Ipswich Unemployed Action.

Campaigning for Unemployed Rights.

Posts Tagged ‘sanctions

Day of Action Against Benefit Sanctions. Protests.

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Thursday: Outside Ipswich Jobcentre. 

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Interviewed on Radio Suffolk.

Benefit sanctions must be fought against

These sanctions are cruel and handed out for ridiculous reasons such as:

  • Arriving minutes late to a meeting
  • Not applying for jobs when waiting to start a new job!
  • Missing an appointment on the day of the funeral of a close family member.

This has to stop.

Unite demonstration outside the Department of Work and Pensions in London watch the video here  – See more at: http://stagingui.unite.awsripple.com/growing-our-union/communitymembership/day-of-action-against-sanctions/default.aspx#sthash.QsxxyCRf.dpufTake other action
  • Share your story – we are looking for people who have been sanctioned to tell their story.
  • We want to show the reality and impact on people’s lives – show your support – share on Twitter and Facebook #No2Sanctions
JOIN US – Thursday 30 March

See More Here.

Welfare WeeklyThousands to protest against ‘cruel and ineffective’ benefit sanctions regime

Campaigners will target more than 80 jobcentres across the UK, as part of a ‘national day of action’ to stop benefit sanctions.

Activists from Britain’s biggest trade union Unite will tomorrow (Thursday) be protesting outside the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) in London, calling on the UK Government to stop it’s “cruel and ineffective” benefit sanctions regime.

Campaigners will target more than 80 jobcentres across the UK, as part of a ‘national day of action‘ to stop benefit sanctions.

Since May 2010, over 3 million people have been referred for a sanction 8 million times. Over 318,000 people have had their benefits cut or stopped completely in the last year alone, often for punitive and unfair reasons – such as being late for appointments with the jobcentre, or being too sick to ‘actively seek work’.

According to the food bank charity Trussell Trust, more than 500,000 three day emergency food parcels were given to people in crisis in the first half of 2016/17, including over 188,500 to children, with the most common reason for referral being problems and delays with benefit payments.

Written by Andrew Coates

March 30, 2017 at 11:28 am

Posted in Damian Green, DWP, Ipswich, Sanctions, Suffolk

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Day of Action Against Benefit Sanctions (30 March) as Scottish Challenges to Tory Social Security Regime Grow.

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New Component

Thursday 30 March 2017  National Day of Action Against Sanctions (UNITE the Union).

JOIN US
More and more people are facing benefit sanctions. Half a million people have had their benefits suddenly stopped by sanctions in the last 12 months.
That’s half a million people, many of whom have been plunged into poverty, unable to heat their homes or even eat. How is this meant to help prepare people for work?

Benefit sanctions must be fought against

Please join an event near you on Thursday 30 March to stop benefit sanctions in your community.

We will continue to add new actions on a regular basis, so please check back.

For further information please email your Unite community coordinator (see here).

 

You often wish that politicians, that is Westminster politicians, took these issues as seriously as they do in Scotland.

Morning Star (today)

SCOTTISH Labour unveiled plans yesterday to “kick the private sector out of our social security system,” branding the treatment of disabled and long term-ill benefit claimants under the Tory welfare regime “inhumane.”

The party will table amendments to the forthcoming Social Security Bill to use the Scottish Parliament’s new powers to rule out the involvement of the private sector and has urged the SNP to support its proposals.

Labour says that thousands of disabled people have experienced punitive assessments for the Tories’ personal independence payments (PIP), adding that the SNP’s decision to delay the devolution of welfare powers will mean that 140,000 Scots will still be assessed under the current system.

Last month, a Scottish government consultation on social security revealed a “strong consensus that services should not be delivered through the private sector or profit-making agencies, with the majority of respondents in agreement that social security should be delivered through existing public-sector or thirdsector organisations.”

Labour social security spokesman Mark Griffin said his party will seek to “use the new social security powers of the Scottish Parliament to kick the private sector out of our social security system.”

