Archive of ‘sanctions’ category

Church of England calls for review of benefit sanctions

[General] synod called on the government to launch an independent review of the impact of benefits sanctions after hearing anecdotal accounts of hardship and humiliation from bishops, clergy and lay members.

Speakers acknowledged the need for checks on the benefits system to deter abuse, but said the sanctions system was punitive, targeted at the most marginalised and vulnerable, and created a climate of fear and anxiety.

Sanctions made many claimants feel under suspicion, said Malcolm Chamberlain of Sheffield. The “highly punitive regime” resulted in people “begging, borrowing and stealing in order to meet daily needs”.

He cited a case of a claimant being sanctioned for failing to attend a benefits interview because he was at a funeral, and another case of sanctioning when the claimant was being interviewed by police after his house was burgled.

Elliot Swattridge, of the C of E’s youth council, said: “The system is not just broken, but is cruel, even deadly.”

Catherine Pickford of Newcastle, which hosts one of the country’s largest food banks, said for many claimants sanctions felt like “an arbitrary and dehumanising [punishment] for being unemployed”.

According to Simon Taylor of Derby, the impact of sanctions lasted far beyond the period covered by withdrawal of benefits. “Sanctions are not removing dependency but perpetuating and increasing dependency. This is a counter-productive system.”

The former Tory MP Tony Baldry urged the church to embark on a mass lobbying campaign of MPs on the issue of benefits sanctions. “From my 30 years of experience as a member of parliament, the most effective way of engaging with the system is actually to go and see your member of parliament at their constituency surgery.

“They can’t escape … And they’re going to have to do something. And, actually, most members of parliament will treat with great respect a delegation from their local deanery synod or local clergy.”

Such meetings would generate correspondence from MPs to ministers and questions in parliament, he said.

Here is the motion:

IMPACT OF SANCTIONS ON BENEFIT CLAIMANTS (GS 2019A AND GS 2019B)

The Revd Canon Kathryn Fitzsimons (Leeds) to move on behalf of the Leeds Diocesan Synod:

That this Synod:

(a) welcome the extensive work already undertaken by the Church of England in partnership with others to evaluate the impact of benefits sanctioning and to identify and promote recommendations for the reform of sanctions policy and practice;

(b) call on Her Majesty’s Government to implement the recommendations numbered 58-63 inclusive, made in December 2014 by the All Party Parliamentary Inquiry Report into Hunger in the UK Feeding Britain in respect of the use of sanctions upon benefit claimants;

(c) call on Her Majesty’s Government to initiate a full independent review of the impact and efficacy of the sanctions and conditionality regime; and

(d) encourage every part of the Church of England to offer practical and pastoral support to those experiencing benefit sanctions, building on the Church’s work with food banks, credit unions and debt advice.

Three amendments were moved by Nigel Bacon, the Venerable Malcolm Chamberlain, and the Bishop of St Albans, which were carried and are included in italics above.

Synod then voted in favour of the amended motion on a counted vote of the whole Synod.  The voting was as follows:

For: 320; Against: 0.  2 abstentions were recorded.

Sources:http://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/feb/17/church-of-england-attendance-decline-30-years-general-assembly

https://www.churchofengland.org/media-centre/news/2016/02/general-synod-february-2016-sessions-wednesday-am.aspx

Govt response to Work & Pensions Committee sanctions report published yesterday

The government’s response to the House of Commons Work & Pensions Committee report on ‘Benefit Sanctions Policy beyond the Oakley Review’ was published yesterday, 22 October. The response itself, together with an accompanying letter from Iain Duncan Smith to the Committee chair, is at
http://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/work-and-pensions-committee/

The accompanying Parliamentary statement by Iain Duncan Smith is at
http://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/written-questions-answers-statements/written-statement/Commons/2015-10-22/HCWS259

Reaction by the Committee chair Frank Field is at
http://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/work-and-pensions-committee/news-parliament-2015/benefit-sanctions-committee-report-15-16/

I will be circulating a detailed analysis of the response in the next week or so. Meanwhile, here are the key points about what will and will not change about the sanctions regime as a result of the response:

* The government is continuing to refuse the broad independent review of sanctions which the Committee and others have repeatedly called for.

* Its response (pp.2-3) also deliberately evades the Committee’s specific call for review of the effectiveness of the lengthening of sanctions introduced in 2012.

