Ipswich Unemployed Action.

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Posts Tagged ‘benefit sanctions

Government Rejects Benefit Sanctions Inquiry report call to change “inhuman” Sanctions Regime.

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Our contributors could have already have said the following: “Benefit sanctions found to be ineffective and damaging. Study concludes that punishing claimants triggers profoundly negative outcomes”. (Guardian May 2018)

In fact some people who write here  are in dire straits because of this regime.

But the Government is still turning its face against facts’

Today:

Margaret Greenwood MP, Labour’s Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary, responding to the Work and Pensions Select Committee’s publication of the government’s response to its benefit sanctions inquiry, said:

“The government appears to be in complete denial about the impact of its sanctions regime on people’s lives. It is damaging people’s health and well-being and leaving many at risk of destitution.

“There is no evidence that sanctions lead to people finding work that lasts and lifts them out of poverty. This government is so extreme that it has rejected reducing the length of sanctions and is even prepared to consider making them longer.

“The real way to help people into work is through an industrial strategy to deliver jobs and growth and employment support tailored to each person’s needs. Labour will end this government’s cruel and counter-productive sanctions regime.”

11 February 2019 Work and Pensions Committee.

No respite for “victims of a sanctions regime that is at times so counter-productive it just seems pointlessly cruel” in Government’s response

The Committee is today publishing the Government’s response to its report on benefit sanctions. While the Government has finally agreed to evaluate one aspect of the impact of its reforms to conditionality and sanctions – the “only major welfare reform this decade to have never been evaluated”  – it is looking only at their effectiveness in getting people into work. While this is clearly key, as it is the supposed objective of the policy, the Government is still not even considering the impact of sanctions on claimants’ financial and personal wellbeing. The widely reported detrimental impact of sanctions on claimants’ welfare formed the basis of the Committee’s report, when the Chair noted “We have heard stories of terrible and unnecessary hardship from people who’ve been sanctioned. They were left bewildered and driven to despair at becoming, often with their children, the victims of a sanctions regime that is at times so counter-productive it just seems pointlessly cruel”.

Negative impact of sanctions worked against people getting into work

Even confined to the question of impact on employment, the Committee found that the negative impact of sanctions actually worked against people getting into work, to the extent that the Government’s approach appeared “arbitrarily punitive”. No evidence the Committee received was “more compelling than that against the imposition of conditionality and sanctions on people with a disability or health condition. It does not work. Worse, it is harmful and counterproductive.”

The Committee’s inquiry highlighted the distressing stories of claimants like Jen Fidai, a young disabled woman forced to sofa-surf and sleep in the Uni library for a year, and ultimately give up her studies, after she was sanctioned  – erroneously, as it turned out. It is these impacts on claimants’ lives, and the countless others which the Committee’s report and ongoing shocking news reports only scratch the surface of, which the Government is refusing to assess.

Forceful recommendation by Committee rejected

The Government rejected the recommendation that claimants already found to have limited capability for work should be exempt from sanctions, and also rejected the recommendation that claimants who are waiting for a Work Capability Assessment  – the medical assessments for disability benefits PIP and ESa which the Committee has previously denounced as “riddled with errors and omissions”, and also subject to lengthy delays  – should be exempt from sanctions if they had a “Fit Note” from a doctor saying they were unable to work. Government says it is looking into the possibility of a general policy that conditionality shouldn’t apply to those assessed as having limited work capability and people waiting for a WCA – although this decision would be in the hands of Work Coaches, ignoring the Committee’s wider concern that leaving too much to Work Coaches’ discretion in terms of sanctions more widely risked leading to inconsistent practice. The Government also rejected the recommendation to define “good reason” for failing to meet a requirement that led to a sanction – currently left to work coach discretion, leading to inconsistent practice – in legislation.

The Committee’s forceful recommendation – in the face of distressing evidence of the impact of sanctions on lone parents and their children – never to dock more than 20% of a lone parent’s benefit, was rejected, with the Government promising only to assess the employment impact of sanctions on this group as well. The Committee has reported elsewhere on the particular, deep difficulties lone parents are encountering under the major welfare reforms of the decade, including in its report on support for childcare costs under Universal Credit

Once again, the Government’s position on a key recommendation – that claimants is no longer subject to the requirement, the condition, that led to the sanction should also have the ongoing sanction lifted: the Government rejected this recommendation – is difficult to square with the supposed objective of the policy.  If sanctions are about incentivising, for example, looking for work, it is difficult to see the point of continuing to punish someone for not making sufficient efforts to find work when they are no longer in fact required to find work.

