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Tory concession on sanctions doesn’t go far enough

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​New warning system to be applied before claimants are sanctioned

Moves to relax the UK’s punitive sanctions regime don’t go far enough, anti-poverty campaigners have warned.

Some of the country’s leading charities have slammed the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) for its refusal to undertake a full review of the sanctions scheme, despite it introducing a new warning for claimants in danger of having their benefits cut.

Iain Duncan Smith seemed to have bowed to pressure by announcing that benefit claimants will now receive a “yellow card” warning before any action is taken.

The new system gives claimants under threat of sanction time to comply before a monetary penalty is applied.

This will be in the form of a 14 day period during which the claimant will be given the opportunity to provide evidence as to why they shouldn’t have a sanction imposed.

Duncan Smith said in a letter to the Work and Pensions Select Committee inquiry into benefit sanctions that he had rethought the current system.

We need a system which is proven to help get people back to work - Rev Dr Richard Frazer

He said: “We expect that this will strike the right balance between enforcing the claimant commitment and fairness.”

Despite this concession, the Church of Scotland criticised the DWP over its refusal to undertake a full review of the sanctions system which it believes is unduly punitive in Scotland.

In a response backed by the Church in Wales, the Methodist Church, the United Reformed Church and charity Church Action on Poverty, it called for an immediate suspension of sanctions against families with children and people with mental ill-health.

“With unemployment in Scotland higher than the UK average, the punitive culture around benefit sanctions continues to have a detrimental effect on families here,” said the Rev Dr Richard Frazer, vice convener of the Church of Scotland’s Church and Society Council and minister of Greyfriars Kirk in Edinburgh.

“We have argued that devolving responsibility for welfare issues to Holyrood would enable MSPs to design a system that better reflected Scotland’s needs.

“We need a system which is proven to help get people back to work and which isn’t stubbornly ignoring the evidence that this policy is an unjust and pointless punishment.”

While welcoming the new warning system, Citizens Advice Scotland (CAS) also backed the call for a comprehensive review.

CAS spokesperson Gael Scott said: “This is certainly a step in the right direction, and one we have called for in the past. But it needs to be implemented quickly and applied to all cases.

"A person’s benefit can be the sole income for them or for their whole family. It should not be stopped without proper warning.

“While we welcome this step, we still believe there needs to be an independent review of the whole sanctions regime, which should examine its effectiveness in meeting its stated purposes.”

Campaigners in Scotland have called for the sanctions system to be completely suspended as evidence grows they are having a hugely detrimental impact on claimant already suffering from welfare cuts.

Despite the changes to the system, Duncan Smith said he believed that sanctions played “an important role in the labour market”.



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