The Work and Pensions Committee has said that the benefit sanctions regime should be subjected to a full independent review to investigate if the sanctions are being applied appropriately, fairly and proportionately across the Jobcentre Plus network.
The committee is reiterating their recommendation after it was originally rejected by the government in January, following new evidence which raises concerns over the approach being adopted in a number of individual jobcentres, reports 24dash.
Dame Anne Begg MP, the committee’s chair, said: “Benefit sanctions are controversial because they withhold subsistence-level benefits from people who may have little or no other income. We agree that benefit conditionality is necessary but it is essential that policy is based on clear evidence of what works in terms of encouraging people to take up the support which is available to help them get back into work. The policy must then be applied fairly and proportionately. The system must also be capable of identifying and protecting vulnerable people, including those with mental health problems and learning disabilities. And it should avoid causing severe financial hardship. The system as currently applied does not always achieve this.”
The report calls for a series of evaluations to increase the evidence base, particularly around the efficacy and impacts of the new sanctions regime introduced by the Welfare Reform Act 2012.
Begg continued: “The government introduced longer minimum sanction periods without first testing their likely impacts on claimants. The minimum sanction period is now four weeks, rather than one week. It is important that the impacts of the new sanctions regime are properly evaluated. There is currently no evidence on whether the application, or deterrent threat, of a four-week sanction makes it more, or less, likely that a claimant will engage with employment support or gain work. This is an area of policy which must be based on robust evidence. The Department needs to demonstrate that the application of the new sanctions regime is not intended to be purely punitive.”
The YMCA are welcoming the report as according to the charity, every two minutes a young person somewhere in the UK is sanctioned by a job centre, and despite making up just over a quarter of Jobseeker’s Allowance claimants, young people have disproportionately been hit by the sanctions regime – accounting for 41% of the sanctions issued.
Denise Hatton, YMCA England chief executive, said: “The social security system was set up to protect and provide a safety net for individuals in their time of need. However, it is clear from the report released today and all the evidence available that the current system is not working and is simply processing and punishing the most vulnerable. YMCA calls on the next Government to follow the Committee’s recommendations and undertake a full, independent review of sanctions as an urgent priority. Without such a review, the current social security system will continue to fail the young people who need it most.”
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