Chair’s Comment

Commenting on the response, Committee Chair Rt Hon Frank Field said:

“Our report laid bare the inhumanity of the Government’s sanctions regime, which it has pursued for years without ever stopping to check whether it works or what it is doing to the people it is meant to “support”.

In response, the Government has failed utterly to grasp the seriousness of the matter. It talks about reviews and “proof of concept”: it might want to take a look at the concept of not pushing disabled people and single parents—not to mention their children—into grinding poverty and hardship.”

Tories SNUB pleas to rein in ‘pointlessly cruel’ benefit sanctions

The Mirror.

New limits to the punishments were proposed in a damning report last year. But now DWP chiefs have rejected the plan – triggering a furious response.

Ministers have snubbed a series of recommendations designed to ease the burden of benefit sanctions on vulnerable claimants, it is revealed today.

A damning report from the Commons Work and Pensions Committee branded the system “pointlessly cruel” in November.

MPs warned the human cost of the sanctions regime was “simply too high” and called for new protections for single parents and people with disabilities and health conditions.

Committee chairman Frank Field today accuses ministers of “failing utterly to grasp the seriousness of the matter” after recommendations were rejected by Amber Rudd’s Department for Work and Pensions.

Under the current system, sanctions can be imposed for missing appointments or failure to show efforts to find work,.

Claimants face being stripped of up to 100% of their Jobseekers Allowance or Universal Credit standard allowance.

In some “higher level” cases – such as a failure to take up paid work – claimants can lose benefits for as long as three years.

The committee recommended that the maximum period for such sanctions should be limited to two months for the first failure to comply and four and six months for subsequent breaches.

But the DWP rejected the plan, along with recommendations to ensure lone parents with children aged under five are never subjected to the withdrawal of more than 20% of their welfare payments; limit sanctions on care-leavers below the age of 25 to 20% of their benefits; remove the threat of sanctions from claimants deemed to have “limited capability for work” and those with valid sickness notes from their doctors; and remove sanctions if a change in circumstances means the claimant is no longer subject to the requirement that led to benefits being withheld in the first place.

Written by Andrew Coates

February 11, 2019 at 11:31 am

Benefit Sanctions Rate Under Universal Credit Twice The Rate Under Jobseeker’s Allowance.

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Benefit Sanctions Rise Under Universal Credit.

People may have thought that benefit sanctions had gone away.

Not only have they not disappeared into a new more liberal system but the numbers have got worse under Universal Credit.

Benefit sanctions may do more harm than good

The ultra-liberal Economist this week says,

Reforms to Britain’s welfare system are not nearly as helpful as their supporters claim

MORE than half Britain’s jobcentres now offer “universal credit”, which merges six working-age benefits into one. Most discussion of universal credit, which will eventually offer payments to one in four households, has been about its botched rollout. Less attention has been paid to its tough sanctions regime. Those who fail to comply with requirements that include spending 35 hours a week job-hunting may see their benefits docked. In America, where there is talk of tightening conditions for receiving food stamps, reformers are looking at the British experiment with interest.

From 2010 the coalition government enforced sanctions more vigorously still. Under universal credit, claimants who have received several sanctions are often made to serve them one after the other, rather than concurrently, as under the old system. Research by David Webster of Glasgow University suggests that the sanction rate for jobless universal-credit claimants is twice the rate for jobseeker’s allowance (JSA), the old unemployment benefit.

….

…the government has published little research on the impact of the tightening since 2010, despite sitting on a mound of data.

A new paper in the Cambridge Journal of Economics offers a pessimistic assessment. Focusing on the period from 2001 to 2014, it finds that sanctions under JSA increase the flow of people into work—but only in the short run. It may be that claimants, fearful of having their money cut off, take the first job they find, which turns out not to suit them. This also suggests that they may be taking jobs which do not pay as well as they might. In a speech last year Michael Saunders of the Bank of England drew a link between tough welfare rules and recent low wage growth.

As the evidence builds, the government may at some point have to tweak its approach. A recent study by Rachel Loopstra of King’s College, London, and colleagues, finds some correlation between tougher benefit sanctions and a rise in the use of food banks. A government that tones down sanctions would doubtless be accused of going soft. But it would have the evidence on its side.

This is the source:

BRIEFING 

David Webster (Glasgow University)

Benefit Sanctions Statistics 24 July 2018

Of the 920,000 claimants on Universal Credit at May 2018, two-thirds (67.3%) were subject to conditionality. For the first time, a majority (50.7%) of all unemployed claimants were on UC rather than JSA. UC is now significantly boosting the number of people recorded as claimant unemployed, by making people look for work who would previously not have done.

