year to September 2013, and are likely to show a further increase in the number of claimants debarred from receiving benefits for as long as three years.
Disabled people are losing access to jobseeker’s allowance at the rate of 14,000 a month, the charities say. In total, the number of them having their benefits sanctioned each month has doubled since the regime was toughened in October 2012.
A spokesman for the DWP said: “The point of the review is to ensure the way we communicate with claimants is as clear and straightforward as possible. It is looking at where a sanction has been issued, the clarity of the information provided to the claimant about their sanction, and the options they then have including applying for hardship payments, and an explanation of the review and appeals process.”
Since 2012, benefit payments can be suspended for a minimum of four weeks and for up to three years where a claimant fails to take sufficient steps to search for work, to prepare themselves for the labour market or where they turn down an offer of employment or leave a job voluntarily.
A survey by Manchester CAB found 40% said had not received a letter from the jobcentre informing them of the benefit sanction, and almost a quarter did not know why they had been sanctioned.
Source – Welfare News Service 18 Feb 2014