Call For Benefits Sanctions Review

11 June 2014, 06:24

A Holyrood committee has called for a review of the benefits sanctions regime in another critical report of the welfare system.

Tougher sanctions brought in by the UK Government mean that benefits can be withdrawn for a range of reasons, from a person leaving a job voluntarily to failing to attend an interview.

The Welfare Reform Committee has recommended a number of changes to the way the sanctions regime operates, with convener Michael McMahon describing the system as "broken''.

Mr McMahon said: "When Neil Couling from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) came to committee and said people welcomed the jolt of being sanctioned, the committee was shocked.

"Our evidence says quite the opposite; being sanctioned leaves people with not enough money to make ends meet, certainly not enough to go out job hunting.

"The system is so broken that many people do not know why they have been sanctioned, which totally undermines the DWP assertion that sanctions 'teach' people a lesson.

"How many of us could manage if we did not get paid one week, without any notice or, often, explanation? This demonstrates once again the enormous gulf between reality and DWP thinking.''

Sanctions should only be used as a last resort for those who have consistently and deliberately refused to engage with job seeking requirements without good reason, the committee said.

It suggested that people should receive a written warning at the first breach before it is escalated to a sanction, to act as a deterrent and not a punishment.

People should also have at least 10 working days' notice prior to a sanction being applied and be told of the reason for the sanction, while sanctions should be applied appropriately and consistently and with greater levels of discretion and support.

Conservative committee member Alex Johnstone dissented from the report.

A spokeswoman for the DWP said: "Sanctions are only used as a last resort, but it's only right that people claiming benefits should do everything they can to find work, if they are able. We make it clear to people at the start of their claim what the rules are and that they risk losing their benefits if they don't play by them.

"The benefits system is there as a safety net for people at times of need and supports millions of people who are on low incomes or unemployed. People who are in genuine need can apply for hardship payments. If someone disagrees with a decision made on their claim, they can appeal.''

Welfare Minister Margaret Burgess said: "Our analysis, published last December, also found that the regime is hitting the most disadvantaged groups in society, such as disabled people and lone parents, the hardest. Some of our most vulnerable citizens are having their benefits stopped because they are simply not able to meet the conditions set by the UK Government.

"This report clearly shows that the current sanctions regime isn't working. We need to start again with a more positive and proportionate approach designed to support people, not cut off their incomes.''