In the 12 months ended January 2018 there were a total of approximately 355,000 sanctions before challenges on all the four benefits subject to conditionality (UC, JSA, ESA and IS). This compares to 383,000 in the 12 months to October 2017. Of the 355,000 sanctions, approximately 264,000 or almost three-quarters (74.4%) were on UC.

The overall rate of sanction under UC is typically around 5% per month, and the unemployed sanction rate within UC will be considerably higher. Only for relatively short periods in 2010-11 and 2012-14 has the JSA rate ever been as high as 5%.

This is the crucial section of the research:

The rate of sanction under Universal Credit continues to be strikingly high. It is typically around 5% per month, far higher than the rate for JSA. In fact only for relatively short periods in 2010-11 and 2012-14 has the JSA rate ever been as high as this. It also needs to be remembered that this overall UC rate includes sanctions on groups with much lower sanction rates than the unemployed. The unemployed accounted for under three-quarters of the UC claimants subject to conditionality in the three months to January 2018. The unemployed sanction rate within UC will therefore be considerably higher than the overall rate shown in Figure 2.

Thus, “sanctions don’t just ‘appear’ higher in UC; they are higher.”

“Since summer 2017 about 8 % or 1 in 12 of all unemployed UC claimants has been serving a sanction at any one time, this proportion having reached a peak of over 10% in March 2017.  The proportion under sanction for unemployed claimants is now higher than it was when the statistics began in August 2015 – about 8% compared to about 6%, whereas for all other groups it is similar or lower. Evidently the administration of UC has become harsher towards unemployed claimants as the system has bedded in. Moreover it must be remembered that if 8% of claimants are under sanction at any one time, the proportion sanctioned at some point during, say, a year, will be much higher.

The second highest proportion under sanction is found among in-work claimants, running at around 2% except at the time of the backlog drive in early 2017. Rates for the other groups are around 1%.

A striking feature of the figures is that there are people serving sanctions who are in the groups which are not supposed to be subject to conditionality at all: ‘no working requirements’ and ‘working – no requirements’.

At January 2018 there were a total of 1,108 people in this position. This is  because they will have received a sanction when they were in a different group which was subject to conditionality.

One of the many problematic consequences of the ‘simplification’ of benefits by combining them into UC is that sanctions follow claimants into no-conditionality groups even though there is no longer any point to them. Previously the sanctions would have lapsed when people moved to another benefit. The number of people in this position will grow as UC expands.

Some other key findings from this survey of UC claimants relevant to issues of conditionality are:

  • Fewer than two-thirds (63%) of claimants thought their Claimant Commitment was achievable, and only 54% and 55% respectively thought that it took account of their personal circumstances and would help them to obtain or increase employment (p.41)
  • Around 40% of claimants found it difficult to complete the hours of work search or preparation required by their Claimant Commitment, and almost half (47%) had completed fewer hours. (p.59)
  • For around one third of those finding it difficult to meet the Claimant Commitment, the main reason was a lack of jobs available in their area. Suitability of the claimant’s skills, childcare responsibilities, and health problems were other common factors. (p.60)
  • Meetings with the Work Coach and the online Journal were generally favourably regarded, with around three-quarters taking a positive view (pp.50-51)
  • long-term health condition (55 per cent). This suggests a serious mismatch between requirements and capabilities. (p.28)
  • Claimants were asked to identify circumstances that could lead to a sanction. The circumstance which was least often correctly identified (by 80% of claimants) was failing to apply for a job when required by the Work Coach. This is serious as this carries the heaviest penalty, a ‘higher level’ sanction of three months for a first ‘failure’. (p.43)
  • Two thirds (64%) of those sanctioned considered their sanction to have been unfair (p.52)
  • 10% of those sanctioned did not know or understand the reason, while 7% believed that the sanction was due to an error made by the Jobcentre (p.52)

Observer May 2018.

Study concludes that punishing claimants triggers profoundly negative outcomes

Benefit sanctions are ineffective at getting jobless people into work and are more likely to reduce those affected to poverty, ill-health or even survival crime, the UK’s most extensive study of welfare conditionality has found.

The five-year exercise tracking hundreds of claimants concludes that the controversial policy of docking benefits as punishment for alleged failures to comply with jobcentre rules has been little short of disastrous.

