Since the election of the Coalition in 2010, there has been a massive campaign of sanctions – punitive stoppage of benefits – against unemployed people. Indeed, the rate of Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) penalties doubled. Yet there is very little evidence to support the sanctions approach in the UK and, aside from whether they return to work or not, the economic literature is missing any consideration of the overall effects on the people who are penalised, both positive and negative. In light of this,David Webster argues that a Comprehensive Review of the whole approach is needed. 

Despite the Department for Work and Pension’s (DWP) often-repeated claims that sanctions ‘are only ever used as a last resort for a very small minority’, over the five years to March 2014 about one quarter of all JSA claimants had their benefits stopped for a range of alleged ‘failures’, usually trivial. An example, unusual only in being fully documented, is of a 53-year old man with four children, who lost his benefits for at least four weeks for being ten minutes late for a CV-writing course. He was hard of hearing and had misheard the date of the appointment.

Remember that: one Quarter...

The full article is here.

The conclusion is important.

A system which gives a state bureaucracy the power to subject poor people to severe penalties (in this case loss of their only means of subsistence for extended periods), without the safeguards which centuries of experience have shown are essential to the judicial system, is bound to be abused. Whether that abuse comes without authorisation, from junior officials, or (as appears to be the case in the current British sanctions campaign) as a matter of policy from the highest levels of government, makes no essential difference. There is no excuse for economists to sidestep the fundamental issues of jurisprudence which are involved in the whole concept of a compulsory ‘active labour market policy’.

There has been some falling-off of sanctions in the last year or so. This may have something to do with the many criticisms made by the Oakley Review. Since then, the House of Commons Work and Pensions Committee has produced an even more strongly critical report, which points out the absence of evidence to justify many features of the system, and repeats its call for a comprehensive, independent review. To date, the government has refused to concede this, or to carry out any of the studies asked for by the committee which would test the assumptions of the system. A comprehensive review is clearly now what is needed.

These words ring in the ears, ” subject poor people to severe penalties.”

Yesterday I was talking to a woman who’d started her working life in the (as was) ‘Social Security’ offices of the DHSS  in Wood Green back in the 70s.

This resonated with me because it was also the very place (people still called one part of it the ‘Labour Exchange’) where I first got my National Insurance number from and was sent from to one of my first jobs, working in a plastic bag factory in North London.

Later my sister also got sent from there to work in a fruit gum factory in Tottenham (Maynards).

The person I was talking to in Ipswich said that one day she saw a poor woman making a scene that had deeply affected her.

She had no money, nothing, and was demanding some help.

She was chased out and round the car park by the local rozzers.

The person said that this made her decide to become a social worker to defend the rights of the poor against this kind of treatment.

That was in the 1970s.

Today we see this kind of abuse all the time.

This is Iain Duncan Smith’s legacy.