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The senselessness of sanctions

This opinion piece is over 7 years old
 

Steven McAvoy, Enable welfare rights adviser, recounts an incident that highlights why benefits sanctions don't save money or help people find work

Steven McAvoy, Enable welfare rights adviser
Steven McAvoy, Enable welfare rights adviser

If you are working in the third sector it is impossible to escape the fact that benefit sanctions are becoming an increasing problem for benefit claimants. Sanctions lead to crisis and it is often third sector organisations that claimants will turn to for support.

It is time the Department for Work and Pensions also moved to a system of supporting rather than sanctioning claimants.

As a frontline welfare rights adviser I took a call one Friday morning from a client with a learning disability. His Jobseekers Allowance had been sanctioned as the Job Centre felt he had failed to comply with his jobseekers agreement.

He had no money for fuel, food or any immediate expenses and, unless we could come up with a solution, he would be destitute over the weekend.

All other work was put on hold and we made contact with the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP). Despite being aware of the clients learning disability the DWP had not only sanctioned the client but also failed to inform him that he could apply for a hardship payment.

This one example shows the increased financial and other pressures that sanctions place on us all as organisations and taxpayers, as well as the stress the threat or experience of destitution has on claimants

A hardship payment application was submitted and a referral made to a local foodbank to ensure that, if nothing else, the client would have access to food over the weekend. After an anxious wait it was agreed a hardship payment could be made giving the client a reduced percentage of an already low income to survive on until his next payment.

With immediate crisis alleviated, an appeal was made against the original decision as we felt it was wrong. Nine months later, a legally-qualified tribunal judge agreed.

This one piece of poor decision making meant pressure on the limited resources of an advice service, a government department, a local foodbank and ultimately a very expensive tribunal to decide the client should receive the money he had lost out on.

If these limited resources had been put towards supporting the claimant in to employment, rather than arguing over whether or not he had done enough to seek work, is it not more likely that he would have moved into employment?.

This one example shows the increased financial and other pressures that sanctions place on us all as organisations and taxpayers, as well as the stress the threat or experience of destitution has on claimants.

Unfortunately, we do not really know how many sanction decisions are wrong as many claimants don’t appeal. Many would rather rely on friends and family or receive assistance from foodbanks. They are afraid to challenge the Job Centre, fearing this will lead to more sanctions in the future.

The sanctions culture has created a system of fear rather than support and this has to stop.

Steven McAvoy is a welfare rights adviser for Enable Scotland.

 

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