A GROUP of Churches has welcomed the call from a committee of
MPs for a review of how the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP)
uses benefits sanctions.
The Church in Wales, together with the United Reformed, Baptist,
and Methodist Churches, and the Church of Scotland issued a joint
statement on Tuesday approving the conclusions of the parliamentary
Work and Pensions Select Committee, which echoed their own report
on sanctions, published earlier this month (
News, 6 March).
The committee's report recommended that the DWP, as well as
starting an independent review of when and how benefits are
temporarily cut as a sanction, should also take "urgent steps to
ensure that a more common-sense approach is set out". They also
call for a halt on sanctions for those receiving in- work benefits,
which is currently being piloted in some parts of the UK.
The Churches' statement noted how their own report, Time to
Rethink Benefit Sanctions, found that seven million weeks'
worth of benefit cuts were made in sanctions in 2013/14. The
public-issues policy adviser to the Methodist Church, Paul
Morrison, said: "The select committee report describes a system
that is broken and needs urgent review.
"Churches are often at the forefront of helping people who have
been sanctioned, and who are in desperate need of food, support,
and advice. It is unacceptable that vulnerable people can be left
with no means of support as punishment for often very minor
He said that the current system of sanctions left people feeling
demoralised and ashamed, and undermined the dignity of people "made
in the image of God".
The director of Church Action on Poverty, which also contributed
to the report, Niall Cooper, said that the new Government elected
in May must ensure that the welfare system was a safety net, and
not a means of making people "destitute".
The MPs' report said that the DWP should make it clear to those
providing benefits and assessing claims that they have some
discretion in applying sanctions; for instance, where a claimant
failed to meet a condition because of extenuating
"We believe that it is important that the Government conduct
evaluations to enhance the evidence base in this policy area, to
demonstrate that the use of sanctions is not purely punitive," the
The Bishop of Truro, the Rt Revd Tim Thornton, submitted
evidence to the committee with his co-chair on the parliamentary
inquiry into food poverty, Frank Field MP. Their submission said
that through their own inquiry, they had heard evidence that
claimants felt trapped in a "one strike and you're out" system.
"We were told, through our evidence, of a degree of
inconsistency and, at times, unfairness in the application of
sanctions. We found that, for example, even if someone has applied
for enough jobs to fulfil their requirements, they may be
sanctioned for having filled in the forms incorrectly. This is
particularly unfair on claimants who are barely literate."
Mr Field, responding to the publication of the committee's
report, said that the next Government should introduce a "yellow
card" warning for a claimant's first offence. The research in the
Churches' sanctions report suggests that the most common cause of a
sanction is arriving late, or not turning up to a Jobcentre
It also found that, each day, 100 of those receiving Employment
and Support Allowance because of a long-term mental-health problem
were being sanctioned.