* The government claims that it will trial a ‘system of warning’ before a sanction is imposed. However the Committee (and Oakley in July 2014) called for a first ‘failure’ to lead to a warning letter, and only a second or subsequent failure to result in a sanction. What the government is proposing is different. It is simply a delay of 14 days in imposing a sanction, during which the claimant will be able to make representations.

* The government has admitted at https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/jsa-sanctions-impact-of-not-sending-written-notifications-to-claimants-jan-2014-to-dec-2014 that 47,239 JSA claimants (6.9%) who were sanctioned in 2014 did not receive notification before the money failed to appear in their account. Applying this percentage to the whole period of the Coalition government, there will have been about 279,000 cases where claimants had their benefit stopped before being notified. This issue was highlighted by Oakley in July 2014. The government now proposes to deal with this by reintroducing computer-generated notification, but admits that this will be unlikely to be 100% successful.

* The current provision that sanctioned claimants, other than arbitrarily-defined ‘vulnerable’, cannot apply for hardship payments for the first two weeks of a sanction is responsible for destitution and food bank use on a large scale. The Committee firmly recommended that all sanctioned claimants should be able to apply from day one. The government has now agreed only to consider extending the definition of ‘vulnerability’ for the purposes of day one application to ‘a wider group of claimants’. Duncan Smith’s parliamentary statement, but not the response itself, specifically mentions people with mental health conditions and the homeless. The government says it has also speeded up the hardship claim process so that awards are paid within 3 days, and that subject to feasibility the decision maker will in future set up an appointment to discuss hardship payments where claimants are ‘vulnerable’ or have children.

* The government has flatly refused the Committee’s recommendation to track what happens to claimants in terms of employment and claimant status after a sanction, in spite of clearly having the capability to do so.

* The government appears to have given up any attempt to ensure that the one third of all sanctioned claimants whose alleged ‘failure’ is not actively seeking work do not wrongly lose housing benefit as a result. These claimants are ‘disentitled’ as well as ‘sanctioned’ and the response (p.5) accepts that HB may be affected as a result. A recent clarificatory circular to local authorities, HB Bulletin U1-2015 (30 Sep 2015) related only to the two thirds of penalties which are purely ‘sanctions’ and not ‘disentitlements’.

With best wishes

Dr David Webster
Honorary Senior Research Fellow
Urban Studies
School of Social and Political Sciences
University of Glasgow

BRIEFING: THE DWP’S JSA/ESA SANCTIONS STATISTICS RELEASE

In the year to 31 March 2015 there were 587,000 JSA sanctions before challenges and 506,502 after. They have fallen by about 44% from their peaks, the main reason being a fall of 37% in the average number of JSA claimants. There is also a downward trend in JSA sanctions as a percentage of JSA claimants, from peaks of 6.77% per month before challenges and 5.83% after in the year to March 2014, to 5.49% and 4.73% respectively in the year to March 2015, although rates have levelled off in the latest quarter. Sanction rates are still 84% and 70% above those inherited from the previous Labour government. These figures do not include jobseeker sanctions under Universal Credit, which probably reached some 1,700 per month by March 2015. No update is available on the proportion of JSA claimants sanctioned, which was about one quarter in the five years to March 2014.

ESA sanctions have also fallen, to 43,300 before challenges and 33,353 after in the year to March 2015. This partly reflects the decline in the ‘Work Related Activity Group’, but as a percentage of claimants, sanctions before challenges have also begun to decline slightly, and after challenges have stabilised. In the year to March 2015 the monthly rate was 0.71% before challenges and 0.55% after.

New data show that sanctioned ESA claimants are almost as likely to be sanctioned repeatedly as are sanctioned JSA claimants. Under the new regime since 2012, the former received an average of 1.69 sanctions each after challenges, and the latter 1.81.

A clarification by DWP has revealed that while all ‘reserved’ decisions that become actual sanctions are recorded as adverse decisions, the published statistics are giving us no idea at all of the actual numbers of reserved decisions or of the proportion which end up becoming actual sanctions. Halving of the proportion of ‘reserved’ within total decisions under the Coalition may reflect stricter enforcement when people make renewed claims.

