Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Government’s silence over soaring use of sanctions

Ministers have refused to say why the number of disabled people having benefits temporarily removed for breaching strict conditions has soared in the first three months of this year.

The new figures from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) show that 2,882 decisions were made to sanction claimants of employment and support allowance (ESA) in December 2013, rising to 3,750 in January 2014, them 4,698 in February and 7,507 in March, an increase of nearly 580 per cent since March 2013.

The previous highest monthly total was in March 2010, just before the general election, when 3,673 ESA sanction decisions were made, and the lowest was just 138 in June 2011.

Under current rules, claimants will lose at least a week’s benefit for missing a single appointment or session of work-related activity.

Stef Benstead, lead researcher on the Beyond the Barriers report – which examined the failings of the ESA system and the Work Programme for disabled people, on behalf of the Spartacus campaign network – said the figures suggested that DWP was “inappropriately sanctioning loads of people”.

She said: “We know from all the whistle-blowers that there is a culture in the jobcentres of trying to sanction as many people as you possibly can.”

Benstead said evidence showed that sanctions were not an effective way to support people into work, and that removing people’s benefits was “entirely inappropriate for people who have quite a high level of illness or disability”.

DWP has so far refused to say why it believes the number of ESA sanctions has risen so sharply.