Too many relying on foodbanks because claimants targeted – Plaid AM
Half the sanctions cases against benefit claimants in Wrexham are reversed or cancelled, research by Plaid Cymru has found.
The study found that benefits were stopped in just 45% of cases between 2012-2015, with 50% of cases either being successfully appealed or cancelled due to errors. A small minority of 5% were reserved because the claimant was no longer claiming Job Seekers’ Allowance (JSA).
The number of sanctions being overturned, 3278 out of a total of 6549, has caused concern for the area’s Plaid Cymru regional AM Llyr Gruffydd.
He said: “This relates to the Job Seekers’ Allowance as the Department of Work and Pensions has not released similar data on other benefits. However it paints a worrying picture of how sanctions – i.e. stopping benefits – can be applied without good cause and sometimes against people who are vulnerable and unable to represent themselves.
“These are the people who are then left high and dry, needing food banks, emergency loans or even loan sharks to tide them over. If more than half the cases end up without sanctions being applied it raises questions about the accuracy of the original decision.”
A Parliamentary Select Committee reviewed the benefits sanctions system and heard evidence from those working in the system and from leading academics.
Dr David Webster, of the University of Glasgow, speaking to the Select Committee stated:
“What the DWP is doing is sanctioning people willy and nilly for not doing arbitrarily-imposed things. They say you have to apply for 30 jobs in a fortnight and you only apply for 29 and they sanction you. This is completely absurd.”
He added that it was "not necessary to run a system on the assumption that most people do not want to work". There was no evidence that compelling claimants to perform arbitrary tasks (such as applying for target numbers of jobs each week) as a condition of receiving unemployment benefit (on the assumption they would otherwise be cheating the system) helped them get jobs.
The assertion was backed up by Kirsty McHugh, chief executive for the Employment Related Services Association (Ersa), which represents employers in the sector:
“For a minority of people, receiving a sanction can be the wake-up call they need to help them move into work. However, for the vast majority of jobseekers, sanctions are more likely to hinder their journey into employment.”
Mr Gruffydd added: “There’s plenty of evidence of people losing all their benefits at a stroke because of arbitrary sanctions. JobCentre staff have spoken out about being given targets in terms of sanctions and I’m concerned that the most vulnerable could be bearing the brunt of these. They are the easiest to sanction and are likely to have the least resources and support to fight back. Of course there’s a minority abusing the system but that does not excuse the DWP targeting the unemployed and leaving them destitute.”
• North Wales stats
36905 sanctions TOTAL 100%
17377 sanctions applied 47.1%
10370 sanctions not applied 28.1%
7226 sanctions cancelled 19.5% = 47.6%
1932 sanctions reserved 5.2%
Local breakdown by individual JobCentre here: https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/jobseekers-allowance-and-employment-and-support-allowance-sanctions-decisions-made-to-december-2015 (go to Table 1.2)