Under the ‘Mandatory Reconsideration’ regime, the proportion of JSA sanctions overturned after challenge remains at about 13%, but for those claimants who actually make a challenge it has risen to two-thirds. For ESA claimants, the proportion of sanctions overturned after challenge has fallen from about 35% to under 20%, and for those who actually make a challenge it has fallen from 60% to 40%.

As a result of complaints by Jonathan Portes of NIESR and myself, the UK Statistics Authority on 5 August recommended changes in the content and presentation of the sanctions statistics.

At the end of this briefing there are notes on this and other recent developments in relation to sanctions, and comments on reports from the OECD and Resolution Foundation. An Appendix reproduces a statement given by a recent claimant to her Jobcentre when she gave up claiming JSA despite still being unemployed. It illustrates many defects of the current JSA regime.

Read the full report here: 15-08 Sanctions Stats Briefing – D.Webster Aug 2015

Help promote petition – Reform benefit sanctions regime

The TUC is running a petition to ask the next Secretary of State for Work and Pensions to immediately reform the failing benefit sanctions regime. Sanctions are being used unfairly and arbitrarily – and it’s not just claimants saying this, but Jobcentre Plus staff. A Selection of Especially Stupid Benefit Sanctions

We currently have just over 8000 signatures but are hoping to get at least 12000. Could you please promote the petition through your networks to help make a strong case for reviewing the current sanction regime. https://campaign.goingtowork.org.uk/petitions/reform-the-cruel-sanctions-regime

Reports from the day of action against Benefit Sanctions – Thursday 19 March 2015

On Thursday 19 March demonstrations took place across the region against Benefit Sanctions. Below are photos and reports from a number of the demos.

Photos from Barnsley, Hartlepool, Stockton and Leeds.

Media story in Teeside Gazette Live.

Barnsley

Good demo in Barnsley. Almost 40 marched round town to Job Centre. 16 Freedom Riders came and joined in demonstration saying that they were opposed to cuts this Tory government is making against pensioners, unemployed and trade unionists.Lively rally outside job centre where a claimant who had been sanctioned came forward and described his experience and received applause for his courage in speaking out.

(Report by George Arthur)

 


Video from Halifax.

Huddersfield

About 40 people attended a protest rally against benefit sanctions in the town centre today. It was organised by the local Unite/Community Branch,  which is for people who are unemployed in the community.

Our protest was one of 77 actions taking place throughout the country as part of a National Day of Action Against Benefit Sanctions organised by Unite /Community.

There were a range of speakers who all emphasised the punitive and arbritary nature of the sanctions against claimants that can result in them being without their benefits for anything from 4 weeks to 3 years.

The speakers also stressed the need to keep up the campaign against benefit sanctions and all the other government attacks on welfare.

Speakers included, Nick Ruff, Chair of Kirklees Unison, Jane East, prospective parliamentary candidate for Labour for the Colne Valley, Mike Forster, prospective parliamentary candidate for Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) for the Huddersfield constituency.

Speakers who are unemployed described their personal experiences.

Karl Dallas, a member of Unite/Community, played his guitar and everyone joined in an anti-sanctions song that he had written especially for the occasion. Robin Bowles, on his accordian, added an uplifting feel to the whole event.

The rally was chaired by, June Jones, Chair of the Bradford, Halifax and Huddersfield Branch of Unite/Community.

The next Unite/Community Branch meeting is on Tuesday 7 April at the Brian Jackson Centre from 11am to 1pm.

(Report by June Jones)

Unite holds day of action in the North East calling for end to ‘grotesque cruelty’ of benefit sanctions

Britain’s biggest union, Unite, will hold protests across the North East of England during a national day of action (Thursday 19 March) opposing benefit sanctions which are now being used on an industrial scale.

Punitive sanctions have resulted in over two million people having their welfare payments cut or stopped without warning over the past two years, leading to increased poverty, misery and even death.

In the North East area the total number of sanctions dealt out by the DWP from October 2012 to September 2013 was 53,883 and 52,420 between October 2013 and September 2014.

Gill Thompson, whose brother, David Clapson, died after being sanctioned will be handing in her 211,822-name petition at the DWP – calling on the Prime Minister to investigate the widespread use of benefits sanctions.

