A leading homeless charity has warned of a ‘postcode lottery’ in the benefits sanctions regime, exposing a ‘deeply flawed system’.
An independent report reveals how a flawed and punitive benefits sanctions regime is having devastating consequences for homelessness, food poverty and health.
The report – ‘Benefit Sanctions and Homelessness’ – carried out by the Centre for Regional Economic and Social Research at Sheffield Hallam University for the homeless charity Crisis, shows wide variations in how benefit sanctions are imposed across the UK.
Evidence was also uncovered into how large numbers of “unfair and inappropriate” sanctions are being dished out against benefit claimants.
Around half of all benefit sanctions which are later appealed are overturned in favor of the claimant. Jobcentres and Work Programme providers admitted to not always understanding how the rules should be applied, with Work Programme sanctions the most likely to be overturned (19%).
Homeless people are being ‘disproportionately affected by sanctions’, the report says. Many homeless people face obstacles and barriers that make it more difficult to meet requirements placed upon them in order to continue receiving benefits, including mental and physical health problems, a history of domestic violence and poor literacy and IT skills.
According to the report, sanctions can increase the risk of homelessness and leave vulnerable adults unable to feed themselves. Affected people are forced to borrow money from family and friends, leading to family problems and arguments.
Sanctions can also make it harder for unemployed people to find work; travel to interviews, purchase suitable clothes and can “de-motivate people from engaging with the system”.
Jon Sparkes, Chief Executive of Crisis, said: “The Government has assured us that benefit sanctions are only for those who refuse to play by the rules. But evidence is mounting of a punitive and deeply flawed regime.
“Sanctions are cruel and can leave people at severe risk of homelessness – cold, hungry and utterly destitute. At the same time, people who are already homeless can struggle to meet the conditions of the regime. Many are trying to rebuild their lives, and losing the support of benefits can be disastrous.
“This isn’t helping people into work. It’s kicking them when they’re down.
“We want our next Government to commit to an urgent, wide-ranging review looking at the appropriateness and effectiveness of sanctions, especially for people at risk of or experiencing homelessness.”
Report author, Dr Kesia Reeve of Sheffield Hallam University said: “This evidence review raises serious questions about the appropriateness, effectiveness, and consequences of benefit sanctions, particularly for homeless people.
“The evidence at present is limited, but points clearly to a system that is more punitive than it is supportive and that fails to take into account the barriers homeless people face.
“The scale and magnitude of sanctions is startling, as is the wide variation found across the country.
“Over the coming year we will be building a robust evidence base, so that informed debate can take place about the appropriateness and effectiveness of welfare conditionality and benefit sanctions in the context of homelessness.”