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Benefit Sanctions

Volume 455: debated on Monday 8 January 2007

1. What assessment he has made of the impact on people from vulnerable groups of Jobcentre Plus staff targets for benefits sanctions; and if he will make a statement. (113146)

Jobcentre Plus does not operate a system of staff targets for benefits sanctions.

I wish Members a happy new year. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the principle of fairness underpins the rights and responsibilities agenda? In that spirit, to avoid claimants discovering that their benefits have been suspended only when they cannot take money out of a cashpoint, will he consider introducing a scheme whereby Jobcentre Plus directs such claimants to an independent adviser such as Citizens Advice or, in my area, Derbyshire Unemployed Workers Centre, to give them truly impartial help and support?

Yes. It is important that the eligibility rules for jobseeker’s allowance are consistently applied across the country, which is what we are trying to do. No one should find out that their benefit has been reduced, however, when they arrive at the cashpoint to withdraw it. A proper process should be followed, including a proper appeals process, and I would expect that to happen in every case.

Given that, in the United States, former President Clinton introduced the sanction of time-limited benefits, to the advantage of claimants and the taxpayer, may we assume that that option is too radical for new Labour?

We do not plan to introduce time-limited benefits, and I suspect that no Conservative Front Bencher does so either. Jobseeker’s allowance is already a time-limited benefit.

Will the Secretary of State at some stage consider the sanction of time limiting benefit? Is not it true that since we came to power the number of people in work has increased by 2.5 million, and that 2 million of those jobs have been filled by immigrants? The working age count, however, has fallen by only about a quarter of a million from 5.6 million to 5.4 million. Does not that suggest that we need to rethink radically our welfare reform programme?

Work is under way in the Department for Work and Pensions to consider the whole suite of welfare-to-work policies. It is right that we keep all aspects of those policies under review. My right hon. Friend, for whom I have a great deal of respect, urges me to pursue a course of action in relation to general time limiting of benefits that I do not want to follow. We have significantly reduced unemployment, which has benefited all our constituents, and we will continue to pursue the right welfare and economic policies to continue to reduce benefit dependency.

Last year, unemployment in Wellingborough increased by more than a fifth, and it is now more than nine years since the Government came to power. How will the Government’s policy on benefits sanctions help my constituents to find employment?

There must be a combination of the right macro and micro-economic policies and the right welfare reform policies, which make it clear to those who are claiming, for example, jobseeker’s allowance that they are required actively to seek work. When they are not doing that, such behaviour must have a proper consequence.