He laid into “these cruel and inhumane [PIP] assessments that have piled misery on vulnerable Scots.”

“Nicola Sturgeon failed to mention poverty once in her speech to the SNP conference. That tells you everything you need to know about her priorities,” he said.

He urged the First Minister to “work with Labour to use the new powers of our parliament” and abandon her preoccupation with Scottish independence.

Welfare Weekly (March the 17th) reports,

SNP Conference: Calls to scrap ‘draconian’ benefit sanctions regime

“The SNP does not believe we should be attacking the most disadvantaged in our society and completely rejects this benefits sanctions regime.

“The Tories need to realise this is the devastating consequences that removing the only source of income available has on real people and their families.

“It is extremely concerning that the most disadvantaged and vulnerable in our society, including those at risk of homelessness, those with caring responsibilities and those with mental ill health issues, are the most likely to be punished by the draconian regime.

“The UK government must urgently scrap this punitive sanctions regime. The shocking findings of the National Audit Office illustrate the sheer unfairness and ineffectiveness of sanctions.

“The SNP has consistently done everything it can to mitigate the worst impacts of Tory welfare cuts spending £100m on protecting people – money we would rather invest in pulling people out of poverty.

“Our Government in Scotland continue to fight against the regime, for instance the Scottish Government have already secured agreement from the UK Government that the Scottish employment programme will not facilitate their benefits sanctions system.

“Scottish Ministers have been crystal clear that our services in Scotland must be seen as an opportunity, not a threat.”

The full text of the resolution reads:

“Conference rejects the punitive Tory benefit sanction regime; commends the creators of I, Daniel Blake for bringing the public’s attention to the cruel and callous reality facing tens of thousands of disadvantaged people across the UK; further notes with the concern the shocking findings of the National Audit Office of the scale and ineffectiveness of the sanctions regime; is concerned that the most vulnerable including those at risk of homelessness, those with caring responsibilities and those with mental ill health are the most likely to be punished by the draconian regime, welcomes the decision of the Scottish Government to make sure that the new Employment Programme, effective from April 2017, does not facilitate the UK Government’s sanctions system, and calls for the UKG to move urgently to scrap the unfair sanctions regime.”


This in an official press release from the Scottish National Party (SNP).

Written by Andrew Coates

March 21, 2017 at 4:36 pm

Sanctions Regime Has Not Gone Away.

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Image result for benefit sanctions campaign

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.

BBC,

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.

Meanwhile,

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.”

 Meanwhile,

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.

Independent.

Written by Andrew Coates

February 21, 2017 at 12:43 pm

No Halt to Sanctions Over Christmas.

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Image result for oor wullie christmas

Oor Wullie on the DWP. 

As Woody reminds us, the 35 Hours a week Job Search – one of the more cretinous demands people on JSA face – has to be carried out over Christmas.

The Government has created a special web page to make sure you toe the line.

Guidance

Jobseeker’s Allowance sanctions: how to keep your benefit payment.

This includes making sure you:

  • are available for work and agree to do the things in your Claimant Commitment (Jobseeker’s Agreement )
  • go to meetings on time with your work coach and take part in interviews
  • apply for suitable jobs your work coach tells you about
  • do everything your work coach tells you to do to find work, such as attending a training course or updating your CV
  • take part in employment schemes when your work coach tells you to – you’ll need to:
    • meet your employment scheme provider on time and do the things they tell you to do to find work
    • still meet your work coach and do what they tell you to do
  • do all you can to find work.

Under Universal Credit:

Your Claimant Commitment

When you claim Universal Credit you will need to accept your Claimant Commitment.

In most cases your Claimant Commitment will be drawn up during a conversation with your work coach at your local jobcentre.

