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Furious MPs have condemned the “human cost” of continuing to apply the existing regime of benefit sanctions on vulnerable people, whilst also accusing the UK Government of breaking its promise to review the “arbitrarily punitive” system.

A report into benefit sanctions, published today (Tuesday) by the Work and Pensions Select Committee (WPSC) says the UK Government appear to have “little or no understanding of the likely impact of a tougher sanctions regime” on vulnerable people – particularly the sick and disabled.

The WPSC report finds that no evidence submitted to the Committee for its inquiry 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,” the report says.

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There is no clear evidence to prove that the introduction of tougher punishments in 2012 have actually worked in nudging unemployment people towards employment, the Committee says.

What little evidence there is shows that, at best, the effectiveness of sanctions is mixed. At worst, it shows sanctions to be harmful and counterproductive in supporting and encouraging people into work.

One witness told the inquiry that “if it was not for the embarrassment, the Government would have suspended ESA (Employment and Support Allowance) sanctions altogether as soon as that National Audit Office finding came out that sanctioned ESA claimants were less likely to get into work.”

Benefit sanctions have been blamed for pushing the poor to food banks.

The report also finds that single parents, care leavers and people with a disability or health condition are disproportionately affected by sanctions, which can see payments docked or stopped completely for up to three years.

The WPSC said that unless the DWP  can “show unequivocally that sanctions actually help to move these claimants into work, it cannot ‘justify these groups’ continued inclusion in the sanctions regime’.”

The cross-party group of MPs adds: “In the meantime, and until that positive link is proven, people who are the responsible carer for a child under the age of 5, or a child with demonstrable additional needs and care costs, and care leavers under the age of 25, should only ever have a maximum of 20% of their benefit withheld.”

Government should also “immediately stop imposing conditionality and sanctions on anyone found to have limited capability for work, or who presents a valid doctor’s note”, MPs say.

Commenting on the report’s findings, WPSC Chair Frank Field MP said: “We have heard stories of terrible and unnecessary hardship from people who’ve been sanctioned.

“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.

“While none of them told us that there should be no benefit sanctions at all, it can only be right for the Government to take a long hard look at what is going on.

“If their stories were rare it would be unacceptable, but the Government has no idea how many more people out there are suffering in similar circumstances. In fact, it has kept itself in the dark about any of the impacts of the major reforms to sanctions introduced since 2012.

“The time is long overdue for the Government to assess the evidence and then have the courage of its reform convictions to say, where it is right to do so, ’this policy is not achieving its aims, it is not working, and the cost is too high: We will change it’.”