The UK Government’s proposal of a ‘yellow card’ system to warn claimants of a potential benefits sanction will only ‘paper over the cracks’ of a deeply flawed system, an SNP MP has said.
SNP social justice spokeswoman Eilidh Whiteford says “tinkering around the edges” of the benefit sanctions regime would not resolve “the deep flaws at its core”.
The Government has proposed the introduction of a new “yellow card” system, which would give people two weeks to appeal and explain why a sanction should not be imposed, before their benefits are stopped or reduced.
Under the current system, people can find their benefits stopped without warning and are not given a genuine opportunity to defend their case, or argue that a sanction has been applied wrongly or unfairly.
The government says informing people two weeks in advance would “strike the right balance” between the rights of a claimant and strict conditionality rules.
Sanctions can be applied to benefit payments when a person is deemed to have broken a “jobseeker’s agreement”, which explains what is expected of a claimant in return for benefits.
Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith said in October that the new system will allow claimants “to provide further evidence to explain their non-compliance”.
“We will then review this information before deciding whether a sanction remains appropriate. We expect that this will strike the right balance between enforcing the claimant commitment and fairness.”
However, there have been many instances where people have had their benefits slashed for punitive and unjust reasons, such as not attending a jobcentre appointment despite having a hospital appointment.
Statistics reinforce suspicions that arbitrary sanctions are being imposed wrongly and without justification, with 58% of sanctions being overturned on appeal.
The new system will be trialed in Scotland before being rolled out across the country, but Eilidh Whiteford says existing evidence proves that stopping benefit payments “clearly does not work”, and also that there is little information about how the new system would work in practice.
Whiteford told BBC News: “We are told that the yellow-card warning will be trialled in Scotland but we have had no detail on which parts of Scotland or even how the system will be rolled out.
“But tinkering around the edges of the DWP’s sanctions system is not going to resolve the deep flaws at its core.
She added: “The government’s own figures show that half of all sanctions were later overturned on appeal and the Poverty Alliance, Trussell Trust, Crisis and many more frontline organisations have said that sanctions simply do not work in getting people back to work.
“So while a two-week warning is better than no warning at all for someone who is about to lose their welfare payments it is unacceptable for the Tories to paper over the cracks while failing to address the very real issues at the heart of the DWP’s sanctions regime.”