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MPs demand independent sanctions review

24 March 2015

Work and Pensions - Fifth Report Benefit sanctions policy beyond the Oakley Review

The Work and Pensions Committee has called for a full independent review to investigate whether benefit sanctions are being applied appropriately, fairly and proportionately, across the Jobcentre Plus (JCP) network.

Disability Rights UK welcomes the committee’s finding that “there is no evidence on whether the application or deterrent threat of a sanction makes it more or less likely that a claimant will engage with employment support or gain work.”

The committee also noted the financial hardship sanctions are causing, especially food poverty, and their link to the deaths of some claimants. Given this we are surprised that the Committee still feels that benefit conditionality is necessary.

However we are pleased to see the committee recommend an independent review into conditionality.  Calls for a new legislative framework that would permit a pre-sanctions written warning and non-financial sanctions and their responsiveness to our own call for improvements in back to work support for those on Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) are welcome.

Philip Connolly, the charity’s Policy and Development Manager said, “All human beings respond better to rewards and not penalties. We hope that the Government will initiate the independent review the committee has called for and that the review also looks at incentives for job seekers too.” 

The report makes a number of further recommendations, including that DWP should:

  • Not proceed with in-work sanctions beyond the existing pilot areas until robust evidence is available from the pilots to demonstrate that in-work conditionality can be effectively applied. [paragraph 56]
  • Establish a small-scale pilot to test the efficacy of a more targeted approach to sanctions based on segmentation of claimants by their attitudes and motivations. [paragraph 93]
  • Develop new and more effective systems to monitor the destinations of claimants leaving benefit in general and, in particular, those leaving benefit following a sanction. [paragraph 66]
  • Expedite the evaluation of the Claimant Commitment, including a review of the appropriate use of Jobseeker Directions. [paragraphs 74 and 84]
  • Develop guidance which is specifically intended to assist JCP staff to identify vulnerable claimants and tailor conditionality according to the claimant’s individual circumstances. [paragraph 80]
  • Improve JCP staff training on the statutory single parent flexibilities designed to protect single parent JSA claimants from inappropriate benefit conditionality; and produce a simple, plain English guide to the flexibilities for all single parent claimants. [paragraph 88]
  • Review Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) sanctioning within the Work Programme, and continue to develop alternative approaches to employment support for this group, including voluntary models, such as Individual Placement with Support, for some groups. [paragraphs 134–35]