“Benefit sanctions do little to enhance people’s motivation to prepare for, seek or enter paid work. They routinely trigger profoundly negative personal, financial, health and behavioural outcomes,” the study concludes.

Despite claims by ministers in recent years that rigorously enforced conditionality – including mandatory 35-hour job searches – incentivised claimants to move off benefits into work, the study found the positive impact was negligible.

Written by Andrew Coates

August 10, 2018 at 10:31 am

After NAO Report on Universal Credit, Benefit Sanctions in Work and Pensions Committee’s Spotlight.

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The issue of Benefit Sanctions has not gone away.

Today (18th of July)  the Work and Pensions Committee, which has been conducting an inquiry into the issue, issued this statement.

DWP must give “facts behind the claims” on benefit sanctions

Work and Pensions Committee publish correspondence between the Chair and Alok Sharma

The Committee writes to employment minister Alok Sharma querying data on benefit sanctions supplied by the Department.

The Department’s published data consistently understate the number of sanctions applied for UC, JSA and ESA claimants by updating figures to reflect the post-appeal status. This means that every time a sanction decision is overturned at appeal, it no longer appears in the number of sanctions applied.

The pre-appeal figure for ESA sanctions was, in one month, as much as 57% higher than the post-appeal figure published by the Department. The Committee is asking for an explanation and for the Department to publish pre-appeal figures routinely so that the true picture can be understood.

The data also shows that in February 2018 1,108 Universal Credit claimants were still subject to a sanction despite having moved into in the “Working Enough” or “No Work-Related Requirement” conditionality group – usually because they are medically not fit for either work or to look for work.

The Committee is pushing for an answer on what possible purpose a sanction can serve for claimants whose circumstances mean there are no conditions attached to their benefits.

Rt Hon Frank Field MP, Chair of the Committee. said:

“What is the point of applying sanctions to people who cannot work and are not expected to look for jobs? The DWP have yet to make the case that benefit sanctions work to get people into employment and it’s difficult to see how they can have that effect for people who are ‘working enough’ or cannot work. Benefit sanctions are the only major welfare reform this decade to have never been evaluated, and the picture DWP paints of the policy doesn’t match the troubling stories we’ve heard. In the wake of the NAO’s damning assessment of Universal Credit, we more than ever need the facts behind the claims.”

Note the figures indeed show the above, “) According to the data published in Annex 1 to your letter, in February 2018 1,108 Universal Credit claimants were subject to a sanction despite being in the “Working Enough” or “No Work-Related Requirement” conditionality regimes..”

The letter also adds, “Overall the statistics understate the scale of sanctions, because they change each record to update to the latest status of the case, which means that the figures are showing you sanctions after any successful appeals, rather than before. That particularly affects ESA sanctions,
where there is a very high rate of appeal and a high success rate.

Background:

Following the NAO’s devastating report on DWP’s failure to assess Universal Credit’s impact on claimants, or prove the benefits it has claimed for the massive welfare reform , we’ll question minister Alok Sharma on benefit sanctions, the “only major welfare reform since 2010 that has not been evaluated” at all.

The  inquiry will look at recent sanctions policy developments, like the “yellow card” system which gives claimants 14 days to challenge a decision to impose a sanction before it is put into effect. The system was announced in late 2015 although there is still no date for introducing it.

The inquiry will also consider the evidence base for the impact of sanctions, both that emerging from newly published statistics, and the robustness of the evidence base for the current use of sanctions as a means of achieving policy objectives.  Previously published in the Department’s quarterly statistical summaries, the Benefit Sanctions Statistics will now be a separate quarterly publication.

Earlier this year these stories showed the problems sanctions cause:

Groundbreaking Demos study reveals ‘culture of disbelief’ about disability among jobcentre staff leads to money being docked.

A comprehensive analysis of the treatment of unemployed disabled claimants has revealed that they are up to 53% more likely to be docked money than claimant who are not disabled. This raises serious concerns about how they and their conditions are treated.

The findings, from a four-year study by academic Ben Baumberg Geiger in collaboration with the Demos thinktank, will cause worry that a government drive to help a million more disabled people into work over the next 10 years could lead to more unfair treatment.

Sanctions – the cutting or withholding of benefits – are applied as a punishment when claimants infringe the conditions of their payments by, say, as missing appointments or failing to apply for enough jobs.

While the sanctions regime has been championed by the government as a means of encouraging people to take a job or boosting their chances of finding one, most experts consulted as part of the Demos project concluded that conditionality has little or no effect on improving employment for disabled people. There was also widespread anecdotal evidence that the threat of sanctions can lead to anxiety and broader ill health.

