Crisis calls for review of ‘pointlessly cruel’ DWP benefit sanctions

Commons committee says human cost of sanctions is too high – Crisis sees a hard hit to the homeless.

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Crisis is calling for safeguards to protect the homeless from DWP benefit sanctions a cross-party Commons committee has branded “pointlessly cruel”.

Matt Downie, director of policy and external affairs at Crisis, said the report from the Work and Pensions Committee said the current regime required urgent reform.

“In both our frontline work and our research, we’ve seen that sanctions both cause and exacerbate homelessness,” said Downie.

“(The) homeless often struggle to meet the conditions needed to avoid sanctions – not because they don’t want to meet them, but because of their highly chaotic and sometimes dangerous living conditions.

“We want the government to put safeguards in place, so that no one who is homeless or at risk of homelessness is sanctioned.

The report’s recommendations for Jobcentres to work with homelessness specialists, and for Jobcentre staff to adjust conditions for homeless people so they are realistic, are steps in the right direction. There’s clear evidence that the government can end homelessness across Britain if it puts the right policies in place,” he said.

To the committee, the current sanctions regime is “arbitrary, punitive and pointlessly cruel”.

The human cost of stopping benefit payments to claimants judged to have breached job centre rules was found to be too high with children frequently “collateral damage”.

And there was, the report said, scant evidence sanctions helped or incentivised people to get a job.

Alternatives included those with disabilities and chronic health conditions who have limited capability for work to be exempt from sanctions and “vastly reducing” penalties for single parents and care leavers.

“We have heard stories of terrible and unnecessary hardship from people who’ve been sanctioned. They were left bewildered and driven to despair at becoming, often with their children, the victims of a sanctions regime that is at times so counterproductive it just seems pointlessly cruel,” said committee chair Frank Field.

The report accuses DWP ministers of “keeping themselves in the dark” about the impact of changes to sanctions made since 2012 and of having never properly evaluated the policy.

“The time is long overdue for the government to assess the evidence and then have the courage of its reform convictions to say, where it is right to do so,” said Field.

“This policy is not achieving its aims, it is not working, and the cost is too high. We will change it,” said Field.

Identifying cases where claimants can lose benefits for as long as three years, the committee recommended that the maximum period for such cases should be limited to two months for the first failure to comply and four to six months for subsequent breaches.

A five-year academic study of sanctions published earlier the year found sanctions were “ineffective” at getting jobless people into work and were more likely to push those affected into poverty, ill health or even survival crime.

The DWP effectively ignored this finding, and, in a generic statement was dismissive of the Work and Pensions Committee findings, saying “people have to meet certain requirements in return for payments”.

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