Tagged: sanctions regime

Benefit Sanctions Regime Must Be Changed – Churches

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.

Full story :  http://northstar.boards.net/thread/171/benefit-sanctions-regime-changed-churches

bannerfans_15660331

Advertisements

Benefit Sanctions ‘Postcode Lottery’ Exposes A ‘Deeply Flawed System’, Says Charity

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.

Benefit Sanctions Hotspots. Source: Crisis.

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

http://www.welfareweekly.com/benefit-sanctions-postcode-lottery-exposes-a-deeply-flawed-system-says-charity/

As a jobcentre adviser, I got ‘brownie points’ for cruelty

Former jobcentre adviser Angela Neville has written a play to expose the harsh reality of the benefits sanctions regime.

Angela Neville, 48, is describing events she witnessed as a special adviser in a jobcentre that prompted her to write a play about her experiences.

“We were given lists of customers to call immediately and get them on to the Work Programme,” she recalls.

“I said, ‘I’m sorry this can’t happen, this man is in hospital.’ I was told [by my boss]: ‘No, you’ve got to phone him and you’ve got to put this to him and he may be sanctioned.’ I said I’m not doing it.”

Neville worked as an adviser in Braintree jobcentre, Essex, for four years and has written a play with two collaborators, her friends Angela Howard and Jackie Howard, both of whom have helped advocate for unemployed people who were threatened with benefit sanctions by jobcentre staff.

The title of the play, Can This be England? is an allusion to the disbelief that she and the others feel at how people on benefits are being treated, she says. And she unashamedly describes the play, in which she also acts, as a “dramatic consciousness-raising exercise”.

Can This be England? deals with the quagmire that awaits people caught in the welfare system. Scenes are set in jobcentres and in characters’ homes addressing some of what Neville calls the “everyday absurdity” of what occurs, such as when people with disabilities and fluctuating health conditions are wrongly declared “fit for work” inflicting additional suffering in the process. It also examines the dilemmas faced by staff in jobcentres, many of whom Neville believes feel stripped of any power to do good and are crumbling under the strain as managers enforce new rules.

Full story in the Guardian

Source –  Benefits & Work,  03 Feb 2015

http://www.benefitsandwork.co.uk/news/3006-as-a-jobcentre-adviser-i-got-brownie-points-for-cruelty

Government Urged To Suspend Benefit Sanctions Regime

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

http://www.welfareweekly.com/government-urged-suspend-benefit-sanctions-regime/

ESA claimants subject to massive increase in sanctions

Employment and support allowance (ESA) claimants in the work-related activity group (WRAG) are being subjected to a massively increased sanctions regime that deliberately targets the most vulnerable. Sanctions, primarily aimed at claimants on the work programme who have mental health conditions or learning difficulties, have quadrupled in the course of a year, even though referrals to the programme have fallen by 43%.

The number of sanctions rose from 1,102 a month in December 2012 to 4,789 a month in December 2013, the most recent date figures are available for.

The vast majority of sanctions are imposed for failing to participate in work-related activity whilst on the work programme, which thousands of ESA claimants are forced to join every month in spite of overwhelming evidence that it does not improve their chances of getting a job.

The massive rise in sanctions, however, cannot be explained by a sudden huge surge in the number of claimants in the WRAG.

In fact, the number of claimants in the WRAG increased by just 21% between November 2012 to November 2013, from 460,160 to 558,960.

Indeed, between August and November 2013 the number of claimants in the WRAG actually fell slightly, from 562,620 to 558,960. Yet the number of claimants sanctioned in this period shot up by a staggering 75% from 2,193 to 3,837.

Nor can the rise in sanctions be explained by a corresponding increase in the numbers of ESA claimants being forced onto the work programme.

In fact, the rate at which ESA claimants get pushed onto the work programme has fallen dramatically over the same period. 8,290 claimant were put onto the work programme in December 2012. This fell to just 4,700 in December 2013, a drop of 43%.

Yet sanctions increased fourfold.

And the main targets of those sanctions are claimants with mental health conditions or learning difficulties. Back in April we pointed out that the proportion of this group receiving a sanction had risen from 35% of sanctioned claimants in 2009 to a massive 58% by June 2013.

That figure has now increased again to 62% in December 2013, even though claimants with these conditions make up just 50% of the work-related activity group.

Also back in April the DWP told us:

“It’s only right that people should do everything they can to move off benefits and into work if they are able. Sanctions are only used as a last resort and we have robust procedures in place to protect vulnerable people, with a number of safeguards built into the system.

