The House of Commons Work and Pensions Committee yesterday condemned the sanctions regime being used against sick and disabled people as ‘harmful and counterproductive’. They have also called the refusal of the government to carry out any evaluation of the effects of the current sanctions regime “unacceptable.”
One of the main recommendations in the committee’s report, ‘Benefit Sanctions’, is that the DWP immediately stop sanctioning sick and disabled claimants:
“Of all the evidence we received, none was more compelling than that against the imposition of conditionality and sanctions on people with a disability or health condition. It does not work. Worse, it is harmful and counterproductive. We recommend that the Government immediately stop imposing conditionality and sanctions on anyone found to have limited capability for work, or who presents a valid doctor’s note (Fit Note) stating that they are unable to work, including those who present such a note while waiting for a Work Capability Assessment. Instead, it should work with experts to develop a programme of voluntary employment support.”
Warning that sanctions rates are higher under UC than other benefits, the committee also demanded that the government urgently evaluate the effects of sanctions:
“The failure to evaluate the 2012 reforms is unacceptable. It is time for the Government urgently to evaluate the effectiveness of reforms to welfare conditionality and sanctions introduced since 2012, including an assessment of sanctions’ impact on people’s financial and personal well-being. Furthermore, until the Government can point to robust evidence that longer sanctions are more effective, higher level sanctions should be reduced to two, four and six months for first, second and subsequent failures to comply.”
Another major recommendation by the committee was the reduction of the rate at which hardship payments have to be repaid by claimants:
“Hardship payments are made to those who would otherwise be left with nothing when sanctioned. But recovering that payment at a rate of 40% of someone’s standard allowance imposes further significant hardship. It is neither necessary for the Government—as it appears not to be financially motivated to recover the money—nor affordable for those who have been recognised as at risk of extreme poverty. Our final recommendation is therefore that the Department issues revised guidance to all work coaches to ensure hardship repayments are set at a rate that is affordable for the claimant, with the default being 5% of their standard allowance.”
Frank Field, chair of the committee, said:
"We have heard stories of terrible and unnecessary hardship from people who’ve been sanctioned. They were left bewildered and driven to despair at becoming, often with their children, the victims of a sanctions regime that is at times so counter-productive it just seems pointlessly cruel.
“While none of them told us that there should be no benefit sanctions at all, it can only be right for the Government to take a long hard look at what is going on. If their stories were rare it would be unacceptable, but the Government has no idea how many more people out there are suffering in similar circumstances. In fact, it has kept itself in the dark about any of the impacts of the major reforms to sanctions introduced since 2012.
“The time is long overdue for the Government to assess the evidence and then have the courage of its reform convictions to say, where it is right to do so, ’this policy is not achieving its aims, it is not working, and the cost is too high: We will change it."