Skip to main content

Benefits: Sanctions

Volume 750: debated on Monday 16 December 2013


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what has been the impact of the application of the new sanctions regime for jobseeker’s allowance and employment and support allowance claimants.

The new sanctions regime was introduced in jobseeker’s allowance from 22 October 2012 and in employment and support allowance from 3 December 2012. We have released statistics on the sanctions up to the end of June 2013. They show that there has been little change in the volume of sanctions since the introduction of the new regime. Matthew Oakley is conducting a review of how we operate the sanctions system and will report back in due course.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. It is not a matter of dispute that the social security system should involve rights and responsibilities, but I suggest that the recent, delayed data show a record number of sanctions, and raise the question of whether the sanctions are being fairly applied—particularly the JSA and ESA three-year sanctions. I ask the Minister particularly about the case of Reilly and Wilson v the Secretary of State. He will be aware that the Supreme Court dismissed the Government’s appeal and determined that the Government had a duty of fairness to provide enough information to jobseekers on an individual basis about available back-to-work schemes for them to make informed representations should they so choose. Will the Minister give an assurance that this is now happening, and that it is happening before the DWP seeks to apply the sanctions regime?

My Lords, as part of the Jobseekers (Back to Work Schemes) Act we passed earlier this year, we are having a review, which is being run by Matthew Oakley. He is concentrating on precisely the issues of communication that the noble Lord raised.

My Lords, one of the complications of the sanctions policy could be its impact on the Troubled Families programme. Will my noble friend confirm the number of instances of second-time sanctions, and how many of them were part of the Troubled Families programme?

I thank my noble friend for giving me advance notice of that question. Only a small proportion of claimants are sanctioned two or more times. For high-level sanctions, only 5% received two sanctions and 1% received a third sanction. On the specific question about the Troubled Families programme, that provision is delivered by local authorities and unfortunately we do not have the data available at the present time.

My Lords, given that the Social Security Advisory Committee warned that sanctions tend to impact disproportionately on the most vulnerable and disadvantaged, and given that a recent survey of citizens advice bureaux showed that the new sanctions regime is having a severe impact on physical and mental health, with one respondent saying,

“The strain has quite literally smashed our family to pieces”,

what steps are being taken to monitor the unintended consequences of sanctions, as called for by SSAC? Will the Minister undertake to report regularly on the impact of sanctions on these groups?

As I just said, we are having one review, undertaken by Matthew Oakley. My colleague the Minister for Employment is also looking at this area very closely, and I am expecting the details of the review that she is overseeing to be published reasonably soon.

My Lords, the Minister said that sanctions had not increased significantly. Perhaps he would look at a Written Answer given in another place to Mr Timms on 4 July, which suggested that the amount of money withheld from JSA in sanctions in 2009-10 was £11 million. Only halfway through 2012-13, it was £60 million. If it carried on at that rate, that would constitute a tenfold increase. Anyone who has ever been to a food bank will have heard horror stories about people being sanctioned for trivial or disgraceful reasons. Can the Minister please get a grip on this?

My Lords, the relative figures are that since 2010 the volume of sanctions has run at between 3% and 5.5% whereas between 2005 and 2010 the rate was running between 2% and 4%. One of the most encouraging elements of the new regime is that the proportion of people on high-level sanctions has fallen quite steeply and is now down by 40% from 10,000 per calendar month to 6,000 per calendar month.

My Lords, will the Minister tell the House whether the officials working in the DWP are working to targets, and whether this has any impact on the number of sanctions that are applied?

We are not working to targets. We have made it absolutely plain that that is not our policy. We have had a study done on that by the head of JCP, Neil Couling, which reported in May and found that we did not run targets. Obviously, we collect management information, without which we could not give out the kind of data that is requested.

My Lords, will my noble friend give us some indication of the sort of training given to those who deal with some of the rather disturbed people who go to jobseekers’ offices? I have seen several instances where the people in this very difficult situation get a bit disturbed about it and need a bit more sensitivity. I have mentioned this to the Minister before. I wonder whether the responsibility lies with the local authorities dealing with these issues or with the department.

Jobcentre Plus advisers are well trained to look after their clients. One of the most difficult areas for them is always mental health, and that is something that we are looking to push further forward. We are introducing a mental health toolkit along the lines of that given to prime providers in the Work Programme.

People with special educational needs and physical disabilities are particularly badly hit by these sanctions. Will the Minister respond to the question put to him by my noble friend Lady Lister? Will he come to the House and report regularly on the impact on people with these difficulties?

My Lords, I said earlier that I hope that we will be announcing the context of the review that my colleague Esther McVey is looking to produce. When I have that information, I will, of course, bring it to this House.