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Benefit sanctions lead to increases in claimants’ anxiety and depression, and a re-assessment of the role of sanctions is needed as the UK slowly emerges from lockdown – according to the London School of Economics.

According to a recent assessment, current sanctions policy can be considered to be ‘cruel, inhuman and degrading’. Importantly, there are straightforward steps that can be implemented to minimise the harms associated with sanctions and to help realise the basic right to a social minimum.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) should … assess the impacts of sanctions on health and well-being. Mental health and labour market outcomes are likely to be interrelated; the adverse mental health impacts of sanctions could plausibly affect people’s ability to search for and attain paid work.

There is a need to reduce the length of sanctions and/or the proportion of benefit that is withdrawn… Sanctions are consecutive within Universal Credit, which means that some will be affected by penalties that last longer than the new apparent maximum of 26 weeks.

The hardship payments system is insufficient and also needs to be reformed… Adverse mental health impacts … are observed even though the rate of hardship payments [has] increased. Hardship payments within Universal Credit are awarded for a restricted set of reasons and are repayable, leading to even fewer claimants receiving them than in the past.

The application of sanctions should be limited to a last resort. Initially, Universal Credit operated with a very high rate of sanctions, though this has since been reduced. The low rate could be maintained by implementing a warning system; limiting the number of reasons for which sanctions apply; and establishing clear rules for what constitutes a ‘good reason’ for non-compliance.

Source: The impact of DWP benefit sanctions on anxiety and depression | British Politics and Policy at LSE

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