Four SNP MSPs have called on the Employment Minister Esther McVey to commission an independent investigation into benefit sanctions targets.
SNP MSPs have written to Esther Mcvey to “express concern about growing evidence of DWP staff being put under pressure to sanction people”.
The letter follows an appearance by David Mundell MP before the Scottish Parliament’s Welfare Reform Committee earlier this week, where he denied DWP staff were under pressure to impose sanctions.
Mr Mundell, the only Conservative Member of Parliament representing a Scottish constituency at Westminster, refused to acknowledge comments from Inclusion Scotland’s Director of Policy Bill Scott, who said DWP staff were being threatened with disciplinary measures if they don’t hand out enough benefit sanctions.
Bill Scott said: “Therefore there is a bit of sophistry within DWP when it says that no targets exist, no league tables exist and so on. In fact, that is what is happening in practice.
“I have messages on my mobile phone from Public and Commercial Services Union members who have been taken into disciplinary meetings to be told that they are being disciplined because they have not imposed enough sanctions.
“Other PCS members have been told that they will not be getting their annual uplift in pay—their increment—because they have not sanctioned sufficient people in the last year.”
A survey by PCS found that 82% of staff felt they were under pressure to impose sanctions, which the SNP say was ignored by Mr Mundell.
The SNP also accused Mr Mundell of ignoring evidence from a charity organiser, purely because he has voted ‘yes’ in the Scottish independence referendum.
Kevin Stewart MSP, a member of the Welfare Reform Committee, said: “David Mundell came to the Scottish Parliament and totally refused to accept evidence that staff at the Department of Work and Pensions are being forced into imposing sanctions on claimants.
“However, there is growing evidence of the pressure being piled on to staff. We are therefore calling for an extensive independent investigation to be carried out and the findings made public on DWP so we know if staff are pressurised into imposing sanctions on people, and if so what kind of pressure the employees are being put under.
“Mr Mundell’s comments stand in stark contrast to the evidence given at the Scottish Parliament by Inclusion Scotland’s Director of Policy Bill Scott – who has warned us that he is being made aware of this going on.”
Joan McAlpine MSP said: “During the evidence session, Mr Mundell refused to accept the findings of the Public and Commercial Services Union Survey which has shown pressure on staff to sanction is commonplace.
“Mr Mundell has shown scant regard for this body of evidence including that from Mr Scott, a key figure in a leading charity in Scotland – which is a totally inadequate position for junior minister of the UK government to take.”
During the committee hearing, Mr Mundell admitted: “I’ve set out for you that sanctions are not aimed at employment – they’re aimed at ensuring that people who are in receipt of working benefits look for work.”
Christina McKelvie said: “Mr Mundell has let the cat out of the bag in admitting that welfare sanctions are not designed to get people into work.
“This shocking and depressing truth highlights just how heartless the Westminster system is towards some of our more vulnerable people.
“Mr Mundell did say he would look into individual cases of people having sanctions imposed on them unfairly. This is a surprising but very welcome development and I will hold him to his word and ensure he meets constituents of mine and people from across Scotland who have been targeted and had their benefits unfairly stopped.”