It seems there are moves to toughen up the sanction system for people on New Style Employment and Support Allowance and Jobseekers’ Allowance, even though sanctions were only introduced a few days ago.
The DWP has a new watchdog organisation, the Social Security Advisory Committee (what happened to the Bonfire of All The Quangos?) that reckons the system isn’t harsh enough.
Apparently it is possible for people to claim both Universal Credit and JSA or ESA – but if they are sanctioned, it can only be applied to UC.
This means that such claimants would be in a better position financially than people on only one of the benefits; if the sanctioned amount was more than the value of the UC element of benefit payments to a particular claimant (it could be zero), then the total sanction could be as low as zero.
The SSAC wants the penalties to apply to both benefits that are being claimed.
Considering the arbitrary nature of the sanction system, This Writer considers the current situation to be a valuable protection for claimants. We have all heard horror stories about people who were sanctioned and subsequently died because the DWP got its decision wrong.
It seems the problem lies in the fact that sanctions are decided on the advice of a DWP work coach – a single civil servant – whose attitude to the job may vary between very extreme positions, depending on who it is.
Work coaches are supposed to help claimants write a “claimant commitment” that sets out their obligations as claimants of the state payments.
The commitment should be accessible, clear, tailored to the claimant’s needs and the state of the local labour market, and agreed by both the claimant and the DWP, and claimants should be properly informed.
In fact, research has shown that some work coaches aren’t using their discretion fairly or reasonably and opt for generic, rather than tailored, actions. Some work coaches were found to be copying and pasting actions from a shared document which had become standard in their local Job Centre.
There were examples of lone parents not being informed of their right to reduced work searches, and re-assessment interviews lasting just 10 minutes.
If brutal sanctions are applied to people on two benefits, on the say-so of the people responsible for such abuses of the rules, then hideous injustices may result.
Suggested examples include sanctions being applied to elderly disabled claimants now looking for work in their 60s and suffering poor health. How would they survive if their work coach turns out to be a “power maniac who enjoys putting the disadvantaged down”?
Ministers have not (yet) approved any suggested changes but we all know the DWP’s reputation for bloodthirstiness. How long will it be before this new opportunity to cause misery is seized?
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