Mr Clapson, a vulnerable diabetic ex-soldier, died starving and destitute in 2013 because he was penalised by the job centre for missing a meeting. His sister is demanding answers, saying:

“Benefits sanctions are completely out of control. I want to know how ministers who state everything is done to support the vulnerable can justify their actions leaving people destitute, driving them to food banks, and leading to starvation and death. Do we want to live in a society where the vulnerable are victimised – I certainly do not.”

As things stand money can be cut for arriving late at a job centre, missing an appointment to go to a funeral, or even failing to apply for a job – while waiting to start a new job.

Unite is not prepared to stand idle while this failed coalition government mercilessly targets those already struggling to make ends meet, with ideologically-driven and needless cruelty.

Commenting Joe Rollin, Unite community regional coordinator, said:

“This government is attacking the unemployed for unemployment and treating claimants worse than criminals fined in the courts. Decisions on guilt are made in secret with the claimant not even allowed to be present to explain their case.

“Far from helping people back into work, sanctions undermine physical and mental health. They cause hardship, damage relationships, create homelessness and drive people to food banks, payday lenders, and to crime.

“There is no justification for this grotesque cruelty by the government. Unite is calling on the DWP to end benefit sanctions as this situation can’t be allowed to go on in the 6th richest country in the world.”

 

Unite holds day of action calling for end to ‘grotesque cruelty’ of benefit sanctions

WHEN: 15:00 to 17:00 Thursday 19 March 2015
WHERE: DWP, Caxton House, Tothill Street, London SW1H 9DA

Britain’s biggest union, Unite, will demonstrate outside the Department for Work and Pensions in London. This is part of a national day of action (Thursday 19 March) opposing benefit sanctions which are now being used on an industrial scale.Punitive sanctions have resulted in over two million people having their welfare payments cut or stopped without warning over the past two years, leading to increased poverty, misery and even death.

In London the total number of sanctions dealt out by the DWP from October 2012 to September 2013 was 130,442 and 103,679 between October 2013 and September 2014.

Gill Thompson, whose brother, David Clapson, died after being sanctioned will be handing in her 211,822-name petition at the DWP – calling on the prime minister to investigate the widespread use of benefit sanctions.

Mr Clapson, a vulnerable diabetic ex-soldier, died starving and destitute in 2013 because he was penalised by his job centre for missing a meeting. His sister is demanding answers, saying:

“Benefit sanctions are completely out of control. I want to know how ministers who state everything is done to support the vulnerable can justify their actions leaving people destitute, driving them to food banks, and leading to starvation and death. Do we want to live in a society where the vulnerable are victimised – I certainly do not.”

As things stand money can be cut for arriving late at a job centre, missing an appointment to go to a funeral, or even failing to apply for a job – while waiting to start a new job.

Unite is not prepared to stand idle while this failed coalition government mercilessly targets those already struggling to make ends meet, with ideologically-driven and needless cruelty.

Commenting Liane Groves Unite Community national organiser said:

“This government is attacking the unemployed for unemployment and treating claimants worse than criminals fined in the courts. Decisions on guilt are made in secret with the claimant not even allowed to be present to explain their case.

“Far from helping people back into work, sanctions undermine physical and mental health. They cause hardship, damage relationships, create homelessness and drive people to food banks, payday lenders, and to crime.

“There is no justification for this grotesque cruelty by the government. Unite is calling on the DWP to end benefit sanctions as this situation can’t be allowed to go on in the 6th richest country in the world.”

Unite community members will be taking part in protests across London before moving to the Department of Work and Pensions, Caxton House, Tothill Street, SW1H 9DA for a demonstration from 15:00 to 17:00. Regional protests are also being held up and down the country on Thursday 19 March as part of the national day of action.

 

Secret penal system which is more severe than the mainstream judicial system

Benefits claimants are subjected to an ‘amateurish, secret penal system which is more severe than the mainstream judicial system’, writes Dr David Webster of the University of Glasgow. Original article here.

By: Dr David Webster    Monday, 26 January, 2015

Few people know that the number of financial penalties (‘sanctions’) imposed on benefit claimants by the Department of Work and Pensions now exceeds the number of fines imposed by the courts. In Great Britain in 2013, there were 1,046,398 sanctions on Jobseeker’s Allowance claimants, 32,128 on Employment and Support Allowance claimants, and approximately 44,000 on lone parent recipients of Income Support. By contrast, Magistrates’ and Sheriff courts imposed a total of only 849,000 fines.

