Press release from Sheila Gilmore MP: Work and Pensions Committee member slams overuse of benefits sanctions

  • Mitigating circumstances and attempts to find work no longer accounted for
  • Sanctions pushing people towards food banks and payday lenders
  • Government needs to give officials discretion over decisions

Commenting following today’s statistics on the number of benefits claimants sanctioned, Edinburgh East MP and Work and Pensions Select Committee member Sheila Gilmore said:

It is only right that people in receipt of Jobseekers Allowance should be expected to look for work, but the way the Government is overusing benefits sanctions is cruel and counterproductive.

Just last week I met a man who was sanctioned for four weeks because he was arrived couple of minutes late for a 9am appointment at Jobcentre Plus. The officials who imposed the sanction failed to acknowledge that his wife was heavily pregnant and he had to help her prepare for an appointment with her midwife that morning. They also ignored the fact that he had to take two buses and travel more than an hour to get to the office.

Similarly I met a man who having been away for a week – and not claimed benefits during that time – had to attend what’s called a rapid-reclaim appointment the day after he got back. He assumed that this was in place of his previously scheduled regular sign-on appointment, and was not told otherwise by the member of staff he spoke to. It was only after he was sanctioned for four weeks that he discovered this wasn’t the case.

In the past officials were given discretion over whether to sanction claimants. This allowed them to take into account mitigating circumstances, and whether or not the individuals concerned were making a genuine effort to find work. This is clearly no longer the case.

The overuse of sanctions is driving people towards food banks and payday lenders. It also pushes people to apply for hardship payments and affects Housing Benefit, meaning people often spend more time trying to get their finances in order rather than looking for work.

The only way to improve this situation is for Ministers to give back some discretion to officials who decide whether claimants should be sanctioned.

ENDS

Notes to Editors:

  • Sheila Gilmore is a member of the Commons Work and Pensions Select Committee. You can view the committee’s website here: http://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-archive/work-and-pensions-committee/
  • For more information please contact Matt Brennan, Parliamentary Assistant to Sheila Gilmore MP, on 020 7219 7062, 07742 986 513 or matthew.brennan@parliament.uk.
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