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DWP accused of misleading the public on benefit sanction numbers

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has been accused of grossly underreporting the number of benefit sanctions imposed on unemployed people in the UK, as research suggests the true number could be double that reported by the DWP.

Research by Dr. David Webster, from the University of Glasgow, found 300,000 sanctions were imposed on unemployed people in the year leading up to September 2016, double the amount admitted by the DWP.

Dr. Webster’s research also found that Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) claimants are seeing their benefits docked for longer, while the number of sanctions imposed on sick and disabled people in receipt of Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) has risen sharply.

Dr. Webster criticised the DWP for failing to improve its reporting of sanctions, which continue to fail to meet requirements set by the UK Statistics Authority.

His criticism comes after experts previously described the Government’s sanctions reporting as a “gross and systematic misrepresentation” – underreporting the true number of people affected by its cruel and draconian sanctions regime.

Commenting on the research, SNP MSP Sandra White said: “This is yet another blow to the credibility of the Tory sanctions regime, which causes a great deal of distress and hardship to people seeking work – and actually costs the taxpayer more to administer than it saves.

“The Tory axemen can try and massage the figures all they want, but we now know that sanction numbers are twice as high as they’ll admit. They can’t keep turning a blind eye to the evidence.

“It’s time to ditch this flawed sanctions regime and to put dignity and fairness at the heart of our Social Security system.”

Last week, Welfare Weekly reported tens of thousands of disabled people have been subjected to benefit sanctions since December 2012.

Detailed analysis of official DWP data found 71,366 sanctions were imposed against disabled ESA claimants between 3 December 2012 and 30 September 2016, affecting 41,510 disabled individuals.

Further analysis found 260,000 sanctions were also imposed on disabled JSA claimants over the same period.

However, Dr. Webster’s analysis suggests these figures could be a drop in the ocean. The potential number of unemployed people affected by sanctions could be far higher than anyone has reported.

If Dr. Webster’s analysis is correct, and there is no reason for us to believe it isn’t, it suggests the public and the media – which includes Welfare Weekly – are being severely misled, or at worst lied to.

How can the press and wider media be expected to hold the government to account – a key part of any functioning democracy – if, as alleged, it is publishing false or misleading statistics?

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