Operation and effects of benefit sanctions examined by Committee

15 May 2018

The Work and Pensions Committee holds the first evidence session in its new inquiry into the operation and effects of benefit sanctions.


16 May 2018, Wilson Room, Portcullis House

At 9.30am

  • Tony Wilson, Director of Policy and Research, Leaning and Work Institute
  • Dr David Webster, University of Glasgow
  • Matthew Oakley, Independent reviewer of JSA sanctions

At 10.15am

  • Luke O’Donnell, claimant
  • Jen Fidai, claimant
  • Samantha, claimant

Purpose of the session

The Committee is looking at recent developments like the trial of a “Yellow Card” system, and the robustness of evidence that sanctions work - either to deter non-compliant behaviour or to help achieve the policy objectives of getting people off benefits and into work.

Sanctions, which take the form of docking a portion of benefit payments for a period of time, can be imposed for breaching benefit conditions like not attending a work placement, or for being minutes late for a Job Centre appointment.

This might be a condition set out in primary legislation (such as for JSA) or a condition agreed between the claimant and their Work Coach about their responsibilities. Media reports of the Committee's last inquiry into benefit sanctions in 2015 described "copious evidence of claimants being docked hundreds of pounds and pitched into financial crisis for often absurdly trivial breaches of benefit conditions, or for administrative errors beyond their control."

There have also been serial reports in the media of extreme instances of the use and effects of sanctions – people hospitalised for life threatening conditions or premature labour being sanctioned for weeks or months for consequently missing a benefits appointment, or being unable to afford the transport to a distant job placement and being sanctioned for failing to attend it - and speculation over the degree of discretion Job Centre Plus staff have in these instances.

Tomorrow the Committee will hear from claimants who have been sanctioned, about the impact and effect the sanctions have, and what effect it has on their relationship with Job Centre -  including one Universal Credit claimant whose annotated sanction letter went viral on Twitter, after he missed an appointment because of receiving treatment for his epilepsy.

The Committee will also hear from Matthew Oakley, the Government’s independent reviewer of the impact and effects of sanctions for breaching Jobseeker’s Allowance conditions,  about how far the Government has gone towards implementing his 2014 recommendations.

Further information

Image: iStockphoto

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