The Scottish National Party (SNP) has reiterated its call for an immediate review into the “punitive” benefit sanction regime, which it says is “causing misery in communities across Scotland”.
The call comes as a growing number of charities and church groups voice concerns that benefit sanctions are driving vulnerable people to food banks and loan sharks.
The Work and Pensions Select Committee, a cross-party group of MPs, also called for a review of the policy more than 100 days ago – during which time more than 15,000 jobseekers have been ‘sanctioned’ in Scotland. Church of Scotland has pointed out that despite of this, the UK government seems to have no intention in acting on the recommendation.
SNP MSP Kevin Stewart said: “Westminster’s unfair and punitive sanctions regime is causing misery in communities across Scotland –and hitting those who need help most, from single mothers to people with disabilities.
“Organisations like the Church of Scotland see the impact of the unfair sanctions first-hand in communities across the country – they join a growing number of voices calling for an immediate review of the policy and it is time for the DWP to sit up and take notice.
“The SNP has already been clear that there should be an immediate review of the UK Government’s conditionality and sanctions regime – and the DWP should not be allowed to impose any more unfair sanctions on vulnerable people while the review is ongoing.
“But more than that, we need the powers here in Scotland to put a stop to this relentless and sustained assault on vulnerable people – and to design a new and better system which supports and empowers people who need help rather than punishing them as this Tory government is intent on doing.
“The Tories have shown time and time again that they can’t be trusted to take decisions on social security on Scotland’s behalf – and it’s time that these crucial powers were in Scotland’s hands, rather than Iain Duncan Smith’s.”
The Rev Dr Richard Frazer, Vice-Convener of the Church of Scotland’s Church and Society Council, said: “The impact and effect of sanctions on individuals, families and communities across Scotland have been devastating.
“Far from encouraging people back to work, they impose punitive and indiscriminate financial hardship on thousands of people who need help.
“Removing support from people with mental ill health or parents of children will do nothing to reduce inequality and improve life chances for people who struggle against poverty.”
The number of sick and disabled people across the UK who have been hit by benefit sanctions has doubled in only a year. In 2014, 75 sanctions were handed out per 1,000 claimants in the Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) Work Related Activity Group (WRAG).
In total, more than 36,845 sanctions were dished out against jobseekers last year – often for unfair or spurious reasons.