Your Claimant Commitment will set out what you have agreed to do to prepare for and look for work, or to increase your earnings if you are already working. It will be based on your personal circumstances and will be reviewed and updated on an ongoing basis. Each time it is updated, you will need to accept a new Claimant Commitment to keep receiving Universal Credit.

Tailored to your situation

Universal Credit changes as things change in your life. Your responsibilities will vary depending on such things as your family, your health and your potential for future earnings.

For example:

If you are earning as much as can be expected You will receive financial support without any other conditions to increase your earnings.
If you are able and available for work You will need to do everything you reasonably can to give yourself the best chance of finding work. Preparing for and getting a job must be your full time focus. If you do not do this without a good reason, you will have a cut to your Universal Credit, known as a sanction.
If you currently have limited capability for work, related to a disability or health condition, but this is expected to change over time You will be supported until your circumstances improve and you can work. You will be expected to prepare for work so far as you are able.
If you have a disability or health condition which prevents you from working You will not be asked to work, and will be supported through Universal Credit.

This is what can happen if somebody decides you have not fulfilled this:

WELFARE Secretary Damien Green has refused to halt benefit sanctions over Christmas, despite pleas for hard-pressed families to get “a little breathing space”.

Hannah Bardell, the SNP MP for Livingston, wrote to the senior Tory begging him to put the punitive regime on hold after a heart-breaking visit to a foodbank in her constituency.

She is calling on the UK Government to display “some level of compassion” by reinstating a period of clemency at Christmas – a policy which was officially abandoned last year – as thousands of Scottish families are living on the breadline this December.

She said: “This week I visited a local food bank, which was a timely yet devastating reminder of the impact sanctions have on the people who rely on these services both, in my own constituency of Livingston, as well as other places up and down the country.

“Over 70% of constituents who have come to me with benefits sanctions cases have had their decisions overturned, but the mental and emotional impact is distressing and longer lasting for those affected. At Christmas time, the impact is even more acute.”

The Department for Work and Pensions can sanction those claiming Jobseekers’ Allowance, Employment and Support Allowance, Universal Credit or Income Support if staff deem that person has not done enough to look for work.

But the MP said many claimants are the working poor, just getting by on low-paid jobs. She said Christmas should not be “business as usual” for DWP because emotions are running high for Scottish families and cash is desperately short.

The MP also said she has also spoken to senior Job Centre sources who voiced fears for the safety of staff forced to cut benefits over the holidays.

“So I plead with you [Mr Green], you take the time to consider what it would be like for a family or vulnerable person who were sanctioned at Christmas,” she said.

“Putting in place special measures to ensure no one is sanctioned over the Christmas period is sensible and fair. It will give people, be them DWP workers or claimants, a little breathing space. It would show at least some level of compassion.

“We heard much in Parliament this year about the punitive sanctions and the impact on the people in our communities. My party and I have challenged your sanctions at every turn from my colleague Mhairi Black MP’s recent Private Member’s Bill to attempting to amend the Welfare Reform and Work Bill.”

But the DWP said last night it was not prepared to consider a few days of clemency over the season of good will.

Sunday Post.

Written by Andrew Coates

December 21, 2016 at 4:06 pm

Posted in Cuts, Damian Green, DWP, Sanctions

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The unaffordable cost of benefits sanctions.

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Image result for benefits sanctions protests

 

This has appeared in the Guardian.

We can only endorse it.

We all know people who’ve suffered from the sanctions-rgime.

It’s time to get rid of it!

The benefit sanctions system is a damaging, expensive failure. Churches, as well as charities, see daily the human cost of this failure in people left without enough money to buy the very basics of life. The recent National Audit Office report has now shown that taxpayers also bear a financial cost for this failure (Report, 30 November). There is no evidence that the UK sanctions regime is cost-effective. In 2015 our report Time to Rethink Benefit Sanctions revealed that each day 100 people unfit for work because of mental health problems received a sanction – mainly for missing appointments with work programme providers.

