DWP “stubbornly ignoring” calls for sanctions review

    • GPs increasingly witness sufferingcaused by the sanctions system
    • DWP refuses independentreview


A coalitionof national Churches and charities has criticised the Departmentfor Work and Pensions over its refusal to undertake a full reviewof the benefit sanctions system. The DWP has issued its overdueresponse to the Work and Pensions Select Committee inquiry intobenefit sanctions, but has failed to commit to a review asrecommended.


The SelectCommittee, the Government's own advisors, the Social SecurityAdvisory Committee, charities and Churches have all called for afull independent review of the regime. These groups havehighlighted the extreme hardship caused, the inconsistent andunjust application of sanctions and the lack of evidence that theyencourage people into work.  


The BaptistUnion, Church in Wales, Church of Scotland, Methodist Church,United Reformed Church and charity Church Action on Poverty havecalled for an immediate suspension of sanctions against familieswith children and people with mental ill-health. They say the DWP'sresponse does not go far enough and have called again for areview.


"In refusingto undertake a full review, the DWP is stubbornly ignoring thecalls of parliament, expert advisers, Churches and charities. Mostimportantly, it is condemning people, many of whom have also spokenout eloquently against the inhumanity of the current practice, tounjust and pointless punishment,"  said Paul Morrison, PublicIssues Policy Adviser for the Methodist Church.


Responding tothe DWP's announcement that they will trial a 'yellow card' system,Mr Morrison added: "If a court is working to a bad set of laws fora bad set of reasons and making bad and unreliable decisions, it'snot the sentencing policy you look at. 'Yellow cards' will reducethe number of sanctions, which is welcome, but won't address thefundamental problems that occur long before the decision tosanction has been made. That's why we need a full independentreview"


Even if abenefits claimant is able to demonstrate that they cannot affordfood due to being sanctioned, most people will still not becomeeligible for a hardship payment or loan for a further two weeksand, once eligible, it will take a further three days beforepayment actually arrives.


Dr RichardVautrey, a GP in Leeds and deputy chair of the BMA's GeneralPractitioners Committee, said: "GPs are increasingly seeing peoplewho are suffering serious consequences as a result of the currentbenefit sanctions system. Vulnerable people can be left with nomoney to pay for essentials such as food and heating and this canthen have a damaging impact not only on their physical and mentalhealth but also the health of family members, including children,who depend upon them. Government policy directly puts the health ofpatients we care for at risk. Immediate action should be taken toend these punitive actions."


In March thisyear, the Churches published a report showing that nearly 100,000 children hadbeen affected by sanctions in 2014 alone and that people withmental health problems were being sanctioned at a rate of more than100 per day. As a result of their campaign more than 2,000 peoplewrote to their MPs asking them to support a review of thesystem.


The reporttold stories like that of Martin*, aged 60, who missed anappointment with the job centre because his wife died suddenly. Hewas sanctioned for six weeks, leaving him with nothing to live onand in a state of confusion as his wife had previously handled mostof their joint paperwork. He came to the local church for help andcharity Acts435 helped him with his living expenses until he could cometo terms with the new shape his life had taken.


"TheGovernment claims that sanctions help people into work, but theevidence for this claim is practically non-existent," added MrMorrison. "However, there is plenty of evidence that sanctionscause hardship, suffering and hunger. Any system that seeks to'change people's behaviour' by using hunger as a weapon isimmoral."

*Not his real name.



1. Dr Vautreyand Mr Morrison are available for interview - contact MichaelIvatt (07881 783812)

2. Forinfographics, data and more information visit www.jointpublicissues.org.uk/rethinksanctions