The government must urgently reassess its "pointlessly cruel" benefit sanctions, a committee of MPs has said.
Benefit sanctions are penalties imposed on claimants who do not meet conditions such as attending jobcentre meetings. As well as missing appointments, sanctions can be imposed for failure to show efforts to find work, and can see claimants lose 100% of their jobseeker's allowance or universal credit standard allowance. In some "higher level" cases - such as a failure to take up paid work - claimants can lose benefits for as long as three years.
The Work and Pensions Committee found single parents, care leavers and people with disabilities and health conditions were "disproportionately vulnerable" to, and affected by, sanctions. It also warned that children risked becoming "collateral damage" as the withdrawal of parents' benefits harmed their welfare.
Without clear evidence that sanctions were driving a return to work by single parents, it was "hard to justify" their inclusion in the system, the report said.
The committee received more than 500 responses detailing claimants' experience of the sanctions regime, which included cases of "extreme hardship and distress".
The committee said that ministers had "no idea" how many people were suffering as a result of the sanctions regime, because of an "unacceptable" failure to adequately evaluate its impact.