We have seen the harm these sanctions caused and have met people who were scarred by their experiences. The NAO now tells us that, on average, these sanctions actually reduced people’s short and long-term job prospects and led to reduced earnings for those who subsequently got work. The government has repeatedly stated that sanctions improve employment prospects. The NAO confirmed that the Department for Work and Pensions had no direct evidence for this. Moreover, we now know that the DWP held data that could show whether the sanctions system was working or not. Not only did the department fail to analyse this data, it refused to share it with other researchers. It also discouraged its contractors from assisting these researchers. In effect the DWP appears to have deliberately made itself blind to the failures of the sanctions regime.

As church leaders we are deeply concerned that without proper investigation of the consequences harsh punishments are given to people in already difficult circumstances. We again add our voices to the many government, charity, church and parliamentary bodies calling urgently for a full independent review of the benefit sanctions regime.
Alan Yates General assembly moderator, United Reformed Church
Rev Dr Richard Frazer Church and Society Council convenor, Church of Scotland
Rev Lynn Green General secretary of the Baptist Union of Great Britain
Right Rev John Davies Bishop of Swansea and Brecon
Rev Dr Roger Walton President of the Methodist Conference
Rachel Lampard Vicepresident of the Methodist Conference
Niall Cooper Director, Church Action on Poverty

Written by Andrew Coates

December 11, 2016 at 12:10 pm

Posted in Damian Green, DWP, Sanctions, Tories

Tagged with ,

Attempt to Reform Benefits Sanctions – Private Member’s Bill Shelved.

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Image result for campaign against dole  sanctions

Friday, (BBC)

Work and Pensions Minister Damian Hinds is now answering the second reading debate on the Benefit Claimants Sanctions (Required Assessment) Bill.

Evidence does show that sanctions have a positive effect, he says.

The government ensures that claimants are made aware of the availability of hardship payments, and that these are made within three days, he says.

Mr Hinds says the existing legislation refers to “causes” rather than “reasonable causes” so that discretion can be used to assess whether a person has failed to comply with a condition of their benefits.

As he launches into a line by line response to the bill, the Deputy Speaker calls the debate to order.

Debate on the bill ceases at this point, and although Ms Black asks debate to resume in February, it is unlikely there will be any private members’ time left to return to the bill.

Welfare Weekly reports.

SNP MP Mhairi Black will today (Friday) issue a heartfelt plea to all MPs to put party politics aside and support her initiative to reform the UK Government’s “cruel and damaging” benefits sanctions regime.

The Benefits Sanctions (Required Assessment) Bill will have its second reading in the House of Commons today and Mhairi Black, the youngest MP in the Commons, is the second SNP MP to ever bring forward a Private Member’s Bill.

The legislation will ensure that Department for Work and Pensions staff in Jobcentres across the UK would be required to consider whether personal circumstances such as caring commitments, whether a person is at risk of homelessness or whether they suffer from a mental ill-health condition that could be exacerbated by a benefit sanction before one can be issued.

Director Ken Loach, whose film I, Daniel Blake deals with the effects of benefits sanctions, gave his support to the Bill earlier this week and also urged others to give it their backing.

Mhairi Black MP (pictured) said: “Today we have an important opportunity to make the cruel and damaging benefits sanctions regime fairer. This is about real people, real lives and the real and devastating consequences that sanctions have on individuals and their families.

“My bill will introduce a process of assessing a person’s circumstances such as their caring commitments, whether they are at risk of homelessness or whether they suffer from a mental ill-health condition that could be exacerbated by a sanction.

“If I could scrap sanctions completely I would do it in a heartbeat but I can’t and so I’m making this small ask in the hope that it will improve the lives of people who simply cannot afford to have their safety net stripped from them when they need it most.

“I call on MPs from all parties – Labour in particular – to prove that they can stand up for their constituents and support my Bill today.”

Update: Bill was shelved after MPs spoke for so long there wasn’t enough time for the government to respond.

Note: the Mirror reports.

