In recent years, a tough benefit sanction scheme has been introduced under the Tory government that is seeing more and more people claiming Job Seeker’s Allowance to miss out on receiving payment and as a result, end up out on the streets – unable to afford accommodation. The rules are so tough that they see claimants punished for missing just one job centre appointment. According to the Public Accounts Committee, these rules are also often inconsistent so claimants are left confused and unsure of where they stand. The serious consequences that these severe sanctions are having is becoming more and more apparent in society, and it seems that the people that receive them rarely understand why anyway. Labour MP Meg Hillier has said that sanctions are not being used for their true purpose and instead are just being used as a ‘blunt instrument’ by the Government. So when and how do you get sanctioned?
New sanctions are occurring when a claimant turns down a position (no matter what the reason), misses an appointment they have at the job centre or hasn’t been looking for work as much as they should be. Typical sanctions will last around one month (four weeks) which means that those claiming the full amount of Job Seeker’s Allowance will miss out on a hefty £300 – the maximum amount of Job Seeker’s benefit a claimant can receive is £73.10 per week. There is certain evidence that points towards sanctions not being the best solution to those not looking for work when on benefits – because one of the main reasons people are struggling to look for or find employment is because they don’t have a roof over their head. By sanctioning their benefits because they failed to look for work, they will not be able to pay for rented accommodation and become homeless. This makes looking for work even more of an impossibility. In 2015 the DWP issued 400, 000 sanctions in total – which is a fairly considerable amount and perhaps a slight indication of how harsh the new regime really is.
Homeless charities such as Crisis has raised concerns about the links between benefit sanctions and homelessness and how homelessness acts are a huge barrier to employment. A third of people that crisis had surveyed about benefit sanctions had even had their housing benefit stopped as a result of error – facing homelessness through no fault of their own. There have been calls for officials and job centre employees to think carefully before issuing sanctions and to particularly consider those that are vulnerable or might be at risk of homelessness. They point out the ‘unexplained’ variation in sanctions across the country and some findings even suggest that you are more likely to get sanctioned if you live in certain areas. The DWP has been highly criticised for maintaining poor data.
So what is the next step from here? How do you cut back on issuing sanctions as well as making sure there are not people that are just plainly taking advantage of the benefits system? Suggestions have included giving claimants a warning before they get sanctioned, rather than sanctioning them when they are not expecting it and potentially leaving some people vulnerable or even homeless. There has been a 10-month deadline set for the DWP which states that within this time they need to report back on protective measures that are being put in place to protect the vulnerable. They have also called for all areas of the country to be equally as consistent when issuing sanctions, to ensure that the system is safe and reliable for everyone.