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Synod calls for benefit sanctions review

19 February 2016

GEOFF CRAWFORD

Crime and punishment: Canon Kathryn Fitzsimons questioned whether one fit the other, during her speech on benefits sanctions

Crime and punishment: Canon Kathryn Fitzsimons questioned whether one fit the other, during her speech on benefits sanctions

THE General Synod has called on the Government to initiate “a full independent review” of its “highly punitive” benefit sanctioning system.

The call came in a debate on a motion that originated in the Airedale Deanery Synod in the diocese of Leeds. During the debate, the Synod heard a catalogue of examples of how sanctions had been “inappropriate and disproportionately” applied to claimants of Jobseeker’s Allowance.

The Archdeacon of Sheffield, the Ven. Malcolm Chamberlain, said that these included the case of a lady who “had been sanctioned for attending a funeral; she had informed the authorities of this in advance,” and another who missed an appointment because they were “dealing with the police after a burglary in their home during the night”.

He said that the UK sanctioning regime was “one of the most severe in the developed world”.

The Priest-in-Charge of St John the Evangelist, Leeds, Canon Kathryn Fitzsimons, said that one father was sanctioned after missing an appointment because he was attending a court hearing to fight against the repossession of his flat. He had left a message on the Job Centre’s answerphone but was told later that the staff do not listen to messages.

And, Canon Fitzsimons said, one claimant was sanctioned for missing an appointment with Job Centre staff because he was attending a job interview instead.

The motion was “not about questioning the principle of people being sanctioned because they fail to meet appropriate expectations”, she said. “The principle of conditionality has always been a necessary feature with regard to social security payments, and we do not question the need for this.

“We are, however, questioning recent substantial increases in the severity of the sanctioning process, and in the frequency of the sanctions being applied. ‘Does the punishment fit the crime?’ is a key question,” she said.

The motion passed by the Synod welcomed the “extensive work” already undertaken by the C of E, with others, “to evaluate the impact of benefits sanctioning”. It called on the Government to implement the recommendations in the December 2014 report of the All-Party Parliamentary Inquiry into Hunger in the UK, and to “initiate a full independent review of the impact and efficacy of the sanctions and conditionality regime”.

It also called on “every part of the Church of England to offer practical and pastoral support to those experiencing benefit sanctions”. Sir Tony Baldry, a former MP, said that deanery synods should send delegations to MPs’ constituency surgeries. This, he said, would result in a large number of letters being sent by MPs to the Minister’s private offices, which would increase the pressure on the Government.

Question of the Week: Should sanctions against benefit claimants be relaxed?

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