The study found that disabled claimants receiving jobseekers’ allowance – given to people who are out of work – were 26-53% more likely to be sanctioned than claimants who were not. Those hit by sanctions reported that the disparity arose because jobcentre staff failed to take sufficient account of their disabilities.

Less noticed amidst the chaos that is Universal Credit there are many harrowing tales of hardship (May 23rd 2018. My Disability Matters).

A disabled campaigner has told MPs how she was thrown out of a shelter and forced to sleep in her college library after she was unfairly sanctioned by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).

Jen Fidai described yesterday (Wednesday)* how she spent nearly a year with no benefits after being wrongly sanctioned while studying for her A-levels in 2012, and was forced to leave the temporary accommodation where she had been staying.

She had to rely on friends for somewhere to sleep, or even the library at the sixth form college where she was studying, which also provided her with food during the day.

She had been sanctioned for failing to tell the jobcentre that she would not be attending a meeting, even though she was in full-time education at the time and had told them both in person and by phone that she would not be able to attend.

It later emerged that she had been placed on the wrong benefit and should not have been claiming jobseeker’s allowance.

Fidai, who is now chief executive of the LGBT mental health charity Rainbow Head, told the Commons work and pensions select committee that she had tried to explain the situation to the jobcentre “but they wouldn’t listen”.

This is a reaction from the legal profession:

The current system of benefit sanctions is failing to treat claimants with dignity and respect and causing severe hardship for some of the most vulnerable people in society, according to the Law Society of Scotland.

In its response to the UK Parliament’s Work and Pensions Committee inquiry into benefit sanctions, the Law Society has also highlighted that the system is not meeting the UK Government’s policy objectives.

The professional body for Scottish solicitors has said there is an urgent need for effective monitoring and a review of training provided for Department of Work and Pensions staff.

Richard Henderson, convener of the Law Society of Scotland’s Administrative Justice committee, said: “Reviewing decisions around sanctions, through mandatory reconsideration and through appeal to the First-tier Tribunal, is not sufficiently effective or speedy enough to be regarded as satisfactory means of redress – resulting in real hardship for some of the most vulnerable people in our society. The DWP urgently needs to put in place an effective mechanism for monitoring the quality of decision-making across all of its operations and should also undertake a review of the decision making training it provides to its staff.

“While we accept that there may well need to be power to make reasonable directions to claimants, and for some sanctions to be available if these directions are not followed, evidence shows that the UK Government’s policy objectives in this area – namely that benefit sanctions are there to positively assist claimants and that there is appropriate support available to help people return to work – are not being achieved.

“Claimants are not being treated with dignity and respect. Best practice is not being developed through learning from appeal decisions and, in some individual cases, human rights may well have been breached. It has long been apparent that there are some very serious issues to be examined in this area, and this inquiry offers a real opportunity to create a better benefit system across the UK and also provide much needed insight as a new benefit system is developed in Scotland.”

The terms of the benefit sanctions inquiry of the UK Parliament’s Work and Pensions Committee can be read online: Benefit Sanctions Inquiry

New Benefits Sanctions Inquiry.

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With Universal Credit the Sanctions Regime will apply to people in work getting the benefits which they used to have as of right as Tax Credits

Universal Credit Sanctions

The rules about sanctions under Universal Credit mean that there will be more people who will be sanctioned than the previous benefits system. In fact evidence is suggesting that the rate of sanctions under Universal Credit is three times that of JSA. It is possible to be sanctioned even if you are in paid work.

It should also be noted that Hardship Payments are paid as loans and will have to be repaid at the end of the sanction.

The rules for the level of Universal Credit sanctions are based on the rules for JSA and ESA sanctions. Anyone who receives Universal Credit can be sanctioned and the level of the sanction depends upon the conditionality group that you are placed in. More information about the conditionality groups can be found in the article Your Responsibilities if you get Universal Credit

The Work and Pensions Committee launches an inquiry into benefit sanctions: how they operate, recent developments, and what the evidence is that they work – either to deter non-compliant behaviour or to help achieve the policy objectives of getting people off benefits and into work.

Absurdly trivial breaches of benefit conditions

Sanctions, which take the form of docking a portion of benefit payments for a set period of time, can be imposed for breaching benefit conditions like attending a work placement, or for being minutes late for a Job Centre appointment.

This has not received the attention it deserves.

If I were the Shadow Minister for Work and Pensions I would be shouting about the fact that people in work are now going to be affected.

