A report released on Tuesday condemned the Tory government’s benefit sanctions regime. The MPs’ Work and Pensions Committee said the human cost of sanctions, where benefits are withheld, is “simply too high” and “pointlessly cruel”.
Benefit sanctions are penalties imposed on claimants who do not meet conditions such as attending job centre meetings. As well as missing appointments, sanctions can be imposed for failure to document efforts to find work. Claimants can lose 100% of their jobseeker’s allowance or universal credit standard allowance.
In some “higher level” cases – such as a failure to take up paid work – claimants can lose benefits for as long as three years.
The report found that single parents, care leavers and people with disabilities and health conditions are more likely to be sanctioned. Children are also at risk of becoming “collateral damage” when their parents’ benefits are withheld.
The report is based on over 500 responses from claimants. It shows the human cost of benefits sanctions.
The committee received more than 500 responses detailing claimants’ experience of the sanctions regime, which included cases of “extreme hardship and distress”.
These included a wheelchair user who “sofa-surfed” with friends or slept in a college library for a year when her entire benefit was wrongly taken away.
And the committee heard from a man who was sanctioned when he missed a job centre appointment three days after being taken to hospital suffering from severe epileptic seizures.
The committee’s report recommended the maximum period for such sanctions should be two months for the first failure to comply and four to six months for subsequent breaches.
Pat Harrington, Director of the Third Way think tank, commented:
“For me this is about proportionality. People should make efforts to find work and attend interviews but the sanctions are overly harsh and sanctions that leave people destitute and children with nothing to eat have no place in a civilised society. A more proportionate and graduated approach with quick appeal mechanisms needs to be put in place. I don’t think the Committee has gone far enough in the reforms it has called for.”