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Homelessness charity Crisis has warmly welcomed calls by the Scottish National Party for an urgent review into the punitive benefit sanctions regime.

Matt Downie, director of policy and external affairs at Crisis, said: “We welcome measures outlined by the SNP today to ensure that the welfare safety net protects some of the most vulnerable people in our society.

“In particular we support the SNP’s calls for an urgent review of benefit sanctions. Sanctions are cruel and can leave people cold, hungry and at severe risk of homelessness.

“Our next government must initiate a full independent review into the appropriateness and effectiveness of the regime, particularly for people at risk of or experiencing homelessness.

He added: “It is also encouraging to see the SNP standing firmly against attempts to restrict housing benefit for 18-to-21 year olds. Almost one in three homeless people are aged between 16 and 24.

“Housing benefit can be a lifeline for young people who cannot rely on the support of their parents. Any plans to remove this safety net could have devastating consequences, leaving more vulnerable young people with no choice but to turn to the streets.”

The call by the SNP, included in their general election manifesto, mirrors a recommendation made by the Work and Pensions Select Committee earlier this year.

Calling for a full independent review to be established as soon as possible in the next parliament, chair of the committee Dame Anne Begg said: “Benefit sanctions are controversial because they withhold subsistence-level benefits from people who may have little or no other income.

“We agree that benefit conditionality is necessary but it is essential that policy is based on clear evidence of what works in terms of encouraging people to take up the support which is available to help them get back into work.

“The policy must then be applied fairly and proportionately.

“The system must also be capable of identifying and protecting vulnerable people, including those with mental health problems and learning disabilities.

“And it should avoid causing severe financial hardship.The system as currently applied does not always achieve this.”

More than one million jobseekers had their benefit payments docked due to sanctions last year (2014), often for punitive or spurious reasons.