Benefit sanctions inquiry launched

Media reports of the Committee’s last inquiry into benefit sanctions in 2015 Benefit sanctions policy beyond the Oakley Review, described “copious evidence of claimants being docked hundreds of pounds and pitched into financial crisis for often absurdly trivial breaches of benefit conditions, or for administrative errors beyond their control.”

There have also been serial reports in the media of extreme instances of the use and effects of sanctions – people hospitalised for life threatening conditions or premature labour being sanctioned for weeks or months for consequently missing a benefits appointment, or being unable to afford the transport to a distant job placement and being sanctioned for failing to attend it – and speculation over the degree of discretion Job Centre Plus staff have in these instances.

Recent policy developments

The  inquiry will look at recent sanctions policy developments, like the “yellow card” system which gives claimants 14 days to challenge a decision to impose a sanction before it is put into effect. The system was announced in late 2015 although there is still no date for introducing it.

The inquiry will also consider the evidence base for the impact of sanctions, both that emerging from newly published statistics, and the robustness of the evidence base for the current use of sanctions as a means of achieving policy objectives.  Previously published in the Department’s quarterly statistical summaries, the Benefit Sanctions Statistics will now be a separate quarterly publication.

In 2016 the NAO released a report on the subject; and in February 2017 the Public Accounts Committee published its report “Benefit sanctions“. The Government accepted the recommendations of that PAC report and described progress on implementation in the January 2018 Treasury Minutes Progress Report:

  • The Government initially agreed to undertake a trial of warnings for a first sanctionable offence. This recommendation has not been implemented.
  • The Government agreed to monitor variation in sanction referrals and to assess the reasons for such variation. The Department’s research on variation is due to be completed in March.
  • The Government agreed to monitor the use and take-up of protections for vulnerable groups. The Department is “still considering the best way to qualitatively assess the use and effectiveness of protections for vulnerable claimants”.
  • The Government agreed to improve data systems, including on linking information e.g. earnings and sanctions
  • The Government initially agreed to work with the rest of Government to estimate the impacts of sanctions on claimants and their wider costs to government. This recommendation has not been implemented.

Send us your views

The Committee invites evidence on any or all of the following questions, from benefit recipients with experience of the system, or experts in the field:

  1. To what extent is the current sanctions regime achieving its policy objectives?
  2. Is the current evidence base adequate and if not, what further information, data and research are required?
  3. What improvements to sanctions policy could be made to achieve its objectives better?
  4. Could a challenge period and/or a system of warnings for a first sanctionable offence be beneficial? If so, how should they be implemented?
  5. Are levels of discretion afforded to jobcentre staff appropriate?
  6. Are adequate protections in place for vulnerable claimants?
  7. What effects does sanctions policy have on other aspects of the benefits system and public services more widely? Are consequential policy changes required?
  8. To what extent have the recommendations of the Oakley review of Jobseekers’ Allowance sanctions improved the sanctions regime? Are there recommendations that have not been implemented that should be?

The deadline for written submissions is 25 May 2018.

Sanctions need to be proportional and fair

Rt Hon Frank Field MP, Chair of the Committee, said:

“Sanctions are an important part of any benefits system but they need to be applied proportionately and fairly and to account for individual circumstances.

I’ve seen deeply troubling cases in my constituency that suggest these objectives are not always being achieved. We will be reviewing the evidence to see if sanctions policy is working properly and if not, we will recommend improvements.”

 

Scope of the inquiry

The  inquiry will look at recent sanctions policy developments, like the “yellow card” system which gives claimants 14 days to challenge a decision to impose a sanction before it is put into effect. The system was announced in late 2015 although there is still no date for introducing it.

The inquiry will also consider the evidence base for the impact of sanctions, both that emerging from newly published statistics, and the robustness of the evidence base for the current use of sanctions as a means of achieving policy objectives.  Previously published in the Department’s quarterly statistical summaries, the Benefit Sanctions Statistics will now be a separate quarterly publication.

Terms of reference: Benefit sanctions

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Written by Andrew Coates

April 15, 2018 at 9:29 am

Welfare ‘Reform’: More Misery, More Hardship, and More Deaths.

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More details: National day of action against benefit sanctions Thursday 30 March 2017 at 07:00-20:00.


Psychologists say sanctions regime is “undermining mental health and wellbeing” and causing destitution, hardship, and widespread anxiety. Reports Welfare Weekly.

The British Psychological Society (BPS) has joined forces with other psychological bodies to call on the UK Government to suspend its cruel and degrading benefit sanctions regime.

