The DWP has finally caved in to pressure and published the secret report into the effectiveness of sanctions, slipping it out hours before the country shut down for the Easter bank holidays. It shows that sanctioned claimants take longer to move into paid employment and earn less than those who have not been sanctioned. There is no evidence that sanctions are effective in any way at all.
The report, which was written in 2020 and has been the subject of repeated freedom of information requests, is entitled ‘The impact of Benefit Sanctions on Employment Outcomes’.
Overall, claimants who have been hit with a sanction have 8% shorter UC claims than claimants who were not sanctioned.
But, very concerningly, the majority of those with shortened claims disappear– they do not move into paid employment and no research on moves into self-employment was carried out.
Claimants who are sanctioned and who eventually move into PAYE work actually take longer to do so than those were not sanctioned and earn an average of £34 a month less.
This is not what the DWP would have expected: experience across Europe is that sanctioned claimants are likely to move into paid employment more quickly.
So, if sanctioning claimants is supposed to help people move into paid employment it fails dismally.
However, the DWP argue in a ‘context note’ released with the report that the research cannot be relied upon because it did not take into account the value of the ‘deterrent effect’ of the sanctions regime. The theory is that claimants are more likely to meet their obligations because they fear being sanctioned and so, overall sanctions are an effective tool.
The DWP point to the fact that the sanction rate fell from 6% in August 2017 to below 3% in August 2018. This, they claim is evidence that claimants changed their behaviour and became more complaint because of the deterrent effect of sanctions.
However, no research has been carried out to demonstrate that this deterrent effect was actually responsible for the fall in sanction numbers. The DWP can turn sanctions on and off like a tap and it is entirely possible that it was changes in DWP procedures and the department’s fear of negative publicity surrounding sanctions deaths that caused the drop in the number of claimants being sanctioned.
Without independent research into the deterrent effect, which the DWP has had three years since the draft report to carry out but has chosen not to, there is not a scrap of evidence that sanctions are anything but ineffective.
The reality is that the sanctions rate was at a record 6.86% in October 2022 and the DWP are now planning to considerably toughen the regime without any evidence it will have any positive effect.
We can be sure, however, that a harsher regime will cause severe hardship and additional claimant deaths.