Yet many people will wonder, if sanctions are only being used as a last resort, what possible explanation there can be for the sudden massive increase in the number being handed out?

And if safeguards are built into the system, why are claimants with mental health conditions increasingly over-represented on the roster of sanctioned individuals?

The DWP also told us in April:

“Everyone has the right to appeal a sanction decision if they disagree with it.”

Which is entirely true. But a Citizens Advice Scotland report on sanctions released yesterday reveals that “many people who are hit by a sanction are not told the reason for it, or how to appeal against it”.

The DWP have good reason to keep people in the dark about their appeal rights. According to the ‘Fulfilling potential? ESA and the fate of the work-related activity group’ report released last month by Mind, tribunals now uphold almost nine out of ten ESA and JSA sanctions appeals.

Such a huge proportion of overturned decisions is ample proof of the savagery of the sanctions regime. But for many people, especially vulnerable claimants suddenly struggling to survive on drastically reduced benefits and no longer able to get legal aid for help with tribunals, coping with the complex new appeal system is an impossibility.

According to the Mind report, written by Catherine Hale, – herself an ESA claimant:

“ . . . findings suggest that the regime of conditionality and sanctions has left participants in the WRAG fearful , demoralised and further away from achieving their work-related goals or participating in society than when they started.”

The report also found that in 87% of cases of claimants failing to participate in a mandatory work-related activity, the reason was related to their health condition, including 19% who had missed an activity because of a medical appointment.

Such cynical targeting of vulnerable claimants is clearly counter-productive in terms of moving them off benefits and into work.

But there is one very likely explanation for the increasing use of sanctions.

Leaked documents obtained by the BBC last month revealed that the DWP expect the cost of ESA to rise by almost £13bn by 2018/19. The documents warn that the increase is “one of the largest fiscal risks currently facing the government” and could cause it to breach its self-imposed benefits cap.

One of the documents also warns that, in terms of cutting costs, there is “not much low-hanging fruit left“.

ESA claimants with mental health conditions are, however, one remaining low-hanging fruit that IDS and his increasingly vicious and shambolic department are determined to pluck as heavily and as quickly as they possibly can.

Source –   Benefits & Work,  01 July 2014

http://www.benefitsandwork.co.uk/news/2829-esa-claimants-subject-to-massive-increase-in-sanctions

‘Benefit sanctions can lead to a spiral of decline and potentially destitution’, says Welfare Reform Committee

Benefit sanctions can lead to a spiral of decline and potentially destitution, often getting in the way of people getting back to work, according to the Scottish Parliament’s Welfare Reform Committee.

In its report Interim Report on the New Benefit Sanctions Regime: Tough Love or Tough Luck?, the committee refers to a climate of fear around jobcentres rather than one that encourages people to engage with them and find their way back to work.

Evidence presented showed that the loss of income that sanctions can lead to is now twice the maximum that can be imposed in fines by the courts.

The report identifies a number of weaknesses in the current system –

  • a consistent failure to notify people that they are being sanctioned and why;
  • a lack of flexibility and misapplication of sanctions reducing the likelihood of people finding work;
  • a failure to appreciate that many people on benefits do not have the necessary IT skills at day one to utilise the DWP’s Universal Jobmatch facility or other IT technology;
  • a failure to make those sanctioned aware of the availability of hardship payments;
  • the consistent triggering of a stop in housing benefit as a result of a sanction, which should not happen and can lead to significant debt being incurred even for a minor sanction;
  • the lack of a deadline for decision-making on DWP reconsiderations leading to delays in redressing wrong decisions; and
  • the shunting of the costs of dealing with sanctioned claimants onto other agencies: local authorities, health board, third sector agencies etc.

Noting that four in ten decisions to apply a sanction are overturned, the report calls for a review of the current regime and makes several recommendations for change.

Commenting on the report, Committee Convener Michael McMahon said:

“The system is so broken that many people do not know why they have been sanctioned, which totally undermines the DWP assertion that sanctions ‘teach’ people a lesson.

“How many of us could manage if we did not get paid one week, without any notice or often explanation?

“This demonstrates once again the enormous gulf between reality and DWP thinking.

Interim Report on the New Benefit Sanctions Regime: Tough Love or Tough Luck? is available from scottish.parliament.uk

Source –  Benefits & Work,  12 June 2014

http://www.benefitsandwork.co.uk/news/2800-benefit-sanctions-can-lead-to-a-spiral-of-decline-and-potentially-destitution-says-welfare-reform-committee

Benefit Sanctions Pushing Unemployed Further Away From The World Of Work

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 ?

