Sanctions Regime Has Not Gone Away.
The Guardian today:
Benefit claimants are subjected to an unacceptable “postcode lottery” that can determine whether or not they are driven into poverty by sanctions, MPs have said.
A report by the public accounts committee found that some Work Programme providers and jobcentres withhold payments to twice as many people as others in the same area.
Sanctions are a punishment applied to benefit claimants adjudged to have infringed jobcentre rules. If claimants fail to turn up for appointments or to apply for enough jobs, officials effectively fine them by stopping their benefit payments for a minimum of four weeks, equal to about £300 for a claimant ov
The report by parliament’s spending watchdog, published on Tuesday, urges the government to review the use of financial penalties, which it finds “have increased in severity in recent years and can have serious consequences” such as forcing claimants into homelessness.
It says the Department for Work and Pensions has poor data with which to evaluate what works and is unable to estimate the wider impact of sanctions – including their overall cost or benefit to the public purse.
The MPs write: “There is an unacceptable amount of unexplained variation in the department’s use of sanctions, so claimants are being treated differently depending on where they live. It does not know whether vulnerable people are protected as they are meant to be. Nor can it estimate the wider effects of sanctions on people and their overall cost, or benefit, to government.”
A scathing report in November by the National Audit Office found sanctions varied “substantially” across the country.
Benefits claimants face “unacceptable” variations in the number of payments being docked or removed entirely, depending on where in the UK they live, MPs have said.
The Public Accounts Committee said those penalised for missing job centre appointments or other failings often faced an “appalling situation”.
It urged the Department for Work and Pensions to monitor variations closely.
The DWP Alternative News Factory went into mass production:
The DWP said policies were “under constant review” to ensure fairness.
It added that recent figures showed the number of jobseeker’s allowance recipients facing sanctions had fallen by more than half in the past year.
Meanwhile, less than 1% of those receiving employment and support allowance had been penalised.
More than a million unemployed benefits claimants have to meet certain conditions, such as showing they are looking for work, to receive their payments.
An estimated 400,000 sanctions were imposed in 2015.
The committee said penalties had increased in severity and could have “serious consequences” such as homelessness.
It found the system encouraged some people into jobs but the DWP could not be confident about what sanctions worked best because its data was poor.
The committee’s report said: “There is an unacceptable amount of unexplained variation in the department’s use of sanctions, so claimants are being treated differently depending on where they live.
“It [the DWP] does not know whether vulnerable people are protected as they are meant to be.
“Nor can it estimate the wider effects of sanctions on people and their overall cost, or benefit, to government.”
Labour MP Meg Hillier, who chairs the committee, said: “Benefit sanctions have been used as a blunt instrument by government.
“It is an article of faith for the Department for Work and Pensions that sanctions encourage people into work.
“The reality is far more complex and the potential consequences severe.”
She added: “Some people who receive sanctions stop claiming without finding work, adding to pressures on other services.
“Suspending people’s benefit payments can lead them into debt, rent arrears and homelessness, which can undermine their efforts to find work.”
The DWP produced alternative facts,
A DWP spokesman said: “Our sanctions guidance is the same right across the UK, and the fact is the number of sanctions has more than halved in recent years.
“Sanctions are an important part of our benefits system, and are only used in a very small percentage of cases as a last resort when people don’t fulfil their commitment to find work.”
The DWP added: “We keep our policies under constant review to ensure that they continue to function effectively and fairly, and where we identify an issue, we act quickly to put it right.”
Ministers accused of ‘sending vulnerable people to food banks’ by failing to act on promise to curb benefit sanctions
A trial of a ‘yellow card’ early warning system helped hundreds avoid a loss of benefits – but the Government has not agreed to extending it across the country.
Ministers have been accused of sending desperate jobless and disabled people to food banks by stalling on a promised reform to cut the huge number of benefit sanctions.
A “yellow card” system, which gives claimants 14 days to challenge a decision to dock their benefits rather than imposing the punishment immediately, was pledged way back in October 2015.
A trial in parts of Scotland led to almost 500 people successfully explaining why they did not deserve the punishment after being accused of failing to meet commitments to actively look for work.
Yet the Department for Work and Pensions has refused to commit to introducing the early warning system across the country, insisting more research is needed.