The Conservative Party’s harsh benefits sanctions are costing £153m more a year to run than they save.
An appallingly revealing report from the National Audit Office showed that the benefits sanctions system costs taxpayers £285million a year.
Even worse than that: the hellacious cuts only save £132million a year.
Unbelievably, the Department for Work and Pensions (the DWP) haven’t made any effort to track the costs of the sanctions.
They haven’t even made an attempt to use their own data to evaluate their impact.
The National Audit Office have declared that they “cannot conclude that the department is achieving value for money” with the benefits sanctions program.
Labour MPs have insisted that Ministers step up and acknowledge the hugely damaging effects of the sanctions system:
“While studies suggest sanctions do encourage some people back into work, other people stop claiming but do not start working and the DWP have no record of them.
“If vulnerable people fall through the safety net, what happens to them?”
The DWP have spent almost £50million annually applying the brutal sanctions.
In addition to this, they spend £200million per year on examining if claimants meet the strict conditions to receive payments.
There are over one million benefits claimants who are forced to meet these exacting conditions.
Even more shockingly, a study has shown that twice as many benefit sanctions have been imposed than the DWP will admit:
There were 300,000 sanctions imposed on unemployed people in the UK in the year to September 2016, double the number reported by the DWP, according to a University of Glasgow academic (Dr David Webster).
Dr Webster discovered JSA claimants are currently being sanctioned for far longer on average and that the rate of ESA sanctions has shot up rapidly over that period.
The DWP has also been heavily criticised for its sloppy reporting of sanctions, continuing to fail to meet the basic requirements of the UK Statistics Authority. This has been described as a deliberately “gross and systematic misrepresentation” which deliberately limits what the public knows about claimants being punished by sanctions.
This is a direct attack on not only the claimants but on open democracy. By deliberately failing to deliver the stats they have to recognised bodies, the DWP is hiding the true extent of its brutal policies.
Different jobcentres and employment schemes adopt totally different stances in enforcing the DWP rules. Certain centres were making more than double the number of sanction referrals compared to others in the exact same area.
Over 10% of these arbitrarily enforced penalties are subsequently overturned, due to lack of evidence or overly improper procedures.
So what can be done?
Direct advocacy groups are an excellent way to start. Crowdfunding for a Northern Welfare Advocate is ongoing right now! I’d suggest signing up and pledging a little money towards it.
Contributing to groups that help those suffering at the sharp end of the wedge helps hugely too. In my local area (Edinburgh), Project Naked run an excellent donation scheme for sanitary products to help those in a bind. Please support or donate to them or groups like them!
Start learning as much as possible about benefits sanctions. Challenge anyone you meet who lazily or ignorantly espouses anti-claimant nonsense. Win them over with facts (or at the very least challenge that hateful rightwing narrative!).
Finally, go and see I, Daniel Blake! Sometimes the best way to create change is to fully realise the effects of something. Nebulous policies like benefits sanctions need an intimate face to become real, so if you haven’t experienced the brutality of sanctions for yourself, this film is the next best way to understand the effect it has on ordinary folk.