 The charity claims to have spent over £7 million in supporting their clients in appealing JSA sanctions decisions at tribunals and have witnessed a sixty per cent increase in problems caused by the tough new benefit sanctions regime, which was introduced by the coalition government in October 2012.

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

http://welfarenewsservice.com/benefit-sanctions-pushing-unemployed-further-away-from-the-world-of-work/

Welfare State Presides Over ‘Culture Of Fear’, Charities Say

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

Shocking Extent Of Sick And Disabled Benefit Sanctions Revealed

The shocking extent of the number of sick and disabled benefit claimants having their benefits cut, through the use of sanctioning, has been revealed in a Freedom of Information (FOI) request made to the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).

According to the response from the DWP, 172,750 Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) claimants were referred for potential sanctioning between October 2008 and June 2013. Of those referrals, 76,300 received an adverse decision, meaning their sickness benefits were cut or stopped completely. 11,600 of those benefit sanctions were in Greater London alone.

On 3 December 2012 the DWP introduced a new system for sanctioning claimants which is described by the DWP in the FOI as a ‘sanctions regime’. Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Iain Duncan Smith  has repeatedly denied accusations that Jobcentre staff are being pressurised to sanction benefit claimants through the use of ‘targets’, and yet the FOI shows that the changes to the ‘sanctions regime’ has led to a startling 45,480 ESA claimants being threatened with the removal of their sickness benefit between December 2012 and June 2013. 11,400 of those people received an ‘adverse decision’, the DWP admitted.

Perhaps the most startling statistic revealed in the FOI is the revelation that 85% of ESA claimants who had their benefits axed or slashed under the new ‘sanctions regime’ have NEVER been sanctioned before. The figure rises to 89% for Greater London. This calls into question the DWP claim that sanctions are only ever used as a ‘last resort’ and only when benefit claimants repeatedly fail to ‘participate in work related activity’, which includes ‘failure to participate in the Work Programme’.

The coalition government’s Work Programme has been accused of failing sick and disabled people with only 6.8% of ESA claimants referred to the programme finding long-term employment, according to a report by the Guardian. The Work Programme has been estimated to cost the public between 3-5bn over five years.

Figures show that the use of benefit sanctions has soared under the coalition government, with the Guardian newspaper reporting last year that the new ‘sanctions regime’ had led to 600,000 jobseeker’s having their benefits slashed in just five months.

The news that sick and disabled people are also now being targeted for draconian benefit sanctions will be seen by some as not only cruel and callous but also totally unjustified. Particularly when we take into account the undeniable truth that ESA claimants have some of the biggest barriers to employment – including but not limited to mental health issues, disabilities, poor physical health and other issues – drastically reducing their employability and work capability at a time when there are still an average of five unemployed people chasing every single job vacancy in the UK. The majority of which may be fit and healthy and arguably more ‘appealing’ to employers.

Gail Ward from the Facebook campaign group Grassroots Welfare responded angrily to the revelation by saying:

“The brutality of the sanctions affecting those claimants on ESA are at unacceptable high . We have been informed by JCP staff that they are subject to targets by their managers. What is not clear is who is setting the targets, the DWP state there are no targets, the JCP say they are set targets or face disciplinary action for failing to achieve them, both sides blame the other.

“Daily in our work we are being told by claimants they were sanctioned because they did not attend an interview when the claimants claim they never received any letters advising them to attend JCP. Some are sanctioned because they arrived late due to travel problems, regardless of mode of transport used.

“These people live in the most fragile circumstances, leaving them with arrears on rent and bills and relying on Doorstep Loans/Credit Cards to survive until the decision to reinstate benefit is resolved. Where benefit is denied they are thrown into [the] abyss of debt for a number of years resulting in some losing their homes. Some are left unable to pay for care packages they need to function on a daily basis.

“The workfare programme is a cruel regime for those who are already at a disadvantage in seeking employment and the barriers that they face from employers, even in cases where it is clear that they have ‘fit/sick notes’ to state they are unable to participate reliably in the workplace due to sickness and disability, they are forced onto the programme because decision makers have decided otherwise. This clearly cannot continue.”

Linda Burnip, co-founder of the grassroots campaign group Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC), added:

“DPAC are getting more and more emails from disabled people who have been sanctioned for ridiculous offences, such as being 5 minutes late for an appointment when travelling by public transport or for going to a job interview even though they had informed DWP beforehand.”

Source –  Welfare News Service  10 Feb 2014