Benefit sanctions are “devastating” for claimants and can lead to destitution, crime, suicide, and throw up barriers to employment, a wide-ranging report probing the effects of removing payments from Salford’s residents has claimed.
The internal research, commissioned by Salford City Council, suggests that a sudden loss of income by removing benefits could damage mental health, create tensions within family relationships and cause individuals to commit a crime such as shoplifting.
It adds that evidence provided by Salford Central food bank, run by the Trussell Trust, shows that 64 per cent of referrals for emergency food between 2013-14 were made by claimants who were experiencing a benefit delay or change, which includes receiving a sanction. The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has always strongly denied a link between sanctions and food banks.
Contrary to the DWP’s insistence that the threat of sanctioning encourages social security claimants to move from benefits into work, the system at present causes “damage to the wellbeing of vulnerable claimants and can lead to hunger, debt and destitution”, the report’s authors claim.
“People on benefits are already struggling to afford food, heating and essential costs. They can’t save so they have no financial safety net. They live in dread of being sanctioned which isn’t the right frame of mind for job hunting, volunteering or going back into education,” said City Mayor, Paul Dennett.
The most ridiculous reasons people had their benefits sanctioned
The most ridiculous reasons people had their benefits sanctioned
"One case where the claimant’s wife went into premature labour and had to go to hospital. This caused the claimant to miss an appointment. No leeway given"
"It’s Christmas Day and you don’t fill in your job search evidence form to show that you’ve looked for all the new jobs that are advertised on Christmas Day. You are sanctioned. Merry Christmas"
"You apply for three jobs one week and three jobs the following Sunday and Monday. Because the job centre week starts on a Tuesday it treats this as applying for six jobs in one week and none the following week. You are sanctioned for 13 weeks for failing to apply for three jobs each week"
"A London man missed his Jobcentre appointments for two weeks because he was in hospital after being hit by a car. He was sanctioned"
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"You’ve been unemployed for seven months and are forced onto a workfare scheme in a shop miles away, but can’t afford to travel. You offer to work in a nearer branch but are refused and get sanctioned for not attending your placement"
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"You are a mum of two, and are five minutes late for your job centre appointment. You show the advisor the clock on your phone, which is running late. You are sanctioned for a month"
"A man with heart problems who was on Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) had a heart attack during a work capability assessment. He was then sanctioned for failing to complete the assessment"
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"A man who had gotten a job that was scheduled to begin in two weeks’ time was sanctioned for not looking for work as he waited for the role to start"
"Army veteran Stephen Taylor, 60, whose Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) was stopped after he sold poppies in memory of fallen soldiers"
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"A man had to miss his regular appointment at the job centre to attend his father’s funeral. He was sanctioned even though he told DWP staff in advance"
2014 Getty Images
"Ceri Padley, 26, had her benefits sanctioned after she missed an appointment at the jobcentre - because she was at a job interview"
Jason Doiy Photography
"A man got sanctioned for missing his slot to sign on - as he was attending a work programme interview. He was then sanctioned as he could not afford to travel for his job search"
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"Mother-of-three Angie Godwin, 27, said her benefits were sanctioned after she applied for a role job centre staff said was beyond her"
"Sofya Harrison was sanctioned for attending a job interview and moving her signing-on to another day"
"Michael, 54, had his benefits sanctioned for four months for failing to undertake a week’s work experience at a charity shop. The charity shop had told him they didn’t want him there"
"Terry Eaton, 58, was sanctioned because he didn’t have the bus fare he needed to attend an appointment with the job centre"
The new report also places a particular emphasis on the plight of Salford’s young people, claiming that the 18 to 25 age group are most the affected by sanctions. The council commissioned Connexions – the Government agency tasked with providing advice and guidance to young people – who highlighted “significant” numbers of young people were moving away from state support.
“This impacts on them financially but also denies access to programmes of education, training and employment therefore exacerbating the issue. Their families are also negatively impacted as they may be feeding and clothing the young person from a limited household income,” the report claims.
The report, DWP Benefit Conditionality and Sanctions in Salford – One Year On, continues: “Despite the drop in numbers in Salford receiving a benefit sanction for those who are sanctioned the impact is devastating”.
“A ‘financial shock’ such as a sanction causes both immediate and longer term impact as most people do not have the means to save, so have no safety net. This presents an emergency need for money to buy food, pay for heating and essential travel costs.”
The report says that the rate of people being sanctioned in the area has not reduced over the previous 12 month period. But, critically, it adds: “Register sizes are decreasing and we believe this is in part due to a growing number of ‘disappeared’. These are claimants who drop their benefit claim or who move off benefit but do not take up employment. The Government has refused to publish destination data.”
The DWP, however, claim that this assertion is "simply untrue", adding that at Salford JCP the average sanction rate for Jobseeker claimaints has fallen by 41 per cent in the year to December 2015 compared to the previous year.
The Salford report concludes: “From the wide range of responses we have received from Salford agencies working with claimants, despite the fall in sanctions, the impact of sanctions both on claimants and services within the City cannot be overstated and the harsh regime will be expected to include additional groups as Universal Credit rolls out nationally this year.”
The report follows on from an interim study, published in October 2014, which suggested that sanctioning could lead to extreme hardship, reliance on loan sharks, shoplifting and depression. The fresh findings appear to reinforce this bleak picture of life on a benefit sanction in the City of Salford.
A spokesperson for the Department for Work and Pensions said: “It’s only right that there are conditions attached to receiving benefits – this is nothing new. Sanctions are a long-standing part of the welfare system and are only applied where people fail to engage with the support on offer.
“The number of people sanctioned has fallen substantially in the past year.”
Rebecca Long Bailey, the Labour MP for Salford and Eccles, said to The Independent that the research "shows charities are increasingly having to step in to support claimants who are thrown into crisis due to delays and sanctions".
Ms Bailey added: “As an MP, I have seen some truly horrific cases, where the effects have been severe damage to my constituents’ mental and physical health, as well as the tragic case of David Clapson, who was found dead in his flat from diabetic ketoacidosis, two weeks after his benefits were suspended. His sister discovered her brother’s body and found his electricity had been cut off, meaning the fridge where he stored his insulin was no longer working. They must know that sanctioning people with diabetes is very dangerous but the system treats people as statistics and numbers.
“This report shows where we are in Salford today, one year on from the original report. Sadly, it illustrates the devastating impact sanctions have on the lives of people who are already struggling to make ends meet.”