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The proportion of sanctions against people claiming Jobseekers’ Allowance (JSA) and Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) leapt up by around 19 per cent between July and September 2015, researchers from Glasgow University have found.

Perhaps more damningly, sick claimants on ESA are more likely to be sanctioned repeatedly than JSA claimants.

These rises should be set in the context of a continuing decline in monthly sanction rates, due to a fall in the number of claimants. JSA and Universal Credit claims fell by 12,980, while the number of ESA claimants exposed to sanctions – those in the Work-Related Activity Group (WRAG) – has fallen as an increasing proportion of claimants are being put into the Support Group rather than the WRAG.

“The present government has pushed up the proportion of referrals which result in an actual sanction by about 19 percentage points,” wrote Dr David Webster, Honorary Senior Research Fellow at the University of Glasgow.

“Further investigation has revealed that this is due to an astonishing rise in the proportion of referrals for ‘not actively seeking employment’ (ASE) [“which actually means not seeking work in the way instructed by Job Centre Plus”] which result in a sanction, to 96 per cent, compared to about 50 per cent for all other sanctions.

It appears that the DWP’s decision makers are now doing little more than rubber-stamping ASE sanction referrals. [bolding mine]

“The impact on claimants is compounded by the fact that the proportion of ASE sanctions overturned is currently a tiny six per cent, compared to about 17 per cent for all other sanctions.

“This appears to be part of the same campaign to put pressure on unemployed people as the ‘claimant commitment’, which is compared by Frank Field in a new publication (reported in the Briefing) to a ‘prison manual’.”

Dr Webster’s briefing, The DWP’s JSA/ESA Sanctions Statistics Release, 17 February 2016, states that “there has been a sustained fall since November 2013 in the monthly rate of JSA sanctions before and after challenges as a percentage of claimants, to 4.28 per cent and 3.67 per cent respectively in the year to September 2015.

“The monthly rate of JSA sanctions before challenges is now stabilising at about 3.7 per cent, which is approximately the same level as the peak under the Labour government, although still well above the average from 2000 to 2010 of 2.81 per cent.

“No statistics are available for sanctions against claimants who have been put on to Universal Credit (UC) instead of JSA, but the best estimate is that there will have been a total of about 414,000 sanctions on unemployed claimants (JSA plus UC) before challenges, in the year to September 2015.

“The rate of ESA sanctions has also fallen, to 0.50 per cent per month before challenges and 0.40 per cent after in the year to September 2015, and is also stabilising. Total ESA sanctions were 29,000 before challenges and 22,251 after in the year to September 2015.

“Claimants are more likely to be sanctioned repeatedly on ESA than on JSA. During 2014/15… 1,042 JSA claimants were sanctioned ten times or more during the year. Of the sanctioned ESA claimants, over one quarter (27.8 per cent) were sanctioned more than once, and just over one in eight (13.1 per cent) three times or more.

“The proportion of sanction challenges which are successful is now over 70 per cent for JSA and about 50 per cent for ESA, but because of low rates of challenge (particularly for JSA), overall only about 16 per cent of JSA and 26 per cent of ESA sanctions are overturned.

There has never been clearer evidence that far more JSA claimants ought to challenge their sanctions. Not only are their chances of success better than 70 per cent, but they are unlikely to have to bother to go beyond the informal review stage to get a positive result.”

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