More than 80,000 families face a bleak and miserable Christmas because of punitive and unfair benefit sanctions, the PCS union says.
PCS say an estimated £20 million – £250 per person on average – in benefits will be withheld from poor and desperate job seekers during the run-up to Christmas and the new year festivities.
Analysing figures from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), the PCS has calculated that more than 74,000 unemployed people will lose more than £19 million in Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) payments.
Monthly trends suggest 54,700 JSA claimants will be sanctioned this month, totalling £14,540,000. PCS estimate a further 19,300 sanctions lasting 13 weeks will have been issued in October and November 2014, totalling £5,140,000 for December 2014.
PCS say the figure represents a 2,000% increase since the last Christmas before the Tory-led coalition took office in 2010.
Estimates exclude 2,300 claimants who have been sanctioned for three years since October 2012. PCS say it is impossible to estimate how many of these have remained unemployed in that time.
Around 6,800 sick and disabled people also face a penniless Christmas, losing almost £700,000 in crucial Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) payments.
The worrying extent of sanctions issued against sick and disabled people could be much higher than figures suggest. This is because the DWP does not publish data for ESA claimants receiving a second or third sanction. PCS calculations are therefore based on a one-week sanction of people in the Work Related Activity Group (WRAG) of ESA.
The coalition government toughened the benefits sanction regime in October 2012, a move which has led to a shocking increase in the number of people having their benefits docked – including the sick and disabled.
More than 900,000 job seekers have been hit by benefit sanctions in the last year alone, according to a Freedom of Information (FOI) request.
Figures also show that benefit sanctions for sick and disabled people are on the rise, with 15,955 sanctions dished out against ESA claimants during the first three months of 2014. This compares to 3,574 in the same period the previous year.
PCS say they are strongly opposed to the new sanctions regime, which charities cite as one of the main reasons for a surge in the number of people turning to food banks.
DWP continues to claim there are no targets for advisers in jobcentres to refer people for sanctions, but the union has provided evidence that the department’s appraisal system, linked to the disciplinary procedure, is used to enforce ‘expectation’ levels.
PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said: “There is no evidence that stopping people’s benefits improves their chances of finding long-term employment.
“Many are being punished for simply turning up late to an interview or refusing to work for free for a profitable company on one of the government’s failing workfare schemes.
“Use of these sanctions has spiralled in recent years, but they do nothing but heap blame and misery on some of the poorest in our society and they should be scrapped.”
The government is facing mounting pressure to change the sanctions regime in the wake of numerous stories of people being ‘sanctioned’ for punitive and often ridiculous reasons.
The Work and Pensions Select Committee is holding an inquiry into the use of benefit sanctions and will report their findings in the new year.