SNP law to reform benefit sanctions runs out of time after long speeches by Tories… and the SNP

The clock ran out on Mhairi Black’s bid to stop Jobcentres unfairly penalising carers, the homeless and the mentally ill.

However, he prompted a row by complaining he only had eight minutes to talk after other people’s speeches – the longest of which was from Ms Black, Westminster’s youngest MP.

“She spoke for one hour and 15 minutes and I have very little time,” he told MPs. “I’m not going to be able to get through all the contents of the Bill.”

Before he stood up in the House of Commons, four SNP MPs talked for 2 hours and 29 minutes; three Tory MPs talked for an hour and 40 minutes; and Labour’s shadow minister talked for 20 minutes.

But SNP MP John Nicolson – whose own law to pardon 50,000 gay men was “talked out” by a Tory minister weeks ago – defended Ms Black and said her law would have been blocked regardless.

“The minister would have talked it out had she spoken for 5 seconds,” he tweeted. “It’s all pre-arranged on Tory benches with whips.

“They do this every Friday whether speeches are long or short. It’s government policy.”

The SNP tweeted: “While Mhairi Black’s bill was talked out by the Tory minister, the SNP will never stop fighting for a more just society.”

The Private Member’s Bill – not backed the government – was governed by out-of-date rules which put a time limit on the overall debate, but not individual speeches.

Written by Andrew Coates

December 4, 2016 at 12:24 pm

Benefit Sanctions Don’t Work: National Audit Office.

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Image result for sanctions dwp

“Sanctions on benefits have a high opportunity cost, not only for those who are dependent on those benefits if sanctions are applied, but for the efficient use of public resources. “We acknowledge the department’s effort to reduce its error rate on sanctions, but we think there is more to do in terms of reducing them further, and in reducing the notable differences in sanctions applications between comparable localities.”

Amyas Morse, head of the National Audit Office, 30 November 2016 *

The New Statesman has just tweeted on this report,

Damning proof that the government has no evidence benefits sanctions work ALISON GARNHAM

Anyone remember evidence-based policymaking? For the DWP, it appears from today’s National Audit Office (NAO) report on sanctions, it is at best a dim and distant memory.

When the Department made substantial changes to sanction rules in 2012 – marking a step-change in their scope and severity – it could not quantify the financial impact of the changes, and it said it could not predict whether the changes would create savings. Since then, it has made no attempt to track the actual costs and benefits of the changes.

As one reads through the NAO’s report, it becomes increasingly clear how their task – to assess the value for money of sanctions policy – is thwarted at every turn by lack of evidence. The words “the Department does not know”, and mentions of data that the Department does not analyse or collect, recur throughout. The government is evidently operating blind, on an issue that could scarcely be more important: the decision actively to remove from already-poor individuals and households the basic means of their subsistence.

Disturbingly, there are several indications that this ignorance is wilful. The DWP has administrative data on individual benefit histories, sanctions and employment, and data on local sanction rates and performance, but it chooses not to use this body of evidence to evaluate the impacts of sanctions. The government, via the Economic and Social Research Council, has funded a £2m research project from 2013 to 2018 to understand the role and impact of conditionality in social security. In 2015, the DWP advised its Work Programme providers not to take part in focus groups for the project. And, in March 2015, the Work and Pensions Committee called on the DWP to commission “a broad independent review of benefit conditionality and sanctions, to investigate whether sanctions are being applied appropriately, fairly and proportionately”. After taking seven months to respond, the Department refused.

What we do know beyond doubt is that sanctions cause immense hardship to those who are subjected to them. This is in a sense a question of simple logic – take away a person’s primary, meagre source of sustenance, and they will suffer. Indeed, that is the Department’s stated intention: its own guidance to decision makers acknowledges that ‘it would be usual for a normal healthy adult to suffer some deterioration in their health’ if left without income for two weeks (JSA sanctions start at twice this duration). Decision makers assessing potential hardship payments should be looking only at those who would “suffer a greater decline in health than a normal healthy adult” [original emphasis]. But it is also reflected in a range of direct evidence, not least of which is the link between sanctions and food bank use: research by Child Poverty Action Group and others found that between 19 and 29 per cent of visits to the food banks we studied were caused by sanctions.

