Respected academic, Dr David Webster, has called for the abolition of the sanctions regime, saying in a recent article that the treatment of benefit claimants subjected to sanctions, often for minor infractions, is worse than that of people accused of, or convicted of crimes.
Dr Webster found that in 2013 the DWP handed out more sanctions than the courts did fines. Financial penalties imposed by the DWP are also much more severe than those handed down from magistrates and sheriff courts and while people are given the chance to pay a fine over time, many benefit claimants have their only source of removed – in total, for a minimum of four weeks. The system is leading to severe hardship and hunger; despite the existence of hardship payments, those subject to sanctions are barred from applying for two weeks after imposition and not everybody is eligible.
In further comparison, Dr Webster points out that unlike the judicial system, decisions are made in secret, without the opportunity for representation and are often unfair. Decisions to sanction benefits are often challenged and overturned, however, by the time this happens, claimants have gone without income for several weeks and many are already in crisis. The opposite of innocent until proven guilty.
When sanctioned, people often rely on a combination of food banks, borrowing from family and friends, or selling their possessions, far below their worth, to payday loan shops. This can damage relationships, self-esteem and mental health, and push people who are already struggling financially into debt.
400 psychotherapists and other mental health professionals recently called for an end to austerity, due to the impact that the current climate is having on the mental health of vulnerable people, describing the effect on health and wellbeing as “profoundly disturbing” and “a wider reality of a society thrown completely off balance by the emotional toxicity of neoliberal thinking”.
Dr Webster calls for an end to sanctions, saying,
“Benefit sanctions are an amateurish, secret penal system which is more severe than the mainstream judicial system, but lacks its safeguards. It is time for everyone concerned for the rights of the citizen to demand their abolition. ”