BPS says the benefit sanctions regime, where vulnerable people can have payments docked for weeks or months at a time for failing to adhere to often unreasonable requirements, does not help people back to work and damages their mental health.

The call comes in response to the Government’s ‘Improving Lives’ consultation and following a recent report from the National Audit Office, which found there is little evidence to prove sanctions encourage people to look for work or offer value for money to taxpayers.

Benefit sanctions can also result in destitution, hardship, widespread anxiety and feelings of disempowerment, the psychologists say.

Welfare Weekly also reports,

Welfare reform is killing people, but the Tory press don’t want you to know

Rising numbers of deaths all linked to the ongoing welfare reforms remain unreported.

The manipulation of the British public is not difficult to achieve when the entire national press and media resist alerting the nation to the realities behind the ongoing welfare reforms.

The future demolition of the UK welfare state was planned long ago by a previous Tory government, and the 2008 banking crisis was simply the excuse needed to permit the demolition of the welfare state to begin.

Introduced in the UK by Thatcher, toxic neoliberal politics has swept the world where cash, not care, is deemed to be a virtue and the driver of national success, regardless of human consequences.

What remains unreported are the rising numbers of deaths all linked to the ongoing welfare reforms, numbering in excess of 100,000 chronically sick and disabled people since January 2011, as the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) once again refuse to publish the updated mortality totals.

One aspect of the sanctions regime that is extremely cruel is its use against disabled people, which comes as part of a ‘package’ of regressive measures.

This article from the Guardian is a timely reminder,

The truth behind rising disabled employment: cuts, death and zero-hour contracts

 The disability employment gap is narrowing, but this is against a backdrop of sanctions, funding cuts and insecure employment.

2016 figures showed that more than half of disabled people who appealed their “fit to work” assessment eventually got the decision overturned.

“We’re still seeing some really worrying things coming out of those assessments,” says Ayaz Manji from the mental health charity Mind. “There’s a lot of really poor decision-making. Lots of the people who make those assessments don’t understand mental health.

“We’ve seen people who’ve been denied the benefit because they’ve been described as ‘well-groomed’, or ‘able to look somebody in the eye’. But obviously those things aren’t a good indication of whether someone has a serious mental health problem that’s affecting their ability to work. Often the support that people get is quite generic and doesn’t really take their mental health into account.”

Employment gap

The chaos surrounding the assessments comes amid a government drive to get more disabled people into work. But although charities and activists share that ambition, they accuse the government of acting counterproductively, with a punitive agenda of sanctions and funding cuts.

In 2015, the Treasury claimed: “increasing employment levels among people with disabilities and health conditions is a key part of the government’s aim to achieve full employment.” Specifically, the government aims to “halve the employment gap between disabled and non-disabled people”.

Written by Andrew Coates

February 25, 2017 at 10:39 am

Sanctions: Channel Four Dispatches Blows the Lid on Attacks on the Vulnerable.

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Last Night’s Benefits Crackdown by Channel Four’s Dispatches was essential viewing.

It came as this report (signaled by Unemployed in Tyne and Wear) was published.

100,000 Children Affected By Benefit Sanctions In 2013/14

A new report from a coalition of major UK Churches has revealed that around 100,000 children were affected by benefit sanctions in 2013/14.

It also shows that in the same period a total of nearly 7 million weeks of sanctions were handed out to benefit claimants.

The new data, obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, will feature in this evening’s episode of Channel 4’sDispatches, entitled ‘Britain’s Benefits Crackdown’.

The report, entitled Time to Rethink Benefit Sanctions, is published today by the Baptist Union of Great Britain, Church Action on Poverty, the Church in Wales, the Church of Scotland, the Methodist Church and the United Reformed Church. It contains new data on the severity and length of sanctions under Welfare Reform, and on how sanctions affect vulnerable groups such as children and those with mental health problems.

More here.

The PCS Trade Union also issued a press release on Monday.

Cost to claimants of benefit sanctions rockets by 3,000%

The cost to claimants of having their social security payments stopped under this government’s controversial sanctions regime has rocketed by 3,000%, analysis by the Public and Commercial Services union shows.

Using Department for Work and Pensions data, the union has calculated the value of jobseeker’s allowance payments sanctioned in the year to September 2014 (the latest for which figures are available) was £355 million, compared to £11 million in 2009/2010.

This massive rise explains why sanctions have been so closely linked to the increase in the use of foodbanks, the union says.

The new figures come ahead of a Dispatches investigation to be broadcast this evening into the government’s sanctions regime that was stepped up in October 2012.

