Critics of the current government’s policy about benefits have been given further fuel as over 400,000 people are set to lose their entitlement to Jobseeker’s Allowance due to new sanctions that have been introduced.
Almost 600,000 people were granted the benefit in the 6 months leading up to June this year, marking a 6% increase from the year before.
It is thought the tightening of benefit rules was in part a response to the increase in JSA reliance, and as such new sanctions have been implemented to ebb the dependency culture that has seemingly been developing.
However, the statistics found by the Department for Work and Pensions has raised concerns about the scale of people affected by the sanction changes, with many believing that they had been utilised unfairly.
The new sanctions possess a threefold nature and have been structured in order of the severity of change that they consist of. The three are:
1) Severe sanction that will remove a person’s entitlement to Jobseeker’s Allowance for 13 weeks in the case that they voluntarily leave employment. Any further walkouts will result in the ban being extended to 26 weeks, whilst a third strike will culminate in a monumental 156 weeks ban (3 years)
2) A moderate sanction that will remove someone’s entitlement to benefits for a 1 month if they are shown to have failed to make a legitimate effort to get into employment. If the person repeats the offence, then they will be banned from receiving benefits for a total of 13 weeks, and will have to repeat the application procedure again.
3) The least drastic sanction means that people who miss set up interviews or meetings with advisory bodies will be penalised with a 13 week ban from benefits as well. However, people will not have to repeat the application procedure as they would do with the more severe sanctions.
When broken down, the statistics highlighted that over half of the benefit withdrawals were down to people missing their interviews and meetings, whilst a sizeable 38% were penalised for failing to legitimately look for work whilst on benefits. This equates to 223,000 and 167,000 people respectively for these particular offences.
Only 9% of benefit withdrawals were down to people voluntarily walking away from work, amounting to around 48,000 people in the country.
Supporters of the changes have argued that the new sanctions will address the dependency culture currently being displayed by people in the UK in relation to benefits. It has been argued that the new sanctions are legitimately fair and will encourage people to be proactive and look for permanent employment.
However, many critics have hit back arguing that the scheme will widen the gap of poverty in the UK, and make it even harder for the poorest in the UK to experience financial recovery.
Employment Minister Esther McVey has defended the new sanctions, identifying that Jobseeker’s Allowance was intended to aid people who were legitimately looking for employment, rather than those who used it as a form of work.
However, criticism has raged on, with those affected arguing that the new policy is unfair and hasn’t been thought through well enough to justify its swift implementation.
Gillian Guy, chief executive of Citizens Advice, reiterated these sentiments, arguing that the new system is fundamentally flawed, and will do more damage than help.
“When you’re already struggling to make ends meet whilst looking for work, a sanction ends up being an extra obstacle to the huge challenge of getting a job,” she said.
“The regime is not only self-defeating, it is also poorly administered.”
Tim Nichols, of the Child Poverty Action Group, said: “Sanctions are meant to have a positive effect on behaviour, so if the system was working, their use would be falling, as claimants develop positive relationships with job centre and Work Programme advisers and do all the activities needed.
“Instead, the system has become an unhelpful bureaucratic nightmare, with job centres setting targets to arbitrarily push up the numbers of people hit with a sanction.”