Committee report highly critical of sanctions regime

The Work and Pensions Committee has published its report on the use of benefit sanctions. It is highly critical of the sanctions regime, arging that there is no evidence for its effectiveness and that instead it places vulnerable people at risk.

The report concludes that the human cost of continuing to apply the existing regime of benefit sanctions – the “only major welfare reform this decade to have never been evaluated” – appears simply too high. The evidence that it is achieving its aims is at best mixed, and at worst showing a policy that appears “arbitrarily punitive”.  

The Committee says the Coalition Government “had little or no understanding of the likely impact of a tougher sanctions regime” when it introduced it in 2012 with the stated aim, as the NAO describes it, that “benefits, employment support and conditions and sanctions together lead to employment.” At that point, Government promised to review the reform’s impact and whether it was achieving its aims on an ongoing basis.  But six years later, Government “is none the wiser”. What evidence there is shows that, at best, the effectiveness of sanctions is mixed. At worst, it shows them to be counterproductive.

Single parents, care leavers and people with a disability or health condition are disproportionately vulnerable to and affected by the withdrawal of their benefit.  Until Government can show unequivocally that sanctions actually help to move these claimants into work, it cannot ‘justify these groups' continued inclusion in the sanctions regime’. In the meantime, and until that positive link is proven, people who are the responsible carer for a child under the age of 5, or a child with demonstrable additional needs and care costs, and care leavers under the age of 25, should only ever have a maximum of 20% of their benefit withheld.