The latest DWP statistics show ever more sanctions being imposed on claimants. Is there a link with food poverty? Janis Bright comments on Dr David Webster’s latest statistical briefing
People sanctioned by the welfare system are having to ‘rely on the kindness of strangers’, according to the YMCA. The UK’s oldest youth charity cites the sanctions regime introduced in 2012 as the ‘main cause’ of the rise in food banks. To an extent, the All Party Parliamentary Inquiry into hunger agrees, saying sanctions are among the reasons for more people turning to food banks. And then there are widely publicised individual cases like that of John McArthur, reported to be living on tinned spaghetti after refusing to work for free at the same firm where he had been made redundant. The connection is rejected by the UK government: work and pensions minister Lord Freud in 2013 pointed to the growth in food banks pre-dating the new sanctions regime.
If the link between sanctions, lack of support and food poverty is there (and our own research is ongoing), it would point to widespread need. Some three million people on Jobseekers’ Allowance and Employment and Support Allowance had been sanctioned in the 14 years to last June. About a quarter (800,000) of these were sanctioned in the last two years.
As David Webster reports in his latest briefing on sanctions data, the rate of sanctioning has been going up despite a fall in claimant numbers. About seven per cent of JSA claimants per month are now sanctioned (before reconsiderations and appeals). That rate, fairly stable currently, is the highest ever recorded. And now ESA sanctions are on a definite upward trend too, with more than one in a hundred claimants sanctioned each month.
Why is the ESA sanctions rate rising? Dr Webster suggests a factor may be that generally fitter people could have been placed in the Work Related Activity Group (where people are required to take steps toward work, with support) more recently. Contractors running the programmes might therefore have placed more demands on them. However, he finds another possible reason in a study by Mind and the Centre for Welfare Reform which found: ‘The mandatory activities required are often inaccessible to disabled people, and it appears that reasonable adjustments are rarely being made.’
Dr Webster reports that the introduction of ‘mandatory reconsiderations’ (a stage before a formal appeal) has had a major effect on the operation of the appeal system. He says that the new system appears to have halted the flow of cases reaching formal tribunals.
Dr Webster concludes with a gloomy note that carries echoes of John McArthur’s case. The Work Programme continues to deliver more sanctions than job outcomes, he reports. ‘Up to 30 June 2014 there had been 545,873 JSA Work Programme sanctions and 312,780 JSA Work Programme job outcomes.’ Will more people come to rely on the kindness of strangers?
Read Dr Webster’s full briefing here.