Following last week’s excoriating NAO report on Universal Credit and the DWP’s failure to assess its impact or prove its claims for the policy’s benefits, the Committee this week continues to take evidence in its inquiry on benefit sanctions, the “only major welfare reform introduced after 2010 that has not been evaluated”.
While it is generally acknowledged that conditionality is an important and effective part of benefit delivery, Government has never formally measured whether the current system of benefit sanctions gets people off benefits, and/or into work, nor what the impact of sanctions is on individuals.
Wednesday 20 June 2018, Grimond Room, Portcullis House
- Sumi Rabindrakumar, Research Officer, Gingerbread
- Ayaz Manji, Policy and Campaigns Officer, Mind
- Maeve McGoldrick, Head of Policy and Campaigns, Crisis
- Iain Porter, Policy Officer, Poverty and Inequality, Children's Society
- Professor Peter Dwyer, Director of Research for joint university project
- Anna Bird, Executive Director for Policy and Research, Scope
- Martin Williams, Welfare Rights Worker, Child Poverty Action Group
- Ed Boyd, Managing Director, Centre for Social Justice
- Kirsty McHugh, Chief Executive, Employment Related Services Association
- Kayley Hignell, Head of Policy (Families, Welfare and Work), Citizens Advice
In its first oral evidence session on the impact and effect of benefit sanctions, the Committee heard compelling accounts of the hardship and distress associated with both the imposition of sanctions – whether appropriate or, as in many publicised cases, not - and by the uncertainty around the hardship loans provided to claimants who cannot make ends meet while the sanction is in force.
Purpose of the session
This Wednesday 20 June the Committee will hear from representatives of people typically worst affected by benefit sanctions - both in terms of their propensity to be sanctioned, and the disproportionate effect sanctions have on them, including the homeless, people with mental health issues, lone parents, care leavers and young people in general.
The Committee will also question leading experts in the field on what is behind the well-publicised and often shocking inappropriate sanction referrals, and high rates of overturned sanctions decisions. There is also a weight of evidence about the lack of efficacy of sanctions on disabled people, including an National Audit Office finding that claimants of ESA - a disability benefit - who are sanctioned are less likely to get into work. How can the system be reformed to strike a fairer, more effective balance?
The session will finally consider the evidence for and against in-work conditionality, under which UC claimants who are already working up to 35 hours a week must seek more hours, higher pay, or an extra job as a condition of receiving low-wage top-ups and other benefits, or else face sanctions. There have been reports that low-paid workers put through this process report “dehumanising” and “intimidating” experiences, and that this can de-incentivise working at all. The Committee will consider the measures that would be needed to make this policy work.