If that’s bad enough, there’s this.

Meanwhile, for Work Programme providers, on average, higher use of sanctions is associated with lower performance in terms of employment outcomes. Though this does not prove causality – it could be, for example, that weak Work Programme providers may use sanctions more because they are ineffective with their other approaches – it may suggest that differences in deterrence effects of sanctions are weaker than other factors explaining performance. Again, no evidence in favour of sanctions here.

Read the full article at the New Statesman.

The Guardian says,

Sanctions on welfare payments which have allegedly caused thousands of claimants to fall into hardship and depression are being handed out without evidence that they actually work, Whitehall’s official spending watchdog has found.

The Department for Work and Pensions is also failing to monitor thousands of people whose benefits are being cut or withheld while many are being pushed outside the benefits system, said the National Audit Office.

Auditors concluded there has been a failure to measure whether the government is saving money while the application of the sanctions regime varies across the country and from job centre to job centre.

The report, issued on Wednesday, has been seized upon by critics of the government’s sanctions regime who say it is punitive, wasteful and not aimed at finding people work.

The findings could cause difficulties for Damian Green, the welfare secretary, who insisted this week that the sanctions contributed to a fairer society and were an important part of the benefits system.

Labour MP Meg Hillier, who chairs the public accounts committee, said: “Benefit sanctions punish some of the poorest people in the country. But despite the anxiety and misery they cause, it seems to be pot luck who gets sanctioned.

“While studies suggest sanctions do encourage some people back into work, other people stop claiming but do not start working and the Department for Work and Pensions has no record of them. If vulnerable people fall through the safety net, what happens to them?”

More than 1 million unemployed benefits claimants have to meet certain conditions, such as showing they are looking for work, to receive jobseeker’s allowance, employment and support allowance, universal credit and income support.

Almost a quarter of claimants (24%) between 2010 and 2015 received a sanction, the report said. A four-week penalty can mean a claimant over-25 losing £300.

In 2015, 800,000 claimants were referred to the DWP for possible sanctions, the report said. Of those, half were then sanctioned across at least one of four benefits.

National Audit Office. Benefit Sanctions.

Press Release.

The Department for Work & Pensions (DWP) is not doing enough to find out how sanctions affect people on benefits, according to today’s report from the National Audit Office.

A benefit sanction is a penalty imposed on a claimant meaning a loss of income when someone does not meet conditions like attending jobcentre appointments. Sanctions are not rare: 24% of Jobseeker’s Allowance claimants received at least one between 2010 and 2015. Use of sanctions varies substantially, with some Work Programme providers referring twice as many people for sanctions as other providers in the same area.

Today’s report finds that jobcentres’ monthly sanction referral rate for Jobseeker’s Allowance claimants rose to 11% in March 2011 then fell to 3% in December 2015. There are many reasons for this variation but it cannot be fully explained by changes in claimant behaviour. The NAO concludes it is likely that management focus and local work coach discretion have had a substantial influence on whether or not people are sanctioned.

Today’s report recommends that the Department for Work & Pensions carries out a wide-ranging review of benefit sanctions, particularly as it introduces further changes to labour market support such as Universal Credit. The DWP has commissioned independent reviews and taken steps to improve processes but rejected previous calls for a wider review. The NAO finds that the previous government increased the scope and severity of sanctions in 2012, and recognised that these changes would affect claimants’ behaviour in ways that were difficult to predict.

The NAO report finds that the Department is meeting target timescales for most sanction decisions but is missing its Universal Credit targets. In August 2016, 42% of decisions about Universal Credit sanctions took longer than 28 working days.

