PCS has slammed what it describes as a “ludicrously narrow” benefit sanctions review which fails to address “serious concerns” raised by claimants and Jobcentre staff.
The author of the report, Mathew Oakley, was restricted to reviewing how the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) communicates with sanctioned claimants and the review ‘only applied to around one-third of Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) claimants’.
PCS said that the review failed to take into account mounting evidence which suggests that Jobcentre advisers are being pressurised into sanctioning the unemployed.
The union also said that the current sanctions regime is a “pernicious and counter-productive” tool which does little to encourage unemployed people to look for work.
Docking benefit payments can result in time, that may have been spent looking for work, being taken up finding money to buy food and pay bills, including housing costs, or seeking welfare advice.
Others may be forced to turn to food banks, such as the Trussell Trust who say that benefit delays, including over-zealous sanctions, account for a significant percentage of people who require food aid.
The independent report found that the way the government communicates with jobseekers facing sanctioning was confusing, and also that claimants were often not told about financial support which may be available to them.
In response, the DWP said that it would look at the way it communicates with claimants. However, the department stopped far short of saying it would review what the TUC has described as a ‘culture of harassment’ at Job Centres.
PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said:
“Given the ludicrously narrow remit laid out by the DWP it was impossible for Oakley to recommend any changes that will address the serious concerns of claimants and staff.
“Any report that fails to recognise the sanctions regime is pernicious and counter-productive is nothing more than window dressing.”
The report was also criticised by the Trade Union Congress (TUC). Responding to the Oakley Review of Jobseeker’s Allowance sanctions, TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said:
“While this report identifies some important areas for improvement, its limited remit means the worst excesses of the current sanctions regime look set to remain in place.
“Jobcentre Plus staff want to build trusting relationships with claimants, but instead they are being made to harass them.
“With sanctions increasingly forcing people to rely on food banks to feed their families, a full independent review – which looks at all benefit sanctions and the culture of harassment at Jobcentre Plus – is now urgently needed.”