An independent review is underway into Jobseeker’s Allowance sanctions. Mathew Oakley, a member of the Social Security Advisory Committee, who is conducting the review, has issued a call for evidence which will run until 10th January 2014.
Jobseekers Allowance Sanctions were used in Scotland on over 50,000 occasions between October 2012 and June 2013, when stricter conditions were introduced. There were also 1060 Employment Support Allowance sanctions between December 2012 and June 2013.
While the official rhetoric claims that sanctions are used on those who “deliberately avoid looking for work”, we have heard numerous reports of people being sanctioned for relatively minor infractions, including having been 5 minutes late for signing on.
MP Michael Meacher criticised the figures, stating that sanctioning is, “part of the Tory armoury designed to brutalise the poor.”
Much of the coverage surrounding sanctions has focused on adverse decisions, however, another reading of the figures uncovers the fact that there are a significant number of ‘cancelled’ or ‘reserved’ decisions. The DWP says that “Decisions are cancelled when the claimant is no longer claiming JSA at the time of the referral. Decisions are reserved when the claimant has stopped claiming between the time of referral and the time of decision. “
Speaking to the Guardian recently, Dr David Webster, senior research fellow at Glasgow University said that “It appears that people are being driven off JSA by the sanctions regime”, pointing out that “Reserved and cancelled decisions were at 72,000 per year in 2006, but were 532,000 in the year to June 2013”.
The new Claimant Commitment being rolled out across Glasgow over the next few months will impose even more conditionality on the jobless, who will be expected to spend 35 hours each week in search of employment and who will have to be able to demonstrate this. The final office to do this in Glasgow will be Maryhill in March 2014.
Glasgow City Council has emphasised that people need to appeal against benefit sanctions, especially if they consider them to be unfair, as many adverse decisions are overturned on appeal. Those who are subject to sanctions can also apply for hardship payments if loss of benefit will cause them severe hardship, such as not being able to buy food.
If you have any examples of service users who have been affected by benefit sanctions, GCVS would like to hear from you. Please call Iona Macaulay on 332 2444 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.