International studies show people who receive sanctions are more likely to get work, but the effect can be short-lived, lead to lower wages and increase the number of people moving off benefits into inactivity. The DWP has not used its own data to evaluate the impact of sanctions in the UK. The NAO undertook preliminary analysis of the impact of Work Programme sanctions on employment, inactivity and earnings. The results show the Department should do more to understand these sanctions outcomes.

Sanctions have costs, for people who receive them and for the government. The Department does not track the costs and benefits of sanctions, but estimates that it spends £30-50 million a year applying sanctions, and around £200 million monitoring the conditions it sets for claimants. The NAO estimates the Department withheld £132 million from claimants due to sanctions in 2015, and paid them £35 million in hardship payments. The overall impact of sanctions on wider public spending is unknown.

From, “Key Findings”:

10. Designing sanctions 10 How people respond to sanctions is uncertain. The Department expects most claimants will not be sanctioned and that the deterrence effect of sanctions will encourage them to comply with conditions. However, the Department has limited evidence on how people respond to the possibility of receiving a sanction, or how large this deterrent effect is in practice. Direct effects on people who receive sanctions will also be important; we found 24% of Jobseeker’s Allowance claimants receive a sanction at some point (paragraphs 1.8 to 1.10 and Figures 4 and 5).

11 The previous government increased the scope and severity of sanctions. The 2012 reforms expanded the range of claimants subject to conditions and increased the maximum length of Jobseeker’s Allowance sanctions from 26 to 156 weeks. When it made the changes the Department recognised that they would affect claimants’ behaviour in ways that were difficult to predict (paragraphs 1.11 to 1.13 and Figure 6.

12 The Department’s changes to employment support have introduced risks for its use of sanctions. The Department has changed its employment support and approach to sanctions in response to identified problems. For example it has put more emphasis on one-to-one relationships between staff and claimants to encourage more appropriate conditions. Changes introduce new risks. While greater flexibility for jobcentre staff to tailor conditions can make them more appropriate, it also increases the risk of inconsistency in how sanctions are used (paragraphs 1.14 to 1.18 and Figure 7).

21 The Department does not track the costs and benefits of sanctions. Potential benefits include increased and faster entry into employment leading to lower benefit spending and higher tax revenues. Possible wider costs include the direct impact on people who get sanctioned, such as financial hardship or depression. Supporting them may lead to higher public spending in areas such as local authority funded welfare support. The Department does not know these wider costs and benefits (paragraphs 3.14 to 3.20 and Figure 23).

Unfortunately the recommendations are far from satisfactory.

Recommendations

24 As the Department introduces further changes to labour market support, we recommend it carries out a wide-ranging review of sanctions.

In particular: a The Department should support better understanding of the impact of sanctions. It should use its data – including real time information on earnings – to track the direct and indirect impact of sanctions on the likelihood, duration and quality of employment, including for those with barriers to work. It should adopt an open and collaborative approach to working with academic researchers and third-party organisations.

b The Department should assess the wider cost of sanctions to central and local government. It should track how sanctions affect demand for publicly funded services.

c The Department should use information to continuously improve its approach to sanctions. The Department has mechanisms for learning and improvement. It should expand its use of feedback from each stage of the sanctions process to fix recurring problems that lead to unnecessary referrals and overturned decisions.

d The Department should improve both internal management information and published statistics about sanction processes, variation and trends. It should demonstrate that it has satisfied the UK Statistics Authority that it has met all recommendations on its published statistics.

e The Department should model future demand for Universal Credit decisions. A large decision backlog already exists. The Department needs to understand likely growth in demand and decision-makers’ capacity to meet it.

f The Department should explore ways to reduce variation in referrals from providers. The Department needs to better manage variation as it develops new programmes such as the Work and Health Programme.

Get Rid of the Sanctions Regime!

Written by Andrew Coates

November 30, 2016 at 4:08 pm