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Review benefits sanctions system, Churches urge

10 July 2015


NO REVIEW of the benefit sanctions system has taken place, 100 days after the Work and Pensions Select Committee called for it, church representatives pointed out this week.

The Baptist Union of Great Britain, the Church in Wales, the Church of Scotland, the Methodist Church, and the URC are urging people to write to their MP to demand scrutiny of the system, which penalises more people every year than the Magistrates and Sheriffs court systems combined.

The Work and Pensions Select Committee recommended a review in January 2014, and reiterated it in March this year in the light of new evidence. Its report raised concerns that the current system was not protecting people from “severe financial hardship”.

A parliamentary inquiry into food poverty, co-chaired by the Bishop of Truro, the Rt Revd Tim Thornton (News, 12 December 2014), supported the “appropriate” application of sanctions. But it, too, raised concerns about delivery.

One man was sanctioned for writing information on the wrong line of a form. It called for better communication between Jobcentre staff and claimants, more discretion for the former, and a Yellow Card system, which the Government has now agreed to pilot.

“Many people have major problems with the benefits system, and the number of delays and sanctions add significantly to the use of food banks,” Bishop Thornton said on Tuesday. “An independent review is a very good idea, and I see no reason why the Government should not welcome this.”

His co-chair, Frank Field, the new chairman of the Work and Pensions Select Committee, said last week that he hoped that it would be “intent on getting reforms rather than issuing reports which the next chairman of the committee is asked if they’ll endorse. In the mean time, although it will be for members of the committee to decide our work programme, I would be very happy to take a closer look at this issue.”

In the 12 months to September 2014, 605,000 people receiving Jobseekers’ Allowance had their benefits temporarily cut or withdrawn as a punishment. But 61 per cent of those applying to have the sanction reviewed had it overturned.

A DWP spokesman said on Tuesday: “We are considering the report and look forward to working with the new Work and Pensions Select Committee. The overwhelming majority of benefit claimants take up the jobs support we offer, with a small minority facing a sanction for not doing so.”

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