The first thing an unemployed person must do is sign a Claimant Commitment. The DWP’s model document is just three pages long but contains nine threats of sanction as well as one threat of a fixed penalty fine and one of imprisonment. The document is 961 words long; 503 of those words are used to explain threats. The commitment is one-sided and contains no reciprocal commitments to support the claimant nor are there consequences for the DWP even if It fails to pay benefits on time. The Claimant Commitment sets the tone of the relationship as one where it is assumed that the claimant needs to be threatened into behaving responsibly. Benefit is paid because people are ill or unemployed.
The majority of unemployed people get into work within a few months and this has been the case whether sanctions existed or not. As a society we recognise that the constant use of threat is not a good way of motivating people and it would certainly not be tolerated in the workplace. So why is it applied to the people who have fallen on hard times? There is plenty of evidence that sanctions cause hardship, suffering and hunger.
Any human society should be disturbed by a statutory system that deliberately causes harm to another human being. It is disturbing that a welfare system, which gives provision for the weakest & most vulnerable, deliberately sets out to exploit a person’s vulnerability in order to achieve control and compliance.
Sanctions undermine the foundational principle of the welfare system. It is precisely because of the damage caused by poverty that the welfare state exists.
Impediments such as health conditions, caring responsibilities or even simple transport difficulties get in the way of full and unwavering compliance. A single minor mistake or misfortune will often result in a sanction, as JCB staff are encouraged to refer for a sanction “first-time every time”
The most common sanction
For a single failure to attend an appointment – quadrupled in severity from one week’s loss of benefit to four weeks’ loss of benefits. The punishment for missing a second appointment increased 6-fold from 2 weeks to13 weeks. The maximum loss of benefit was also increased 6-fold from 26 weeks to 156 weeks or 3 years.
Some sanctions (called intermediate level sanctions) assist in meeting off-flow targets directly.
Before an intermediate sanction is applied the person is first disqualified from benefits and removed from the benefit roll. The person may reapply for benefit before the sanction period is officially imposed. Because the first stage of this rather complicated process removes people from the benefit roll it increases the benefit off-flow that the DWP targets. There has been a 57% rise in these intermediate level sanctions over the past three years.
Sanction regimes reduce the number of people applying for benefits. The increasingly complicated set of conditions causes many people to make the judgement that rather than assisting in finding work, it would be a distraction
Hardship payments (can be claimed if one has been sanctioned).
Time limits apply, meaning that usually an appeal cannot be lodged after the crisis has subsided. Even if a benefits claimant is able to demonstrate that they cannot afford food due to being sanctioned, most people will still not become eligible for a hardship payment or loan for a further two weeks and, once eligible, it will take a further three days before payment actually arrives.
GPs are increasingly seeing people who are suffering serious consequences as a result of the current benefit sanctions system. Vulnerable people can be left with no money to pay for essentials (ie food & heating) and this can then have a damaging impact, not only on their physical & mental health, but also the health of family members, including the children who depend upon them.
This Government released its response to a major review of its policy on benefit sanctions this week. ((20th/21st Oct 2015)
The government was responding to the Work and Pensions Select Committee’s report, Benefit sanctions beyond the Oakley Review, which set out more than **24 recommendations for changes to benefit sanctions and the policies behind them.*’Accepted by Labour, Coalition and Conservative Governments, sanctions are a necessary part of that system and we keep them under regular review, making improvements where necessary. The DWP minister of state Lord Freud managed to avoid addressing any of the recommendations made in the report. ‘In response to the Select Committee I am announcing that we will be introducing a number of changes.’
(**None of these have yet been implemented, although 2 of the recommended changes are more urgent. #1. Set up “Broad Independent Review” “that should be established and report as soon as is practicable in the next Parliament.”
#25. Make Hardship Payments available from day one.
Here is the report in full.
Over the next few years Universal Credit (UC) will be rolled out which will combine six benefits into one. Alongside those who are out of work, those earning below a threshold level – normally set at £11,30057, and receiving UC, will become subject to conditionality and sanctions. The Resolution Foundation estimates this measure will bring an additional 1,200,000 people into conditionality.
Details of how this will operate have not yet been published, however it has been confirmed that, for the first time, Housing Benefit will be subject to sanction. The legal framework allows people to be instructed to do things like change jobs, attend training, or increase hours in order to earn more than the threshold income. Sanctions can then be imposed on those who do not comply with the requirements.
Here is the petition asking for the Government to look again at the twenty-six recommendations for changes to the current sanction policies
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