09 December 2016
The unaffordable cost of benefits sanctions
A group of Church leaders have had a letter they wrote published in the Guardian, calling for an urgent review of the sanctions system.
As published in the letters pages of The Guardian on Friday 9 December 2016:
The benefit sanctions system is a damaging, expensive failure. Churches, as well as charities, see daily the human cost of this failure in people left without enough money to buy the very basics of life. The recent National Audit Office report has now shown that taxpayers also bear a financial cost for this failure (Report, 30 November). There is no evidence that the UK sanctions regime is cost-effective. In 2015 our report Time to Rethink Benefit Sanctions revealed that each day 100 people unfit for work because of mental health problems received a sanction - mainly for missing appointments with work programme providers.
We have seen the harm these sanctions caused and have met people who were scarred by their experiences. The NAO now tells us that, on average, these sanctions actually reduced people's short and long-term job prospects and led to reduced earnings for those who subsequently got work. The government has repeatedly stated that sanctions improve employment prospects. The NAO confirmed that the Department for Work and Pensions had no direct evidence for this. Moreover, we now know that the DWP held data that could show whether the sanctions system was working or not. Not only did the department fail to analyse this data, it refused to share it with other researchers. It also discouraged its contractors from assisting these researchers. In effect the DWP appears to have deliberately made itself blind to the failures of the sanctions regime.
As church leaders we are deeply concerned that without proper investigation of the consequences harsh punishments are given to people in already difficult circumstances. We again add our voices to the many government, charity, church and parliamentary bodies calling urgently for a full independent review of the benefit sanctions regime.
Alan Yates General assembly moderator, United Reformed Church
Rev Dr Richard Frazer Church and Society Council convenor, Church of Scotland
Rev Lynn Green General secretary of the Baptist Union of Great Britain
Right Rev John Davies Bishop of Swansea and Brecon
Rev Dr Roger Walton President of the Methodist Conference
Rachel Lampard Vice-president of the Methodist Conference
Niall Cooper Director, Church Action on Poverty