Call for benefits sanctions overhaul

Each year as many as 68,000 people on jobseeker's allowance have their benefits taken away unfairly and face unnecessary hardship as a result, according to a new report from the Policy Exchange think tank. The report calls for the system of sanctions to be overhauled.

Key points

  • Each month around 5 per cent of jobseeker's allowance recipients are sanctioned. After reconsideration and/or appeal, 29 per cent of those who receive their first 'lower' tier sanction have it overturned, meaning that on average around 5,600 of them a month are wrongly sanctioned. Such financial penalties have contributed to the rise in the number of people using foodbanks.
  • In order to reduce hardship, the report proposes that the sanction of removing benefits for four weeks be replaced with trials of benefit payments 'on card' and daily sign in. First-time 'offenders' would be issued with a benefits card credited with their weekly benefit. Benefits would be accessed via this card for a maximum of eight weeks. If the claimant continued to breach job-search conditions, the card and benefits would be taken away.
  • But the report also suggests even harsher punishments for those who are repeatedly sanctioned. Repeat 'offenders' would have their benefits taken away for a longer period of time, from 13 to 26 weeks for a third breach. For each offence, a further 13 weeks would be added.
  • Reforms along these lines would, it is suggested, help create a more responsive system and make wrongful sanctioning less 'problematic'.

Report author Guy Miscampbell said: 'There are a significant number of people who have their benefit taken away from them unfairly. At the same time the welfare system must also come down hard on people who are consistently failing to do all they can to find a job. Fairness is integral to the sanctions system and people must know that if they choose not to play by the rules then they will receive harsher penalties'.

Source: Guy Miscampbell, Smarter Sanctions Sorting out the System, Policy Exchange
LinksReport | Policy Exchange press release | BBC report | Guardian report | New Statesman report

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Publication date: 
Mar 3 2014