Deaths due to benefit sanctions should have independent investigations

  • A parliamentary committee has said that deaths occurring as a result of benefit sanctions should be investigated by an independent commission. /images/briefing/mystery shopper.jpg

    A report into benefit sanctions by the Work and Pensions Committee has said that suicides linked to sanctions should be scrutinised in a similar manner to deaths in police custody, reports Inside Housing.

    A review of the systems of benefit sanctions was also called for in the report; however the government has previously rejected a call for an independent review in January.

    The DWP told the committee it had carried out reviews of 49 deaths, some of which involved suicide ‘associated with DWP activity', the report states.

    ‘In addition, DWP should seek to establish a body modelled on the Independent Police Complaints Commission to request reviews... where an individual on out-of-work working-age benefits dies whilst on receipt of that benefit,' it said.

    The report also asked for further clarity from the DWP on the extent to which housing benefit payments have been ‘incorrectly impacted by Jobseekers Allowance' and what steps they lan to take to address the issues.

    Commenting on the report, Benefit sanctions policy beyond the Oakley Review, Dame Anne Begg MP, chair of the Work and Pensions committee, said: "The [sanctions] system must be capable of identifying and protecting vulnerable people. No claimant should have their benefit payment reduced to zero where they are at risk of severe financial hardship, to the extent of not being able to feed themselves or their families, or pay their rent."

    Matt Downie, director of policy at Crisis, said: "Evidence is mounting of a punitive and deeply flawed regime - a postcode lottery with wide variations on the ground and large numbers of unfair decisions. Our next Government must listen to today's cross party verdict and commit to a full independent review."

    A spokesperson from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) said: "As the report recognises, sanctions are a vital backstop in the welfare system and are only used in a small minority of cases where claimants don't do all they can to look for work."

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