Work and pensions committee hears that sanctions have seen millions withheld from claimants since coalition tightened conditions
There is a broad political consensus that job seekers must fulfill certain obligations as a condition of receiving unemployment benefit. This consensus is breaking down, however, over how harsh this conditionality should be and whether it is effective in getting people back into work.
Ministers claim that benefits sanctions send a clear message to the tiny minority of claimants who abuse the system, making them more likely to look for jobs, and ending the so-called “something-for-nothing” culture. They have said sanctions are a “last resort” imposed on people unwilling to work.
Critics, however, say that the sanctions system has spiralled out of control since the coalition tightened benefit conditionality in autumn 2012. Ten years ago, typically a thousand people a month would be sanctioned; by October 2013 that figure hit 12,000 and currently stands at around 7,000. In some areas up to 10% of all unemployment benefit claimants were sanctioned.
Sanctioning is no longer a last resort tactic aimed at the stubbornly workshy, say critics, but a crude way of pushing down claimant numbers and cutting back on the benefits bill. The work and pensions committee has heard estimates that sanctions have seen £275m withheld from claimants – who are already living on the breadline – over the past two years. The biggest impact has been on vulnerable individuals, such as people with mental illness, who are unable, rather than unwilling, to comply with the benefit conditions.