Benefits sanctions are financial penalties that are given to people who are deemed to have not met the conditions for claiming benefits. The social security system has always been based on people meeting certain conditions – this has been true for all working-age benefit claimants, with sanctions applicable to those who fail to observe those conditions. This has been the case since its inception.
However, the Coalition changed the conditions and increased the application, duration and severity of sanctions that apply to those claiming Job Seekers Allowance (JSA) and extended the application of sanctions to those in the Work Related Activity Group of those claiming Employment and Support Allowance (ESA). Since 2012, benefit payments can be suspended for a minimum of four weeks and for up to three years where a person “fails to take sufficient steps to search for work”, to “prepare themselves for the labour market” or where they turn down an offer of employment or leave a job voluntarily.
It emerged during an ongoing inquiry instigated by the parliamentary Work and Pensions Select Committee that Research conducted by Professor David Stuckler shows that more than 500,000 Job Seekers Allowance (JSA) claimants have disappeared from unemployment statistics, without finding work, since the sanctions regime was toughened in October, 2012.
This means that in August 2014, the claimant count – which is used to gauge unemployment – is likely to be very much higher than the 970,000 figure that the government is claiming, if those who have been sanctioned are included.
The research finding confirms what many of us already knew.
Labour MP, Debbie Abrahams, said: “Sanctions are being applied unfairly to job-seekers, as well as the sick and disabled.
The reason the Government is doing this is that it gets them off the JSA claimant figures, so it looks like there are fewer people unemployed.”
The Government claims that sanctioned claimants who leave the benefit system are going into work – they also claim that their punitive sanctions regime “works”. But the Oxford study found this is untrue in a “majority” of cases.
Debbie Abrahams asked the Tory Minister Iain Duncan Smith how many people were excluded from unemployment figures after being sanctioned but not going into work.
In an angry exchange, Mr Duncan Smith described Ms Abrahams’ claims were “ludicrous”.
But the MP for Oldham East and Saddleworth said : “People have died after being sanctioned, Minister.”
“No, I don’t agree with that,” Mr Duncan Smith answered. But he has yet to provide any evidence that supports his view.
Many of us have been calling for an inquiry following the death of diabetic former soldier David Clapson. He died starving after being sanctioned for missing a single Job Centre meeting.