Sanctions appear arbitrary but are being driven by targets imposed on Jobcentre managers by the DWP
A new report reveals benefit sanctions in Scotland are arbitrary with claimants in Dundee 50% more likely to be sanctioned than claimants in Glasgow.
Research by the New Policy Institute (NPI), out today (Wednesday, 26 August), shows the monthly sanction rate in Dundee was 509, or 12.4% - 4.7 percentage points higher than in Glasgow (1,327 or 7.7%).
Overall, the average monthly sanction rate for those aged under 25 was 8%, compared to 3.7% for those aged 25 and over in Scotland last year.
It has led to campaigners and senior academics saying the figures provide proof sanctioning is a lottery driven by targets which fluctuate from area to area - a charge denied by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).
Prof David Webster of Glasgow University said the disparity in sanctioning figures pointed to a target-driven culture in the DWP.
"It's become part of their normal staff appraisal system,” he said.
“Their work is reviewed periodically by their manager.
"If they haven't been imposing enough sanctions they've been told that they've got to improve their performance otherwise they will be put on what they call a personal improvement plan - a prelude to potential disciplinary action and dismissal."
Webster also said his own research told him the vast majority of sanctions were imposed on people not applying for enough jobs, via the DWP’s own Universal Jobsmatch site.
Claimants are required to regularly consult the Jobsmatch site for available jobs. Yet the site has a poor reputation among jobseekers in terms of quality of jobs and functionality.
Webster said: "Not one of the people I have spoken to has had a single job interview either from the government's own job website or through the Jobcentre. Some have managed to get their own work, but none through that system."
However, a DWP spokesman said: "Jobseekers have a range of resources to help them find a job, including the 750,000 jobs advertised through Universal Jobmatch and opportunities available through their local Jobcentre.
"We validate every employer that uses Universal Jobsmatch, but they are responsible for managing the vacancies they advertise in the same way they would through any other employment site."
NPI director Peter Kenway said there did not appear to be any good reason for the disparity between Dundee and Glasgow in terms of the claimants themselves.
"You'd expect some random fluctuation but the difference between 12% of people every month and 7.5% every month can't in any way just be put down to random day-to-day fluctuation.
"It's a clear sign that although it's the same system on paper, things are being run very differently in Dundee from the way it's run in Glasgow. To have the benefits system run unevenly and unfairly is completely unacceptable.
It's not that people want a soft system, they want a fair and straight system - Peter Kenway
"It's not that people want a soft system, they want a fair and straight system."
He added: "What we've got at the minute is a harsh system that's being applied very unevenly. And there's no evidence to suggest that Dundee's got it right."
Despite fewer sanctions in 2014 than in the last number of years, the report states further increases in sanctions are feared through the introduction of the "claimant commitment" for working families under Universal Credit.
This commitment, say campaigners, imposes new harsh rules by which claimants must abide by or face losing their benefits.
“The sanctions system has not been administered well – for example, the automatic referrals from Work Programme providers, or the high proportion of sanctions that are overturned on appeal,” the report’s authors state.
“Expanding massively the scope of… sanctions to new areas is an alarming prospect in light of this.”
Dundee resident Tony Cox, who formed the Scottish Unemployed Workers Network, which advises people on how to get support after being sanctioned, said: "This is an area of endemic unemployment. We also have a lot of people with learning difficulties and low-level mental health issues. In our experience it's the most vulnerable people who are most likely to be sanctioned.
"What the DWP have got to recognise and improve upon is their system for identifying vulnerable clients."