Benefit sanctions ‘harmful’, ‘counterproductive’ and ‘pointlessly cruel’


The government’s benefit sanction regime on people with a disability or health condition ‘does not work’ and is ‘harmful and counterproductive’, the Work and Pensions Committee has found.

In its newly published Benefit Sanctions report, the committee concludes that the ‘human cost of continuing to apply the existing regime of benefit sanctions appears simply too high’.

According to the committee, back in 2012 the then coalition government ‘had little or no understanding of the likely impact of a tougher sanctions regime’ when it introduced the sanctions.

At that point, the coalition promised to review the new rules’ impact and whether they were achieving their aims on an ongoing basis – but the committee says that six years later the government ‘is none the wiser’.

One expert witness told the committee that ‘if it was not for the embarrassment, the government would have suspended ESA sanctions altogether as soon as that National Audit Office finding came out that sanctioned ESA claimants were less likely to get into work’.

The report reveals that single parents, care leavers and people with a disability or health condition are disproportionately vulnerable to and affected by the withdrawal of benefits, and that until the government can ‘show unequivocally that sanctions actually help to move these claimants into work, it cannot justify these groups continued inclusion in the sanctions regime’.

The committee’s chair, Frank Field MP, said: ‘We have heard stories of terrible and unnecessary hardship from people who’ve been sanctioned. They were left bewildered and driven to despair at becoming, often with their children, the victims of a sanctions regime that is at times so counter-productive it just seems pointlessly cruel.’

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