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 Thursday 8th January 2015
Pleas to the government to suspend its benefit sanctions regime pending a fundamental review of its impact – especially on the mentally ill and disabled – were made at the first session of a broad inquiry by the Department of Work and Pensions Select Committee.
In a two-and-half hour session involving academics, food banks administrators, disabled groups and employment service professionals, the select committee repeatedly heard the sanctions regime had changed over the last two years, creating a punitive culture of fear – especially amongst the disabled.
Mathew Oakley, the independent reviewer for sanctions appointed by the DWP did not join in their fiercest criticism of the system but said it would be wise for the government to undertake a general stock-take of the system in view of the extent to which it has changed over the past two parliaments.
> Matthew Oakley is the guy who in 2011 was behind a Policy Exchange thinktank report titled: Something For Nothing : Reinstating Conditionality For Jobseekers, which called for a new points based system for Jobseekers Allowance that recognises different ‘job-search’ activities that claimants are required to carry out each week.
‘Attending a job interview’, which is currently not a recognised job seeking activity, would earn a greater number of points than ‘putting together a CV’ or ‘seeking information about a job’.
Claimants would have to reach a specific number of points each week to receive their benefits. If they failed to reach the minimum target benefits would be withheld.
Or sanctioned in other words. So no prizes for guessing which side of the fence he’s on…
He was one of many witnesses that said the government lacked systematic information on what happened to jobseeker’s allowance claimants if they are sanctioned including whether they went into work, the black economy or instead disengaged, leading to the growing gap between the number unemployed and the numbers claiming JSA.
Dr David Webster, visiting professor of Glasgow University, claimed the system had a gradually parallel secret penal system – a view dismissed by one Tory committee member as ‘completely absurd and bizarre’. Webster said the DWP may now be saving as much as £275m a year due to claimants being stopped.
Tony Wilson, the Centre for Social and Economic Inclusion, said sanctions “are running so far ahead of what works we should suspend the applications of sanctions unless we have a much clearer idea of what works and the impact of sanctions”.
Paul Farmer, the chief executive officer of mental health charity Mind said sanctions amongst those on employment support allowance has risen from 1,700 a month to 4,800 a month, adding there had been a disproportionate impact on people on mental health.
He claimed 60% of those on ESA have a mental health problem, yet in only 8% of cases were GPs being contacted as required in guidance to seek their views on the pressing ahead with sanctions.
Chris Mould, the chairman of the Trussell Trust, one of the chief organisers of food banks in the UK, said there had been a radical change in the way very disproportionate decisions were being taken since the latter part of 2012 , adding it was clear some job centres were being more punitive than others. He said in too many cases it takes too long for a claimant to secure redress if they have had their benefit withdrawn.
Kirsty McHugh, the chief executive of Employment Related Services Association, the representative body for the employment support sector, also called for an overhaul including the introduction of an “early warning” system which could be used at first offence rather than imposing a sanction. She added frontline employment providers of the work programme should be given more discretion about when they should report jobseekers to Jobcentre Plus for potential sanctioning.
She also called for greater clarity across the system about which jobseekers are classed as “vulnerable” and should be exempt from sanctions.
McHugh said “For a minority of people, receiving a sanction can be the wake up call they need to help them move into work. However, for the vast majority of jobseekers, sanctions are more likely to hinder their journey into employment.”
> Yeah… that’s what we’ve been telling you for the past few years. So nice you’re catching up, but for some people its all too late.
Source – Welfare Weekly, 08 Jan 2015