A House of Commons select committee has called for a full review of the sanctions regime after hearing evidence from individuals, organisations and government ministers. In their report the Committee calls for measures to be put in place to ensure that sanctions are fair, proportionate and appropriate and vulnerable groups are adequately protected and supported.
While the committee agreed that conditionality is a necessary requirement to ensure people claiming welfare benefits do what they can to find work, they are critical of the way that the current system is managed and call for greater clarity and coherence to the legislative framework and clearer evidence that they have a positive impact on people finding work.
They are critical of a regime that applies a sanction for relatively minor misdemeanours, such as missing one step from a Claimant Commitment, arguing that they system makes no difference between people who are trying and those who do little to find work. They also found that people are signing unsuitable Claimant Commitments for fear of being sanctioned if they refuse and that vulnerable people are being set up to fail. They call for the DWP to develop its guidance on vulnerability to ensure that adequate support is made available to those who need it and question whether those on ESA should be subject to sanctions when appropriate support to this group is lacking.
The UK Government must respond to the recommendations within the report. These include:
- Piloting of pre-sanction written warnings
- Flexibility for work programme providers in accepting reasonable cause
- Non- financial sanctions
- Better training on flexibilities for lone parents
- Developed guidance on vulnerability
- Automatically application for a hardship payment for vulnerable claimants subject to a sanction without them having to instigate the process themselves
- Conduct investigations into the suicides of those on benefits who were subject to sanctions, similar to that which is carried out for deaths in custody
A coalition of churches has called for a complete rethink of the sanctions regime, arguing that it deliberately imposes hunger and severe hardship, adversely affecting human dignity and self worth and it is far from clear that their increased use has resulted in people finding work more quickly. They call for the sanctions regime to be suspended for people experiencing poor mental health and for those with children, arguing that what is required is a system of support,as opposed to one which is punitive and humiliating.
“The Claimant Commitment sets the tone of the relationship as one where it is assumed that the claimant needs to be threatened into behaving responsibly. Benefit is paid because people are ill or unemployed. Neither of these is a moral failing. Neither of these are reason to assume a person needs to be threatened. The majority of unemployed people get into work within a few months and this has been the case whether sanctions existed or not. As a society we recognise that the constant use of threat is not a good way of motivating people and it would not be tolerated in the workplace. So why is it 20 applied to the people who have fallen on hard times?”
Source: Work and Pensions Committee report