Work and Pensions Select Committee Hearing on Sanctions, this Wednesday.
Right Hon Esther McVey MP looking a Right Sight.
The Work and Pensions Select Committee announce the final oral evidence session for its inquiry into benefit sanctions policy beyond the Oakley Review.
- Parliament TV: Benefit sanctions policy beyond the Oakley Review session
- Inquiry: Benefit sanctions policy beyond the Oakley Review
- Work and Pensions Committee
At 9.30am, Wednesday 4 February 2015, Wilson Room, Portcullis House
Department for Work and Pensions:
- Rt Hon Esther McVey MP, Minister of State for Employment
- Chris Hayes, Director, Labour Market and International Affairs
Purpose of the session
The session is intended to explore the Government’s position on a range of issues highlighted during the inquiry, including
- The development of benefit sanctions policy and the evidence base
- The Government’s response to the Oakley Review and progress towards implementation of its recommendations
- The setting of appropriate benefit conditions and the sanctions decision-making process
- The culture around conditionality and sanctions within DWP/JCP and the case for an independent review
- Protecting claimants against hardship
- The appropriateness of ESA sanctioning
From the PCS response:
Target and expectation culture must be stopped
PCS is demanding that DWP must take action to stop the target and ‘expectation’ culture for sanction referrals, which is shown by 23% of those surveyed having an explicit target for sanction referrals, and 81% having an ‘expectation’ level. These levels are shocking as both DWP and Ministers claim that targets do not exist at all.
It is no longer acceptable for WSD Management to deny that there is a problem or claim that issues are just isolated incidents. They must take responsibility for the regime that sees 61% of surveyed members experiencing pressure to refer claimants where they believe it may be appropriate.
Performance action used to threaten staff
Worryingly 36% of members stated that they have been placed on Performance Improvement Plan (PIP), and 10% have gone through formal poor performance procedures for not making ‘enough’ referrals.
It’s clear that performance procedures are being used to push staff into making more and more referrals, rather than used to challenge staff who ‘refuse to sanction’ as DWP claim. Poor performance action can lead to dismissal, it is therefore a thinly veiled threat to your employment if you don’t make ‘enough’ referrals. Nor is there any evidence that staff who make an excessive number of referrals are challenged using the same procedures.
The specific PIP tool designed by WSD management to monitor sanction referrals completely contradicts the Employment Minister’s statement to Parliament on 24th January 2014 which said that “there are no sanction targets or expectations for numbers of referrals.”
The GEC will continue to challenge WSD management and provide advice to members on how they can resist this action. Members are encouraged to seek help and support from a PCS representative if they find themselves under threat of action.
Social Consequence of sanctioning
We believe the survey results highlight the devastating impact the conditionality regime has on benefit claimants. 70% of members completing the survey did not believe that sanctioning has a positive impact on a claimant finding work, and 76% have seen an increase in foodbank referrals.
The government has stated that they make no assessment of the link between sanctioning and foodbank referrals. We believe that the Government must analyse and take responsibility for the effects of sanctioning on claimants and their families.
The GEC is working with the Unite Community branches and the Unemployed Workers Centre on joint work to raise claimants’ awareness of their rights and to produce campaign material. This survey shows that whilst some members may support some aspects of conditionality, the punitive regime with its target culture is opposed. PCS understand but do not accept the anger directed towards DWP staff because of sanctioning and other welfare reform issues. We will use the survey results to campaign against the regime, and also raise awareness of the views and feelings of our members.
From the previous discussion,
House of Commons Work and Pensions Committee report of 20 Jan 2014 on The Role of Jobcentre Plus in the Reformed Welfare System made the following recommendations on sanctions:
para. 97 We recommend that DWP take urgent steps to monitor the extent of financial hardship caused by benefit sanctions, including by collecting, collating and publishing data on the number of claimants “signposted” to food aid by Jobcentres and the reasons for claimants’ need for assistance in these cases.
para. 100 It is important that JCP makes fair and proportionate sanction referrals and that the process is transparent. We welcome the current independent review which will focus on the clarity of communications between JCP and claimants in relation to the conditionality and sanctioning process; the availability of hardship payments for sanctioned claimants; and the clarity of the review and appeals process. We strongly believe that a further review is necessary and welcome the Minister’s commitment to launch a second and separate review into the broader operation of the sanctioning process.
para. 101 We recommend that the second review of sanctions investigate: whether sanction referrals are being made appropriately, fairly and proportionately, in accordance with the relevant Regulations and guidance, across the Jobcentre network; and the link between sanctioning and benefit off-flow, including whether benefit off-flow targets have an influence on sanctioning rates. We also recommend that this review consider whether, and to what extent, the use of sanctions is having the desired effect of encouraging claimants to engage more actively in job-seeking. We further recommend that this review is launched as a matter of urgency and reports before the end of 2014.
The Scottish Parliament’s Welfare Reform Committee held an evidence session on sanctions on 1 April 2014.
The House of Commons had a debate on sanctions on Thursday 3 April, the following motion by Michael Meacher which was carried.
‘Resolved, That this House notes that there have been many cases of sanctions being wrongfully applied to benefit recipients; and calls on the Government to review the targeting, severity and impact of such sanctions.’ (col.1082)
The government published its reply to the Work & Pensions Committee report on 3 April 2014.
The government has gone back on the commitment to a further inquiry post-Oakley which was made to the Work and Pensions Committee by the Employment Minister Esther McVey on 20 November (Qu. 570-71) and reaffirmed in a letter of 1 February 2014.
Now, the government reply states:
‘We have already committed to an independent review by Matthew Oakley which will look primarily at the communications to claimants and offer recommendations to improve the operations of the sanctions process.And we will be publishing further information on sanctions through the forthcoming Work Programme Evaluation and the claimant commitment research to help inform our future strategy. We are fully committed to monitoring the current regime to ensure it continues to deliver the intended outcomes and will assess whether any further evaluation is needed once the current evaluation programmes have concluded.’