When working in the third sector, it is impossible to escape the fact that benefit sanctions are becoming an increasing problem for benefit claimants. Sanctions lead to crisis and it is often third sector organisations to whom claimants will turn for support.
It is time that the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) also moved to a system of supporting rather than sanctioning claimants.
As a front line welfare rights adviser, I took a call one Friday morning from a client with a learning disability. His Job Seekers Allowance had been sanctioned as the Job Centre felt that he had failed to comply with his job seekers agreement.
He had no money for fuel, food or any immediate expenses and unless we could come up with a solution then he would be destitute over the weekend.
All other work was put on hold and contact made with the DWP. Despite being aware of the client’s learning disability, the DWP had not only sanctioned the client but also failed to inform him that he could apply for a hardship payment.
A hardship payment application was submitted and a referral made to a local food bank to ensure that if nothing else the client would have access to food over the weekend. After an anxious wait, it was agreed that a hardship payment could be made giving the client a reduced percentage of an already low income to survive on until his next payment. With immediate crisis alleviated, an appeal was made against the original decision as we felt it was wrong. Nine months later, a legally qualified tribunal judge agreed.
This one piece of poor decision-making meant pressure on the limited resources of an advice service, a government department, a local food bank and ultimately a very expensive tribunal to decide that the client should receive the money he had lost out on.
If these limited resources had been put towards supporting the claimant into employment rather than arguing over whether or not he had done enough to seek work, is it not more likely that he would have moved into employment?.
This one example shows the increased financial and other pressures that sanctions place on us all as organisations and tax payers as well as the stress the threat or experience of destitution has on claimants.
Unfortunately, we do not really know how many sanction decisions are wrong, as so many claimants don’t appeal. Many would rather rely on friends and family or receive assistance from food banks as they are afraid to challenge the Job Centre fearing this will lead to more sanctions in the future.
The sanction culture has created a system of fear rather than support and this has to stop for the benefit of claimants, government bodies, the third sector and also tax payers