Thousands of campaigners are preparing to march on Jobcentres in more than 70 towns and cities across the UK, in protest against the Government’s ‘grotesquely cruel’ benefit sanctions regime.
The national “day of action”, organised by members of the Unite union, will also see the delivery of a petition signed by thousands of people to the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP).
Gill Thompson, whose brother David Clapson died shortly after being sanctioned by the DWP, will deliver the petition on Wednesday, calling for a “broad and independent” review into the sanctions regime.
Mr Clapson, a diabetic soldier, died in 2013 after being sanctioned for missing an appointment. His body was found surrounded by CV’s and his electricity was cut off, leaving his insulin unusable.
Liane Groves head of Unite Community said: “Half a million people have been sanctioned and had their financial support withdrawn in the last 12 months alone.
“Money can be cut for arriving late at the Jobcentre, missing an appointment to go to a funeral or even failing to apply for a job while waiting to start a new job.
“This harsh benefit sanctions regime treats claimants worse than criminals fined in courts, leaving people without money and unable to feed themselves and their family.
“It is a system out of control with decisions on guilt taken in secret and claimants not even allowed to be present to explain their case.
“Far from helping people back to work, the cruel sanctions regime harms physical and mental health and drives up food bank use and homelessness.
“It is totally counterproductive and there can be no justification for this grotesque cruelty by the government.
“It can’t be allowed to go on.”
An analysis of official Government figures by researcher David Webster shows that 12.9% of all Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) claimants were sanctioned during the year 2014-15, whilst 2.9% of Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) were also sanctioned.
Mr Webster’s analysis also reveals that “claimants are more likely to be sanctioned repeatedly on ESA than on JSA”, with one in four sanctioned more than once and one in ten sanctioned three times or more.
The shocking figures are at odds with Government claims that sanctions are only ever used “as a last resort” in a small percentage of cases.
DWP statistics suggest that the number of adverse sanction decisions is beginning to fall: 21,973 JSA claimants were sanctioned in September 2015, compared to 43,360 in the same month the previous year. The number of ESA sanctions is also falling, from 2,416 in September 2014 to 1,831 in September 2015.
Despite this apparent fall, the proportion of successful sanction challenges is now over 70% for JSA and 50% for ESA.
Mr Webster explains that this may be due to an “astonishing rise” in the number of sanction referrals for not “actively seeking employment” (ASE), which result in an adverse decision in just 6% of cases compared to 17% for all other reasons. Since 2010 the number on JSA sanction referrals for not actively seeking employment has increased by 19 percentage point, from 62% to 81%.
“It appears that the DWP’s decision makers are now doing little more than rubber-stamping ASE sanction referrals”, says Webster.
He continues: “There has never been clearer evidence that far more JSA claimants ought to challenge their sanctions.
“Not only are their chances of success better than 70%, but they are unlikely to have to bother to go beyond the informal review stage to get a positive result.”
Due to few people challenging adverse decisions in the past, the overall appeal success rate is around 16% for JSA and 26% for ESA.
The higher figure cited by Mr Webster suggests that more people than ever are now finding the courage to challenge adverse sanction decisions.
This article was last edited at 18:30 on 7 March 2016 to correct a statistical error.