Thousands of children in Scotland have been affected by cruel and vindictive benefit sanctions, new figures reveal.
Figures released by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), in response to a Freedom of Information request (FOI), reveal that 3,600 Scottish benefit claimants with dependent children were hit by benefit sanctions between 1 June 2012 and 31 May 2013.
The figure includes 180 sick and disabled people in receipt of Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), who are regarded as not fit for work.
The most common reasons given by the DWP for issuing benefit sanctions are:
- failure to actively look for work
- failure to take part in an employment programme
- not having a good reason for missing a meeting at the Jobcentre
The DWP insist “benefit sanctions are only used as a last resort” and that “the overwhelming majority of claimants do not receive a sanction”.
However, official figures show a significant rise in the number of claimants having their benefit payments stopped or docked, often for ridiculous or trivial reasons, since the government toughened the sanctions regime in 2012.
More than 900,000 Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) claimants were sanctioned in the last year alone. Jobseekers under the age of 30 were the most likely to be hit by a sanction (516,472).
A cross-party report published earlier this week blamed the punitive use of benefit sanctions for soaring numbers of food bank users.
Trussell Trust say benefit delays, including sanctions, are cited by food bank users as the most common reason for being unable to afford to feed themselves.
The charity gave out more than 913,000 three days worth of food to struggling families across the UK in 2013-14, up a shocking 163% on the previous year.
Trussell Trust say 83% of food banks report ‘sanctioning’ is causing rising numbers to turn to them.
Trussell Trust’s Chairman, Chris Mould, says: “That 900,000 people have received three days’ food from a food bank, close to triple the numbers helped last year, is shocking in 21st century Britain.
“But perhaps most worrying of all this figure is just the tip of the iceberg of UK food poverty, it doesn’t include those helped by other emergency food providers, those living in towns where there is no foodbank, people who are too ashamed to seek help or the large number of people who are only just coping by eating less and buying cheap food.”
Mr Mould called for a “more thoughtful approach to the administration of the benefits regime and sanctions”.
Oxfam’s Head of UK Poverty Programme, Rachael Orr said: “The fact that the number of people forced to turn to food banks has doubled in the last year and the situation is worsening for people in poverty is deeply worrying.
“Foodbanks and the thousands of people who support them are doing an impressive job in helping stop people from going hungry, but the truth is that in a country as rich as the UK there should not be food poverty at all.
“The Government needs to provide adequate support to the poorest in society and urgently tackle the low incomes and rising bills that are leaving people hungry.”
Benefit sanctions are also driving increased demand for homeless services among young people.
A DWP official said findings from the recent Oakley review proved sanctions “are vital to a properly functioning welfare system”.
They added: “Claimants can always ask for us to look at the sanction decision again, and we have a well-established system of hardship payments where needed for vulnerable claimants.”