Sanctioned benefit claimants are treated much worse than those fined in the courts. The scale of penalties is more severe (£286.80 – £11,185.20 compared to £200 – £10,000). Most sanctions are applied to poor people and involve total loss of benefit income. Although there is a system of discretionary ‘hardship payments’, claimants are often reduced to hunger and destitution by the ban on application for the first two weeks and by lack of information about the payments and the complexity of the application process. The hardship payment system itself is designed to clean people out of resources; all savings or other sources of assistance must be used up before help is given.

Decisions on guilt are made in secret by officials who have no independent responsibility to act lawfully; since the Social Security Act 1998 they have been mere agents of the Secretary of State. These officials are currently subject to constant management pressure to maximise penalties, and as in any secret system there is a lot of error, misconduct, dishonesty and abuse. The claimant is not present when the decision on guilt is made and is not legally represented. While offenders processed in the court system cannot be punished before a hearing, and if fined are given time to pay, the claimant’s punishment is applied immediately. Unlike a magistrate or sheriff, the official deciding the case does not vary the penalty in the light of its likely impact on them or their family. If the claimant gets a hearing (and even before the new system of ‘Mandatory Reconsideration’ only 3 per cent of sanctioned claimants were doing so), then it is months later, when the damage has been done. ‘Mandatory reconsideration’, introduced in October 2013, denies access to an independent Tribunal until the claimant has been rung up at home twice and forced to discuss their case with a DWP official in the absence of any adviser – a system which is open to abuse and has caused a collapse in cases going to Tribunal.

Yet the ‘transgressions’ (DWP’s own word) which are punished by this system are almost exclusively very minor matters, such as missing a single interview with a Jobcentre or Work Programme contractor, or not making quite as many token job applications as the Jobcentre adviser demands.

How did we get to this situation? Until the later 1980s, the social security system saw very little use of anything that could be called a sanction. Unemployment benefits were seen as part of an insurance scheme, with insurance-style conditions. Any decision on ‘disqualification’ (as it was called) from unemployment benefit was made by an independent Adjudication Service, with unrestricted right of appeal to an independent Tribunal. The maximum disqualification was 6 weeks, and those disqualified had a right to a reduced rate of Supplementary Benefit assessed on the normal rules.

‘Sanctions’ are almost entirely a development of the last 25 years. The British political class has come to believe that benefit claimants must be punished to make them look for work in ways the state thinks are a good idea. Yet the evidence to justify this does not exist. A handful of academic papers, mostly from overseas regimes with milder sanctions, suggest that sanctions may produce small positive effects on employment. But other research shows that their main effect is to drive people off benefits but not into work, and that where they do raise employment, they push people into low quality, unsustainable jobs. This research, and a torrent of evidence from Britain’s voluntary sector, also shows a wide range of adverse effects. Sanctions undermine physical and mental health, cause hardship for family and friends, damage relationships, create homelessness and drive people to Food Banks and payday lenders, and to crime. They also often make it harder to look for work. Taking these negatives into account, they cannot be justified.

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.

See more here.

If you are concerned by the effect of sanctions, attend our protest in Barnsley next week. Meet outside Boots the chemists at 12.15 on Thursday 19th March.

Barnsley - Copy

Crisis report on sanctions and homelessness

Sanctions: trends and numbers

In the past 13 years 6.8m sanctions have been applied to Job Seekers Allowance (JSA) claimants and, since the introduction of Employment Support Allowance (ESA) in 2008, 115,300 sanctions have been applied to ESA claimants. However, the sanctions rate has increased dramatically over the past five years and, in particular, since the introduction of the new regime in 2012. For example:

• The number of JSA sanctions per 100 claimants has almost tripled, from 2.5 sanctions per 100 claimants per month in the year ending March 2001 to seven per 100 claimants per month in the year ending March 2014.

The average monthly number of JSA sanctions has risen dramatically from 35,500 a month up to October 2012 to 84,800 after this date.

• There has been more than a three-fold increase in ESA sanctions from 1,400 per month in March 2013 to 5,400 in March 2014.

The most common reason for a sanction at present is failing to actively seek work, with around one in three sanctions imposed for this reason. Over half of all JSA sanctions are at the lower level, one third at the intermediate level and currently less than 10 per cent at the higher level.

Read the full report here.

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