New report: Nearly 100,000 children affected by benefit sanctions in 2013/14

  • An estimated 6.8 million weeks of sanctions were handed out in2013/14
  • Video: May we tell you a story or two? 
  • Readthe report 
  • #RethinkSanctions

A new report from a coalition of major UK Churches has revealedthat around 100,000 children were affected by benefit sanctions in2013/14. It also shows that in the same period a total of nearly 7million weeks of sanctions were handed out to benefit claimants.The new data, obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, willfeature in this evening's episode of Channel 4's Dispatches,entitled Britain's Benefits Crackdown.

The report, entitled Time to Rethink BenefitSanctions, is published today by the Baptist Union ofGreat Britain, Church Action on Poverty, the Church in Wales, theChurch of Scotland, the Methodist Church and the United ReformedChurch. It contains new data on the severity and length ofsanctions under Welfare Reform, and on how sanctions affectvulnerable groups such as children and those with mental healthproblems.

It features the stories of people like James* who have had theirbenefits sanctioned:

"During the first three weeks of my sanction I continued to lookfor work as I was required to. By the fourth week however I wasexhausted, unwell and no longer had it in me. I was not eating as Ihad no food and was losing a lot of weight. I told the Jobcentre Iwas unwell through not eating but was sanctioned for another threemonths for not looking for work properly."

"Those who already have the most difficult lives are those mostlikely to be sanctioned," said Paul Morrison, Public Issues PolicyAdviser for the Methodist Church and one of the authors of thereport. "Sanctions impact disproportionately on young people, careleavers, homeless people, single parents, the mentally ill andthose with long term illness. This system causes problems for thevery people that most need help.

"But sanctions don't just have a financial impact. The peoplewe've spoken to have told us of the shame, demoralisation and lossof self-worth caused by this system.  As Christians we believethat everyone is loved, valued and made in the image of God, and wehave a responsibility to challenge any structure or system thatundermines that dignity."

The Churches are calling for a full and independent review ofthe regime and for urgent reform of the hardship payments system toavoid the deliberate imposition of hunger. In the meantime, theyare urging the Government to suspend all sanctions against familieswith children and those suffering from mental health problems. Mostimportantly, they say, there needs to be a change of culture, fromone of enforcement and punishment to one of assistance andsupport.

"If you commit a crime, no criminal court in the UK is allowedto make you go hungry as a punishment," added Niall Cooper,Director of Church Action on Poverty. "But if you're late for anappointment at the Jobcentre, they can remove all your income andleave you unable to feed you or your family for weeks at a time.Most people in this country would be shocked if they knew that farfrom providing a safety net, the benefit sanctions policy iscurrently making thousands of people destitute. This policy must bereviewed urgently."

The Archbishop of Wales, Dr Barry Morgan, said: "The findings ofthis report are disturbing. It exposes a system that is harsh inthe extreme, penalising the most vulnerable of claimants by thewithdrawal of benefits for weeks at a time. Most worryingly, itappears from DWP guidance, quoted in the report, that deprivationand hunger are knowingly being used as a punishment for quitetrivial breaches of benefit conditions. Employers would not beallowed to stop someone's wages for a month the first time theywere 10 minutes late for an appointment, but this is the kind ofsanction that is being imposed on some of the most vulnerablepeople in our society, including those with mental and physicalhealth problems.

"We are concerned that the problem may be even worse in Wales,recognising the higher levels of poverty in this country. No Welshdata, however, is included in the report because despite submittinga Freedom of Information request to the DWP three months ago, weare still waiting for a reply. There is supposed to be a 20-dayturnaround period for Freedom of Information requests. We arepursuing this."


*Not his real name.