“Where’s the review?” say Churches and charities

  • Write to your MP, asking them to #rethinksanctions
  • Video: May we tell you a story?
  • Responding to arguments used to support benefit sanctions

It has been 100 days since the Work and Pensions SelectCommittee called for a full independent review of the benefitsanctions system, but the Government has not indicated anyintention to conduct a review. A group of Churches and charities iscalling urgently for the Government to heed the Committee's reportand act on its recommendations.

In the same 100 day period last year, 346,256 people whowere on Jobseeker's Allowance and 35,554 people on EmploymentSupport Allowance were referred for sanctions. 92,558 of thosereferrals were the result of bureaucratic error. These resulted in175,177 sanctions for Jobseekers and 11,129 for those out of workdue to ill health. The call for a review is supported by theBaptist Union of Great Britain, the Church of Scotland, the Churchin Wales, the Methodist Church, the United Reformed Church and bycharities Church Action on Poverty, Gingerbread andMind.

"The implementation of the present sanction regime iscontroversial with the government claiming it is effective inhelping people into work while many others say sanctions arecausing real distress to families and are actually acting as abarrier to participation," said Dame Anne Begg, MP for AberdeenSouth from 1997 to 2015, who chaired the Select Committee. "Ifsanctions work as a deterrent, why are so many people still facingmultiple sanctions? As there are so many questions about theeffects on people who have been sanctioned, it is time thegovernment implemented the recommendation of my Select Committee inthe last Parliament to carry out a full, independent review of thewhole sanction regime. Many believe that sanctions are beingapplied to the wrong people for often trivial reasons and are thecause of the increased use of foodbanks. Only an independent reviewcan get to the truth of what is actually happening so thatgovernment policy can be based on evidence and not seen as merelypunitive."

"The case has been made," said Paul Morrison, PublicIssues Policy Adviser for the Methodist Church. "The sanctionssystem requires fundamental review and we call upon the newParliament to respond positively to the recommendations of theSelect Committee. Churches and charities are backing this callbecause we see day by day the harm that benefit sanctions cause inthe communities we serve. We recognise the hiatus caused by theGeneral Election, but hope that the new Parliament will recognisethe urgency of this matter and announce a full independent inquiryas soon as possible."

In March this year the Churches called for such a reviewin their report Time to Rethink Benefit Sanctions, which cited newevidence about the negative impact of the current regime. Thereport revealed that around 100,000 children were affected bysanctions in 2013/14. The data, obtained under the Freedom ofInformation Act, also shows that people who receive the sicknessand disability benefit Employment and Support Allowance (ESA)because of a long-term mental health problem are being sanctionedat a rate of more than 100 per day.

The Archbishop of Wales, Dr Barry Morgan said: "Since2012, the rate at which sanctions have been applied to vulnerablepeople claiming Job Seekers Allowance and Employment SupportAllowance in Wales has increased even faster than in England orScotland. Many claimants, who are already suffering from mental orphysical health problems and living in poverty, are threatened withsanctions because of administrative errors. For the sake of humandignity, fairness and compassion, the system must bechanged."

Paul Farmer, CEO of Mind, said: "Far too many people withmental health problems are having their benefits cut for notmeeting the requirements placed on them, which are ofteninappropriate in the first place. The use of sanctions is causingfinancial hardship and is based on the assumption that peopleclaiming out-of-work benefits lack motivation and willingness tofind and keep a job, which couldn't be further from the truth forthe people Mind represents.

"The vast majority of people who are out of work due totheir mental health want to work. But the constant threat ofsanctions causes a great deal of distress, making people moreunwell and a return to work less likely. We support the Churches'call for the Government to commission an independent review intosanctions policy."

"In working with churches across the North West, I amincreasingly hearing stories of individuals whose lives are beingblighted by the impact of benefit sanctions," added the Revd PhilJump, Regional Minister for the North Western Baptist Association."There is clear evidence of the need for our government to takeserious account of the concerns and recommendations of a committeewhich itself is part of our parliamentary system."

The Churches are asking people to write to their MPs.