- The culture around benefit sanctions in the UK needs to end once and for all, the DWP need to find more effective ways to ensure that those who do not adhere to the agreements any underlying issues are dealt with and these things are an absolute last resort because otherwise vulnerable adults can get entrapped into further vicious & destructive cycles, one thing leads to another and ultimately as we read so often debt, suicide and family break up are amongst the adverse consequences, the DWP is there primarily to help claimants return to work and to have a good pension in the long term, sanctioning people prologues that financial & emotional recovery.
Between 2011 and 2015 1 in 4 of all job seekers allowance claimants were sanctioned which led to an estimated £132 in benefits savings to the poorest people in society.
The National Audit Office has reported publicly these matters are “Baseless” and the DWP had no clue whether sanctions worked or as Anne Perkins says “Why sanction benefits when there’s no proof the harsh approach works?”.
If you look at this website it is pretty much down to what the DWP state you should do and there just does not seem to be anything about this is a two way relationship based on the person’s individual circumstances and should be more customer friendly or person centred.
There is a hardship payment line people can apply for if they have had their benefit stopped but the reality is people can very easily get into debt, not pay their mortgage which can affect a person’s credit rating and whether people have to actually attend food banks.
Here we present a few cases we’ve come across online, in newspapers and parliamentary debates.
Remember that sanctions are supposedly there both to “incentivize” claimants into work (by making them starve) and to punish those who flagrantly break rules.
- You work for 20 years, then because you haven’t had the process clearly explained to you, you miss an appointment, so you get sanctioned for 3 weeks. (source: Councilor John O’Shea)
- You’re on a workfare placement, and your job Centre appointment comes round. The job Centre tells you to sign on then go to your placement which you do. The workfare placement reports you for being late and you get sanctioned for 3 months. (Source: Definite Maybe post on Mumsnet forums)
- You’re five minutes late for your appointment, you show the advisor your watch which is running late, but you still get sanctioned for a month (source: Clydebank Post)
- You apply for more jobs than required by your jobseeker’s agreement, but forgot to put down that you checked the local paper (which you’ve been specifically instructed to do via a jobseeker’s direction) so you get sanctioned (source: Steve Rose on twitter – part 1 . part 2)
- You’re on contributions based JSA (which is JSA paid on the basis of National Insurance you’ve paid in, not on your level of income) and get your appointment day wrong and turn up on Thursday instead of Tuesday so you get a four week sanction (source: Cheesy Monkey comment )
- It’s Christmas Day. You don’t do any jobsearch, because it’s Christmas Day. So you get sanctioned. For not looking to see if anyone has advertised a new job on Christmas Day. (source: Poverty Alliance)
- You get an interview but it’s on the day of your nan’s funeral. You have 3 interviews the day before, and you try to rearrange the interview, but the company reports you to the jobcentre and you get sanctioned for failing to accept a job. (source: @TSAAPG on twitter – part 1 . part 2)
- You get given the wrong forms, get sanctioned for not doing the right forms. (Source: Adventures in Workfare blog )
- You’re sick and miss an appointment, but you ve already missed one so you get sanctioned (Source: @thinktyler on twitter. Rules actually state you can miss a grand total of two appointments for illness each year – particularly harsh if you’re sick and have been wrongly kicked off ESA by ATOS).
- You don’t apply for an IT job that needs skills you don’t have so you get sanctioned. (Source: Geminisnake on Urban75 forums )
- You volunteer in a youth club. For some reason the job Centre thinks this is paid work so they sanction you. (source: @ukeleleKris on twitter )
- You attend a work program interview so you miss your job Centre appointment and get sanctioned (Source: CAB )
- You’ve got no money to travel to look for work so you get sanctioned (source: CAB)
- You have an interview which runs long, so you arrive at your jobcentre appointment 9 minutes late and get sanctioned for a month (source: jsdk posting on Consumer Action Group forums)
- You’ve been unemployed for seven months and are forced onto a workfare scheme but can’t afford to travel to the shop. You offer to work in a different branch you can walk to but are refused and get sanctioned for not attending your workfare placement. (Source: Caroline Lucas MP)
- You attend a family funeral and miss your job Centre appointment so you get sanctioned. (Source: Derek Twigg MP)
- You have a training appointment at the same time as your job Centre appointment, you tell the job Centre you won’t be coming but they say you have to, and to get a letter from your new training organization. Your training organization says they don’t provide letters. (Source: Russell Brown MP)
- You are easily confused or have poor English language skills, you will be disproportionately targeted for sanctions (Source: Fiona Taggart MP)
- You retire on the grounds of ill health and claim ESA. You go to your assessment and during the assessment you have a heart attack, so the nurse says they have to stop the assessment. You get sanctioned for not withdrawing from your assessment (Source: Debbie Abrahams MP)
- You get a job, isn’t that great? The job doesn’t start for two weeks, so you don’t look for work in those two weeks, and get sanctioned for it. (Source: The Guardian )
If the consequences of this madness were nil then it wouldn’t be a concern, but the consequences are huge for those affected.
Some of these sanctions will have been overturned on appeal, months after the person has suffered as a result of having no money.
Whilst many people support the principle of sanctions to remove benefit payments for people they think really aren’t trying to find work, the examples above are the direct result of having such sanctions available to be used and then pressuring staff to use them.
Sanctions are no help for jobseekers. They target the wrong problem. It doesn’t matter how hard you look for work when you are one of 2,500,000 unemployed people and there are only 400,000 jobs available.
If we want to help people into work we need to create jobs, not punish individuals for being out. Have you ever been sanctioned and if so what were the reasons?
What the answer?
A larger scale review of the sanctions from the National Audit Office and the DWP select committee in parliament on the issue of sanctions to be on an annual basis but also I would like to see a committee set up by the DWP where vulnerable people on benefits can represent others directly to the secretary of state through the public appointments website to influence better ways sanctions can be improved by those affected by these procedures.
If you are sanctioned it is all well and good people saying ask for a review or an appeal if not successful people have to actually live day by day in the interim struggling financially, then applying for work on top of this so this just adds insult to injury, DWP advisers should be very careful when this is bestowed upon vulnerable adults and when legal aid has been cut this can often be very stressful for individuals.
The behavior and conduct of Job Centre Plus staff can often be the key of whether this can occur, an understanding advisor working within the guidance if they encourage people to work, help them overcome their barriers instead of creating additional ones can be the difference how a claimant interacts with DWP staff and avoid sanctions in the first place if there is more encouragement, motivation and empowerment instead of feeling as some advisors do it is a power thing, their job is ultimately to help others to return to work and sanctioning people just prologues this.
If people have more complex needs then they should not signpost people elsewhere but should have local agreements where they can refer people on for support so if it is mental health be able to directly refer to mental health providers and treat people as a whole person regardless of the cuts elsewhere in the system to actually ensure people do not just get a job but sustain employment otherwise they will be back to where they started if some of the underlying issues are not addressed by DWP or others.
We need to end the culture around sanctioning benefits in the UK and find better ways to help people, some customers may be difficult or challenging to work with but with the right worker can make a huge difference in outcomes, we need to break the cycles vulnerable people are in regardless of what it takes & irrespective of the pressures on trying to cut the welfare budget otherwise it will cost more in the long run if issues are not addressed and people are just forced into work and can make a better contribution to society than be a burden.
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