‘Immoral’ DWP is ‘stubbornly ignoring’ calls for sanctions review, say Churches

Actors demonstrate how DWP officials have reacted to calls for a full, independent review of their sanctions regime.

Actors demonstrate how DWP officials have reacted to calls for a full, independent review of their sanctions regime.

Churches and charities have attacked the Department for Work and Pensions’ refusal to undertake a full review of the benefit sanctions system.

The DWP has issued a response to the Work and Pensions Select Committee inquiry into benefit sanctions – four months overdue – but has failed to commit to a review as recommended.

The Select Committee, the Government’s own advisors, the Social Security Advisory Committee, charities and Churches have all called for a full, independent review of the regime [along with This Writer and his colleagues]. These groups have highlighted the extreme hardship caused, the inconsistent and unjust application of sanctions and the lack of evidence that they encourage people into work.

The Baptist Union, Church in Wales, Church of Scotland, Methodist Church, United Reformed Church and charity Church Action on Poverty have called for an immediate suspension of sanctions against families with children and people with mental ill-health. They say the DWP’s response does not go far enough and have called again for a review.

“In refusing to undertake a full review, the DWP is stubbornly ignoring the calls of parliament, expert advisers, Churches and charities. Most importantly, it is condemning people, many of whom have also spoken out eloquently against the inhumanity of the current practice, to unjust and pointless punishment,”  said Paul Morrison, public issues policy adviser for the Methodist Church.

Responding to the DWP’s announcement that they will try a ‘yellow card’ system, Mr Morrison added: “If a court is working to a bad set of laws for a bad set of reasons and making bad and unreliable decisions, it’s not the sentencing policy you look at. ‘Yellow cards’ will reduce the number of sanctions, which is welcome, but won’t address the fundamental problems that occur long before the decision to sanction has been made. That’s why we need a full independent review”

Even if a benefits claimant is able to demonstrate that they cannot afford food due to being sanctioned, most people will still not become eligible for a hardship payment or loan for a further two weeks and, once eligible, it will take a further three days before payment actually arrives.

Dr Richard Vautrey, a GP in Leeds and deputy chair of the BMA’s General Practitioners Committee, said: “GPs are increasingly seeing people who are suffering serious consequences as a result of the current benefit sanctions system. Vulnerable people can be left with no money to pay for essentials such as food and heating and this can then have a damaging impact not only on their physical and mental health but also the health of family members, including children, who depend upon them. Government policy directly puts the health of patients we care for at risk. Immediate action should be taken to end these punitive actions.”

In March this year, the Churches published a report showing that nearly 100,000 children had been affected by sanctions in 2014 alone and that people with mental health problems were being sanctioned at a rate of more than 100 per day. As a result of their campaign more than 2,000 people wrote to their MPs asking them to support a review of the system.

The report told stories like that of Martin*, aged 60, who missed an appointment with the job centre because his wife died suddenly. He was sanctioned for six weeks, leaving him with nothing to live on and in a state of confusion as his wife had previously handled most of their joint paperwork. He came to the local church for help and charity Acts435 helped him with his living expenses until he could come to terms with the new shape his life had taken.

“The Government claims that sanctions help people into work, but the evidence for this claim is practically non-existent,” added Mr Morrison. “However, there is plenty of evidence that sanctions cause hardship, suffering and hunger.

“Any system that seeks to ‘change people’s behaviour’ by using hunger as a weapon is immoral.”

*Not his real name.

Join the Vox Political Facebook page.

If you have appreciated this article, don’t forget to share it using the buttons at the bottom of this page. Politics is about everybody – so let’s try to get everybody involved!

Vox Political needs your help!
If you want to support this site
but don’t want to give your money to advertisers)
you can make a one-off donation here:

Donate Button with Credit Cards

Buy Vox Political books so we can continue
fighting for the facts.

Health Warning: Government! is now available
in either print or eBook format here:

HWG PrintHWG eBook

The first collection, Strong Words and Hard Times,
is still available in either print or eBook format here:


7 thoughts on “‘Immoral’ DWP is ‘stubbornly ignoring’ calls for sanctions review, say Churches

  1. Jarrow

    Sanctions are supposed to be a way to get people to toe the line not to end up evicted from their homes or referred to food banks. So obviously, just as with criminal law, offenders are treated leniently in the beginning, told what they are doing wrong (so that they can modify their behaviour), and given many chances to comply before severe punishment kicks in. (And to me losing all benefit for four, twelve or thirty-six(!) weeks for repeated offences, in that order, is phenomenally harsh treatment.) Iain Duncan Smith has repeatedly claimed that those sanctions, if they have no resources, can apply for a much reduced hardship payment, which is true but takes weeks to approve and before applicants actually receive assistance: if you are sanctioned you do not just roll on to a lower hardship payment but could be penniless for weeks before you get help if you get help at all.

    The normal course in most societies would be a series of warnings, mild penalties coupled with warnings and second chances for repeated bad behaviour, before inflicting more severe punishments, non of which should ever leave people in queer street. But most people sanctioned are not warned beforehand and given a chance to pull their socks up, but only find out about their sanction AFTER it has been inflicted, often for ridiculous, trumped up and trivial reasons.

    Sanctions should only ever be applied upon people with well established patterns of recalcitrant behaviour, e.g., refusing multiple offers of paid work without proper justification, and only then be proportionate not draconian. The whole rotten system that IDS and Freud have drawn up are preposterously severe and applied without prior warning to enable claimants to fulfil obligations agreed to with the Jobcentre; in my view no sanctions should be applied to many categories of claimant, e.g., physically or mentally ill persons, persons with learning difficulties, and pregnant women etc.

    What we have now is a sanctions regime more unjust, cruel, unfeeling and repulsive than Iain Duncan Smith. And believe you me: THAT is saying something!

  2. Robert Fillies

    This callous government has proved time and time again that it just does not care about the wellbeing of the country’s sick and disabled citizens. Also it is so arrogant that it will not take heed of advice given by experts. It is morally bankrupt.

  3. Jane Smart

    Dear Mike,
    I know this doesn’t fit very neatly with the article but I couldn’t find a way to contact you other than via the ‘COMMENTS’ function. Apologies if this is wrong.

    I am fizzing mad! I’ve just found that ATOS has sat on my PIP application for a YEAR AND A HALF and done NOTHING with it because (they claim) DWP did not send them a ‘task’ with it.
    Nobody I spoke to seemed to know exactly what a ‘task’ is or how it would be transmitted but ATOS maintain they haven’t got it!
    DWP is now investigating. For once – I am lost for words………………………
    18 months and still waiting…………………………………
    I submitted my claim form to DWP on 24th April 2014.
    They referred it to ATOS on 29th April 2014 (the day before the deadline for claiming)
    Both agencies acknowledge receiving the paperwork on those dates but ATOS said the file had never been processed because the ‘task’??? was not with it. On contacting DWP a second time they are going to look into it. I have to call back in about a week.
    Jane X

  4. Helen

    Most of the members of the Tory Government should be held responsible for the deaths as a result of their policies not just IDS and DC as they are not doing anything to prevent any more deaths. Now that there are at lease two deaths being blamed on Government policy shouldn’t the CPS be involved and shouldn’t someone be arrested?

  5. Cornish Alan

    Instead of moaning about the Chinese human rights records, this government should take a hard look at what they are doing to the weak, disabled and vulnerable in our own society.
    We treat our criminals in our prisons like royalty in comparison.

Comments are closed.