Influential committee of MPs urge DWP to trial warning system in place of punitive benefit sanctions
Claimants should be given warnings before they have their benefits stopped, a Westminster committee has urged.
The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) said job seekers who fail to meet conditions attached to their benefits claims shouldn’t be immediately sanctioned.
Instead the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) should trial a warnings’ system
DWP issued 400,000 sanctions in 2015, which cost around £30m-£50m to administer.
The PAC's report said that sanctions can also have an impact across other parts of government: “Supporting people the department sanctions may lead to extra public spending in areas such as local authority funded welfare support.”
“These sometimes serious consequences of sanctions mean that they should be used carefully,” says the report. The committee backs recommendations made by a 2014 independent review of Jobseeker’s Allowance sanctions and by the separate Work and Pensions Committee in 2015, which both said that warnings and non-financial sanctions should be used the first time a claimant fails to meet required conditions.
The DWP’s claim that sanctions improve people’s chances of seeking and finding work was questioned by the cross party committee.
It stated: “The Department emphasised evidence that sanctions increase employment, but the evidence is also very mixed.”
Sanctions should be used carefully
The MPs found sanctions can lead to short-term and lower-paid work. And that some people stop claiming after a sanction without finding a job.
It warned: “This can create knock-on effects that others pay for, such as using food banks or needing advice from local authorities or charities for dealing with debt.”
Glasgow Homelessness Network gave written evidence to the committee and said for its clients, sanctions had the opposite effect to finding work.
It said: “With estimates of the proportion of service users subject to sanctions as high as 30% in one service, not one example of a person moving into employment was able to be provided.”
The committee concluded: “We know that sanctions encourage some people into work but sanctions have increased in severity in recent years and can have serious consequences such as debt, rent arrears and homelessness."