Tag: report

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

The accompanying Parliamentary statement by Iain Duncan Smith is at

Reaction by the Committee chair Frank Field is at

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

Unite Community Report

Launched in 2011, Unite Community membership, gives anyone who is not in work a chance to join Britain’s biggest union and combine with their working colleagues in campaigning for an improved standard of living for all.

In 2014, Unite NEY&H Community membership, costing just 50 pence a week, increased significantly to reach 1000. A range of ongoing events throughout the year has encouraged more people to join and get politically active. Meanwhile, the community advice centres in Durham and Barnsley both continue to provide invaluable welfare support to local people. A third centre is due to open in Farsley at the start of 2015.

Joe Rollin is the Unite community co-ordinator for NEY&H.

“Our members include the unemployed, disabled, retired and students. We support our industrial colleagues when they are taking industrial action and campaign against welfare reforms such as the bedroom tax that has hit many people hard. In April we assisted Leeds Hands Off Our Homes with their successful demonstration against the tax.

“We have also organised well attended protests outside the Sheffield headquarters of ATOS, notorious for their attacks on disabled people benefits, and in the day leading up to the Durham Miners’ Gala we had over 100 people outside a local job centre in a protest against benefit sanctions that are impoverishing many claimants.

“Community members are also providing, after a full programme of training, practical professional advice in Durham and Barnsley, where we have linked up with Durham Miners’ Association (DMA) and National Union of Mineworkers respectively and opened advice centres in their premises. We have managed to help claimants make successful appeals against their employment support allowances being restricted. Some bedroom tax appeals have also been successful.”

Both centres also ran practical courses including computer training, whilst also offering help with writing a CV. “It is great to see the work being undertaken by Unite community members and it is certainly needed as there is a lot of despair in our communities,” said Dave Hopper, the DMA general secretary.

Campaigning can bring risks from the authorities especially as the coalition intends demolishing the welfare state. In March it was announced that free travel across South Yorkshire for disabled and pensioners was being scrapped. There were protests by Freedom Riders, a name taken from those who fought racial segregation on buses in 1960s America. On 23 July 2014, elderly and disabled people were confronted by large numbers of Northern Rail staff and the British Transport Police. Unite community members, Tony Nuttall and George Arthur, aged 65 and 64, respectively were badly manhandled and arrested. A vigorous campaign was needed to get the charges dropped.

“With this being election year, Unite Community will be stepping up our activities and we would welcome new members,” said Joe Rollin.

Unite Community Update

Assistant General Secretary, Steve Turner.

I’d just like to invite you to take a few minutes to watch our latest film on Unite community.

Also attached is a brief report on how Community membership is progressing and and all the amazing things community members do and how it is enhancing Unite’s reputation as the leading union in standing up for working class communities in the UK.

Unite’s community members play a really important role in supporting our industrial members in their disputes and readily attend picket lines and demonstrations to defend our public services.

But for community to continue to grow we need your help. Industrial branches can link up with community branches and can really help by donating money to sponsor community members who cannot afford the subscription. For as little as £104 you can bring four new members into our union. Community groups do a lot of local campaigning and donations also help pay the travel fares to get unemployed and disabled people out to demonstrations.

Unite employs a Community Coordinator in every region who will be happy to speak at branch meetings or identify a community member who could go along and explain what community is doing in the region.

If you want to find out more please contact my colleague Liane Groves on 02085407176 or 07793661657 or email.

Unite Community Report: Community report national policy conf 2014 v2