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Urgent need of fundamental reform to the sanctions system

Community Links today welcomed a report from the Work and Pensions Select Committee, which called for a broad, independent review of the system of benefit sanctions and highlighted the ”very limited” evidence as to whether the new stricter sanctions help people to find work.

24 Mar 2015

EMBARGO 24.03.15 00:01 | enquiries contact: . | 02074739674

Ben Robinson of Community Links, who gave evidence to the Inquiry, said: “Working with benefit claimants, we see the unnecessary hardship caused by the current punitive sanctions regime. This regime was introduced in 2012 without any evidence about whether it would be more effective at helping people find work – and we know that removing benefits often prevents them from finding a job. We urgently need the independent review of the sanctions regime, as the Commons Select Committee called for today.

As today’s report highlights, the vast majority of jobseekers are motivated to do all they can to move into work, and conditions and sanctions are only helpful for a tiny minority. But the current system has been designed as if all jobseekers are trying to cheat the system. This approach makes people feel degraded and can destroy the crucial relationship between job-coaches and claimants, discouraging people from engaging with the support they need to move into work. The MPs’ call for a first-warning system – to ensure that conditions attached to benefit claims are appropriate and understood – would help to move us towards a system based on a presumption of willingness. We urge the Government to take the recommendations from this report forward.

Community Links’ call for a change to the sanctions regime has been echoed by a range of organisations, including Oxfam, Child Poverty Action Group, Gingerbread, and centre-right think tank Policy Exchange. Witnesses at the Inquiry were unanimous that there is no evidence that the current system is the best at getting people into work.


CASE STUDY:

Community Links’s written evidence to the Inquiry included the story of one claimant, Rita, who was sanctioned multiple times while she was trying to gain more work experience. Rita was sanctioned when she failed to sign on at the jobcentre, even though the reason for this was that she was doing voluntary work at her local community centre, and despite the fact that she had gained the prior agreement of JCP advisor and complied with everything the WP wanted her to. She felt she was sanctioned simply for doing work experience.

Sanctions led to Rita not having enough money to eat or go anywhere, which ironically made the job search even harder. Due to the sanction, she didn’t have money to go to a job interview. Rita was later sanctioned again when she missed a meeting at JCP due to a hospital appointment; again in spite of having previously got prior agreement using official documentation to prove her hospital visit.

Eventually, Rita decided to cease her claim for Jobseekers’ Allowance, due to repeat sanctioning; as such she is no longer receiving any formal support to move into employment.

***ENDS

Notes for editors and further resources:
  1. Interviews and further case studies are available on request. Contact . | 02074739674
  2. For a video of Rita talking through her experience of being sanctioned, please see the video below
  3. The Work and Pensions Select Committee report will be published at 00:01; 24th March 2015 and is avaiable to download or view online.
  4. Community Links is an east London social action charity working with 16,000 people each year. It has over 35 years' experience working in one of the most deprived, diverse and vibrant areas in the country. Today Community Links runs 40 social action projects, five social enterprises and three national campaigns. Last year Community Links advised almost 5,000 people with benefits, housing and debt problems at a time when funding for this work is shrinking; supported around 4,000 unemployed people over a third of whom found sustainable jobs, many more have gone onto further training and voluntary work. In addition Community Links projects provided challenging and inspirational activities for almost 8,000 children and young people; Community Links' work is done with a staff team of 304 permanent and sessional staff, many of whom are former service users, and 1,300 volunteers from the local community and beyond.
    www.community-links.org
  5. Ben Robinson gave evidence to the Work and Pensions Select Committee on 21st January. For more information on the points Ben made, http://www.community-links.org/linksuk/?p=4688 ">follow this link
  6. Community Links’ written submission to the Inquiry is available to download.
  7. Community Links' Policy Briefing on Sanctions is available to download