SNP MP Neil Gray has urged the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to urgently publish advice for Job Centre staff and welfare claimants to avoid those affected by Coronavirus being sanctioned.
Responding to Mr Gray at Work and Pensions Questions, the Minister for Welfare Delivery, Will Quince MP, confirmed the DWP would not sanction people who are self-isolating for coronavirus and unable to attend Job Centre appointments, adding that discretion will be used by the DWP.
However, the SNP’s Work and Pensions spokesperson has said that “exercising discretion” is not good enough and that guidance must be clear for both advisers and claimants affected by Coronavirus – including those who need to self-isolate and those who need to stay at home to care for children who may be off school.
He also challenged the sanctions regime – describing it as callous and punitive – on the basis that if the UK government can make allowances for Coronavirus victims then why not all welfare claimants.
SNP MP Patrick Grady also asked the UK government when it was going to publish its advice for “job seekers, advisers and for those whose job it is to scrutinise what the government is doing” and urged the DWP to be “robust in its advice” because “people aren’t going to be reassured by the idea of ‘exercising discretion’ on something so fundamental.”
Commenting, Neil Gray MP said: “Confirmation that Coronavirus victims who claim social security will not be sanctioned for missing appointments is of course welcome – but to take away the risk of this happening at all to anyone affected by Coronavirus, the DWP must publish guidance on this for Job Centre staff and claimants immediately.
“The DWP has said that they will ‘exercise discretion’ when it comes to this issue – that is simply not good enough. As my SNP colleague rightly pointed out – the UK government needs to be robust in its advice.
“This whole situation also brings into question the need for the punitive sanctions regime. If the Tories can make allowances for those who are ill with Coronavirus, why not for others who miss appointments because of such things out of their control?”
Thérèse Coffey (pictured above), the Secretary of State for the Department for Work and Pensions, has made an oral statement to Parliament about the coronavirus: “The department is fully prepared for all eventualities and has conducted extensive planning against reasonable worst case scenarios.
“I have been in discussions with the chancellor and will continue to work across government to prepare.
“If claimants cannot attend their jobcentre appointment in person because of self-isolation, work coaches can exercise discretion, so claimants should engage with them and they will not be sanctioned – as long they let us know before the appointment.
“And as my Rt Hon Friend the Prime Minister set out last week ‘nobody should be penalised for doing the right thing’.
“That’s why the government’s safety net also extends to those who are self-employed or who work in the gig-economy.
“They can apply for Universal Credit or new-style ESA. Advances are available for Universal Credit immediately.”