The DWP says “sanctions” are an important part of the benefits system and it is right that there is a system in place for tackling “those few” who do not fulfil their commitment to find work. But that position looks increasingly untenable.
It is frequently suggested sanctions – the temporary suspension of someone’s benefits – are often wrong, harsh or unfair. Because their use varies widely from one area to another they can seem arbitrary. Citizen’s Advice Scotland (CAB) has highlighted cases of sanctions which appear unjust.
But that wasn’t the approach taken by the Social Security Advisory Committee in its report last month on; young people and the benefits system. At a briefing in Glasgow on the report’s findings, committee members conceded many of the sanctions against young people may be correct, in terms of the rules. That doesn’t mean they are moral though.
The report looked specifically at under 25s who live independently – because of a lack of family or because they grew up in care, for example.
Committee members said a group who are young, lack support, and may be struggling to afford rent or manage bills already, may not be well equipped to jump through the hoops required by job centres – or even to make it along to appointments on time. Some sanctions may well be “deserved” in that sense.But the tack taken by the SSAC was that they simply don’t work.
It makes no sense to sanction people, and make all their problems worse, if you are hoping they will go out and find a job, the report argues.And it is worse for young claimants. They are four times more likely to be sanctioned, care leavers five times more likely. Because under-25s are on a lower basic rate, they are already worse off and sanctions “bite deeper” the report adds.
The Scottish Government has promised sanctions will not be a part of its new welfare system, but as it doesn’t control the job-seekers’ benefit Universal Credit, it isn’t clear how much difference this will make.
Its Independent Adviser on Poverty and Inequality, Naomi Eisenstadt recently said high rates of sanctions for young people are a problem which ministers should take up with the DWP.
“Even the threat of sanctions has negative consequences for both young people and Jobcentre Plus, because it undermines mutual trust. To work effectively, Jobcentre Plus needs to be seen as a positive player … not as a gatekeeper,” she said.
That is broadly what the SSAC said last week. “Jobcentres have got better and more compassionate but young people still view them negatively and avoid them.”
Add to that a 2016 report from the National Audit Office which warned against sanctions, and also the biggest ever academic study of “welfare conditionality” which reported that sanctions are ineffective at getting jobless people into work and are more likely to make people poor, sick or turn to ‘survival crime’.
Sanctions leave people cut off from work, welfare, and services which might help them. It is ever clearer they are a reckless and stupid public policy driven by ideology not evidence, and failing the young and old alike.