Churches welcome call for benefit sanctions review‏

This shows the Coalition Government's record on sanctions against JSA claimants alone.

This shows the Coalition Government’s record on sanctions against JSA claimants alone.


A coalition of major UK churches, with a combined membership of more than 800,000, has welcomed the call for a full independent review of the benefit sanctions system. The recommendation comes in a report from the Work and Pensions Select Committee, released today (Tuesday).

Earlier this month the churches called for such a review in their report Time to Rethink Benefit Sanctions which cited new evidence about the negative impact of the current regime. They revealed that, in 2013/14, nearly seven million weeks of sanctions were handed out to people, with around 100,000 children affected. The data, obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, also shows that people who receive the sickness and disability benefit Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) because of a long-term mental health problem are being sanctioned at a rate of more than 100 per day. The most common reason for being sanctioned is being late or not turning up for an appointment.

“The Select Committee Report describes a system that is broken and needs urgent review,” said Paul Morrison, public issues policy adviser for the Methodist Church. “Churches are often at the forefront of helping people who have been sanctioned and who are in desperate need of food, support and advice. It is unacceptable that vulnerable people can be left with no means of support as punishment for often very minor mistakes.

“The people we have met have spoken of the shame, demoralisation and loss of self-worth caused by this system. As Christians we believe that everyone is loved, valued and made in the image of God, and we have a responsibility to challenge any structure or system that undermines that dignity. We hope that whoever forms the next government will treat this issue with the urgency and seriousness it deserves.”

“So far, more than 1,400 people have written to their MPs about sanctions as a result of the campaign,” added Niall Cooper, director of Church Action on Poverty, “It’s great that people in churches understand how important this issue is. We know that sanctions have a disproportionate impact on those who are most vulnerable: young people, care leavers, homeless people, single parents, the mentally ill and those with long-term illness. The new government must act to ensure that the benefits system provides a safety net for everyone, rather than making people destitute.”

Time to Rethink Benefit Sanctions was published by the Baptist Union of Great Britain, Church Action on Poverty, the Church in Wales, the Church of Scotland, the Methodist Church and the United Reformed Church and features the stories of people like Sarah* who have had their benefits sanctioned:

Sarah worked as a charity project coordinator until she was laid off a due to funding cuts. She was asked to apply for eight jobs a week, but always applied for more as she was keen to get back to work. One week she was unable to fill out her job search on the computer because there were workmen fixing her roof and she had to stay in the house. Instead she filled out her search in a booklet. She contacted the jobcentre to explain, and ask if they needed any proof to support the booklet as she had emails from prospective employers and had even attended interviews. They said they didn’t need anything from her.

When Sarah went to collect her money she was told she had been sanctioned. However, she did not receive the letter telling her she had been sanctioned so was unable to apply for discretionary funds to help support her and her family. Sarah successfully appealed the decision, though she says that Jobcentre Plus staff repeatedly tried to discourage her from doing so.

“Usually I’m quite a confident person, but they crush you. I found the experience at the Jobcentre Plus so awful I’d rather starve than go back there again. They should properly train the people in the job centre to treat us like people …That whole attitude that people are scroungers is terrible, there’s just no respect.”


The Department for Work and Pensions has failed to respond to a further FOI request regarding whether sanctions make it easier for the DWP to achieve its targets. This is despite the fact that the Information Commissioner’s Office ordered the DWP to respond by 15 March.

*Not her real name.

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  1. Jeffery Davies March 24, 2015 at 5:57 am - Reply

    Its a start but then supping with old nick whilst their flock starved wasnt christian but there are 59 bishop’s in britain were are these it seems jr wants the government to run these gooodhalls he still hasnt got it its the government who are the cause of it jeff3

  2. Sasson Hann March 24, 2015 at 7:47 am - Reply

    I don’t see the point really. There have already been committee meetings on the subject and various reports from all kinds of organsiations. The sad fact is that they have no power to order the government to change the sanctions system, but it does need to change before UC is fully implemented because people will also lose their housing element.

    I’d worked out that I could just about get by for a year if for example I failed the ESA assessment, and had no income due to Mandatory Reconsideration, then wasn’t paid the assessment rate, which is shortly going to happen. I would be evicted though as there is no way my housing association would allow you to build up a year in arrears. This is already happening to a good number of people who have claimed Universal Credit, not only due to sanctioning, but because the DWP just aren’t paying their housing credit.

    It’s scary to think of the millions who will become homeless due to it all. Freeing up nice little homes for ‘hard working’ people instead. I suggest that this was the plan all along.

  3. Nick March 24, 2015 at 8:32 am - Reply

    most people would rather starve then go to a food bank i know it’s happened to me more times than i care to remember over the years and that’s true for most

    you would never under any circumstances get someone like myself except food aid from someone else that would never happen

  4. amnesiaclinic March 24, 2015 at 9:38 am - Reply

    Thank goodness, at last people and organisations are speaking up. But the same old, same old on Ch 4 last night with the worst of benefit claimants and the best of landlords with very kind, proactive agents (ha, ha).
    Disgraceful. And the elephant in the room is all the money going to private landlords from housing benefit and how it is being reduced and slashed all the time.

  5. wildswimmerpete March 24, 2015 at 12:49 pm - Reply

    I’m in possession of a letter from the DWP that at the bottom declares:” You must tell the office that pays your benefit if any of your circumstances or your phone number change before xxxxxxxxxx, as your benefits may be affected”. The person concerned doesn’t have a telephone, and the “benefit” concerned is his State pension. Looks like the Tories have already snuck in conditionality to the State pension, which in my view includes the ability to be sanctioned.

  6. bookmanwales March 24, 2015 at 3:32 pm - Reply

    In 1834 using the Poor Law reform act the Tories ( or their predecessors the rich Landowners ) basically banned the giving of aid to those who were able bodied and unemployed and insisted on the use of workhouses to “educate and empower” ( sound familiar ?)

    These poor unfortunates were also described as “feckless, workshy and immoral. ( anything else sound familiar)

    Part of this was at the behest of the big industrialists who were afraid that charity would mean no one would work for the pitiful wages on offer thus pushing up wages. (Hmmm I can see a familiar theme going here !!)
    Death by starvation, disease and overwork was not uncommon in these “workhouses” nor was abuse by those in power and slavery via free labour.
    Families were torn apart ( once one accepted the workhouse one gave up the right to support a family !!) children adopted out without consent etc.
    These workhouses ran until until around 1930, yes even after the Great War that saw so much sacrifice by the workless feckless, immoral citizens of this great country all our veterans had to look forward to in hard times was the workhouse.

    Anyone who thinks the Tories care one iota about death, disease or poverty is living in a dream world and a “stern word” from churches, committees or any other do gooder will be profoundly ignored by these unchanged evil people.

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