Damian Green, the welfare secretary, who insisted this week that the sanctions contributed to a fairer society and were an important part of the benefits system. Yet, how does he know?
The National Audit Office, Whitehall’s official spending watchdog, has found sanctions on welfare payments are being handed out without evidence that they actually work. The Department for Work and Pensions is also failing to monitor thousands of people whose benefits are being cut or withheld. Auditors concluded the application of the sanctions regime varies across the country and from job centre to job centre, confirming for many that the sanctions system was wasteful and not aimed at finding people work but instead purely punitive.
The report said, “Our review of the available evidence suggests the department’s use of sanctions is linked as much to management priorities and local staff discretion as it is to claimants’ behaviour…”
Alison Garnham, chief executive of Child Poverty Action Group, said: “As today’s NAO report makes clear, the DWP has little idea what impact sanctions have on individuals and, with some areas imposing twice as many sanctions as others, appears to have little concern for consistency. Sanctions create destitution but the DWP is operating almost blind.”
Labour MP Meg Hillier, who chairs the public accounts committee, said: “Benefit sanctions punish some of the poorest people in the country. But despite the anxiety and misery they cause, it seems to be pot luck who gets sanctioned.”
More than one million unemployed benefits claimants have to meet certain conditions, such as showing they are looking for work, to receive jobseeker’s allowance, employment and support allowance, universal credit and income support. Almost a quarter of claimants (24%) between 2010 and 2015 received a sanction, the report said. A four-week penalty can mean a claimant over-25 losing £300. In 2015, 800,000 claimants were referred to the DWP for possible sanctions, the report said. Of those, half were then sanctioned across at least one of four benefits. The NAO estimates the DWP withheld £132m from claimants through sanctions in 2015, and paid them £35m in hardship payments. But the costs of administering the system was up to £50m in 2015 while the impact on wider public spending through additional support or savings had not been calculated at all by the DWP