Under the stricter system, the length of time sanctions can be imposed for has increased, with the minimum set at four weeks, rising to 13 weeks and up to three years.

PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said: “This government is imposing much harsher penalties on people who rely on social security at the same time as seeking to blame and vilify them for being out of work.

“Sanctions do nothing to help unemployed people find sustainable jobs. They only poison the relationship between claimants and jobcentre staff, and they should be scrapped immediately.”

ENDS

The Programme on Channel Four was very effective.

As the Mirror noted,

“In a probe for Channel 4’s Dispatches, two Job Centre whistleblowers tell how they were forced to “hammer” claimants with sanctions to meet Government targets. Alan Davies, who quit Leicester Job Centre, said: “They weren’t willing to look at them as human beings.”

There was also the case of a man, in considerable pain and previously on on Disability. Support Allowance, left to fend for himself on no money, after being sanctioned

Here is the information on the Dispatches site.

In October 2012, the coalition introduced a new stricter sanctions regime. Benefits can now be suspended for up to three years– or reduced indefinitely for people claiming Employment and Support Allowance.

Channel 4 Dispatches has investigated how the stricter sanctions regime affects some vulnerable claimants and has interviewed former Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) staff who claim that there are targets for sanctions despite the government’s constant assurances that there are no targets.

New exclusive figures:

  • Latest figures show 93,000 children were affected by sanctions over 12 months.[1](opens in a new window) The DWP told us they do not recognise these figures.
  • Of DWP ‘peer reviews’ of 49 deaths following sanctions or when claimants had their benefit cut, 40 were carried out following a suicide or apparent suicide.
  • 33 of those reviews/enquiries resulted in ‘recommendations’ at national or local level.

The DWP has refused to provide details of the individual cases or the recommendations. They told Channel 4 Dispatches that they carry out reviews to work out if anything should have done differently. They say, carrying out a review does not automatically mean the department was at fault and that it would be highly inappropriate to publish private documents containing extremely personal information.[2](opens in a new window)

Whistleblowers:
Channel 4 Dispatches has interviewed two whistleblowers from a Job Centre in Leicester who say they were subject to targets and had to “hammer” people. Both men have been named and identified on camera.
– Ian Wright, a former work coach, gave written evidence to the Work and Pensions Select Committee Inquiry.
– Alan Davies, a former personal adviser, has never spoken publicly before.

Ian was sacked by the Job Centre, while Alan resigned. Both were given Performance Improvement Plans for not giving claimants enough Job Seeker’s Directions. These are the ‘early warnings’ before sanctions are handed out.

Ian Wright says: “It was the management’s policy to drive up sanctions. From my experience they’re more interested in getting the paperwork right and meeting targets than helping the claimants get the benefits that Parliament decree they should do and sometimes sadly vulnerable people miss out.”

“There are or were certain advisors who would try and wind up customers, not give them the full information.”
Alan Davies says: “The pressure was enormous. I just felt that what they were asking me to do was totally wrong. They were asking me to hammer people who were quite, in their own way doing the best that they can to get a job.”

“Well sanction them, to make sure if you’re not doing exactly what we want, they weren’t willing to look at them as human beings.”
“I felt basically it was both ethically and morally wrong.”

The DWP told Channel 4 Dispatches: “There are no targets for sanctions – in fact the number of sanctions has gone down over the past year.”

The Channel Four site adds the facts which contradict this bald-faced lying:

Statistics

Since the tougher sanctions regime was introduced in October 2012, more than one and a half million benefit payments have been affected.[3](opens in a new window)

A DWP spokesperson told Channel 4 Dispatches:

“Every day Jobcentre Plus advisers work hard to help claimants into work – unemployment is falling and a record number of people are in work. Sanctions are only used as a last resort for the tiny minority who fail to take up the support which is on offer.”

We learnt then, from the DWP,  that there are no “targets” for sanctions, just “aspirations”.

 Ipswich Protest at New Sanction Factory: Maximus. 

Sheriff style badges for Jobcentres meeting benefit sanction targets

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The great Johnnyvoid blog has reported on Jobcentre Plus regional manager Sandra Lambert (who talks a lot of shit) responsible for posting a photo of a “DMA UPHELD” sheriff badge on her twitter.

DWP has always denied there is targets for benefit sanction referrals despite cases of benefit sanction league tables up on walls, congratulatory messages within newsletters,  awards of easter eggs, gold stars and now, sheriff badges. Read the rest of this entry »