Callous Tories refuse to ease ‘pointlessly cruel’ benefit sanctions regime

DWP HQ, Caxton House, London. Photo: Paul Billanie for Welfare Weekly.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has come under fire after it refused to adopt of series of recommendations that are designed to protect vulnable benefit claimants from financial hardship caused by sanctions.

An investigation by the Work and Pensions Select Committee (WPSC) found that reducing or completely stopping a person’s benefit payments for failure to comply with arbitrary requirments is “pointlessly cruel” and often “counter-productive”.

However, the Government rejected the Commitee’s recommendation that claimants already found to have limited capability for work should be exempt from sanctions.

Jobcentre Plus sign.

They also rejected the call that claimants who are waiting for a Work Capability Assessment should be exempt from sanctions if they have a “Fit Note” from a doctor saying they are unable to work.

And they rejected a recommendation calling on the DWP to define what it means by “good reason” for failing to meet a requirement that led to a sanction.

This is currently left to work coach discretion, which the WPSC says is inconsistent – the threat of being hit by a sanction could depend on where a person lives or how forgiving their work coach is.

The recommendation that lone parents should not have their benefits docked by more than 20% was also rejected, despite evidence showing that sanctions were causing considerable financial and emotional distress.

The Committee says the Government’s refusal to accept its recommendations show it is “not even considering the impact of sanctions on claimants’ financial and personal wellbeing”.

“We have heard stories of terrible and unnecessary hardship from people who’ve been sanctioned”, the Committee said.

“They were left bewildered and driven to despair at becoming, often with their children, the victims of a sanctions regime that is at times so counter-productive it just seems pointlessly cruel.”

Benefit sanctions have been blamed for pushing the poor to foodbanks.

In its report, the WPSC found that sanctions “actually worked against people getting into work”, whilst also criticising the Government’s sanction regime as being “arbitrarily punitive”.

The WPSC said that no evidence it received was “more compelling than that against the imposition of conditionality and sanctions on people with a disability or health condition.”

“It does not work. Worse, it is harmful and counterproductive.”

Commenting on the Government’s response, Committee Chair Frank Field said: “Our report laid bare the inhumanity of the Government’s sanctions regime, which it has pursued for years without ever stopping to check whether it works or what it is doing to the people it is meant to “support”.

“In response, the Government has failed utterly to grasp the seriousness of the matter.

“It talks about reviews and “proof of concept”: it might want to take a look at the concept of not pushing disabled people and single parents—not to mention their children—into grinding poverty and hardship.”

A near empty food cupboard. Photo: Oxfam.

Margaret Greenwood MP, Labour’s Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary, said the Government are in “complete denial about the impact of its sanctions regime on people’s lives”.

It is damaging people’s health and well-being and leaving many at risk of destitution”, she said.

“There is no evidence that sanctions lead to people finding work that lasts and lifts them out of poverty.

“This government is so extreme that it has rejected reducing the length of sanctions and is even prepared to consider making them longer.

“The real way to help people into work is through an industrial strategy to deliver jobs and growth and employment support tailored to each person’s needs. Labour will end this government’s cruel and counter-productive sanctions regime.”

A DWP spokesperson said: “Fewer than 3% of those subject to requirements for their benefits are under sanction, and only when they have not met them without good reason.

“This reaction from the committee is disappointing as we welcomed their report and made clear we will be taking on many of its recommendations to protect vulnerable claimants.”

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