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Universal Credit Sanctions

Volume 721: debated on Monday 31 October 2022

4. What assessment his Department has made of changes in the level of the sanction rate for universal credit between November 2021 and May 2022. (901913)

No assessment has been made. Emergency measures brought in during covid meant that the sanctions rate was artificially low. We always expected the rate to increase when we reintroduced face-to-face appointments and conditionality in order to help fill record numbers of job vacancies.

I am disappointed with that answer. The current high rate of universal credit sanctions is unprecedented. Right now, twice as many people on universal credit are being sanctioned and having their benefits cut as did before the pandemic, three years ago. At this very moment, families face the reality of hunger and freezing homes because of soaring food prices and energy bills, as well as rising rents. Instead of making things harder for those who are struggling, and punishing those on the lowest incomes, will the Minister commit to raising social security in line with inflation and end the sanctions regime, which will only inflict more hardship and homelessness this winter on those in areas such as mine?

I am afraid that I do not agree. People are sanctioned only if they fail to attend appointments without good reason, and fail to meet the requirements that they have agreed to meet. Conditionality is an important part of a fair and effective welfare system. It is right that there should be a system to encourage claimants to take reasonable steps to prepare for and move into work. I reiterate that claimants with severe mental health or wellbeing conditions are not subject to work-related requirements or sanctions.

The Secretary of State has indicated that there will be a difference in tone in the Department. There is a way that he can demonstrate that. The Department conducted an examination of the effect of sanctions and conditionality that his predecessor refused to publish. He has the opportunity to allow us to have an informed debate in the Chamber on the effectiveness of sanctions. Will he now publish that report?

Sanctions are incredibly important to support the work coach in doing their job. This really matters, because engaging with the work coach is important where there can be underlying issues—if an individual is a care leaver or there is something going on at home. Sanctions do not apply to all claimants. As I said earlier, if an individual has limited capability to work or there are issues around how they can work, work coaches will use their full discretion to ensure that people are supported, but not engaging is not the right option.