DWP sanctioned 40,000 parents with pre-school aged children last year

Charities warn the sanctions system could get even more harsh

The Department for Work and Pensions sanctioned around 40,000 lone parents with pre-school aged children over the course of a year, new figures show.

The statistics, which relate to people claiming Income Support, follow warnings by church groups last year that 100,000 children across Britain were going hungry after their parents faced sanctions.  

People in the Income Support Lone Parent (ISLP) group all have children under five years old and are lone parents with a low income.

Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith castigated low income parents in October last year, warning that they should not “assume” the Government would support them.

He said proposed cuts to tax credits, now rolled into the forthcoming Universal Credit benefit, were “about bringing home to parents the reality that children cost money”.

“If you have more kids you have to make the choices others make and not assume taxpayers money lets you avoid the consequences of such choices,” he said.

Single parents with very young children getting income support are required attend regular jobcentre interviews and often to attend training or work experience – even though their children are not yet in school and childcare can be expensive.

Sanctions are imposed when parents fail to comply with the conditions set. The full rate of income support is £73.10 a week but is lower for people under 25. People sanctioned lose about £15 a week for an indefinite period.

The number of sanctions as a proportion of lone parents with very young children claiming the benefit has been rising in each financial year since 2012, though it previously reached a higher peak in 2009.

Dalia Ben-Galim, director of policy for the charity Gingerbread, said sanctions were often unfairly applied and that they caused severe financial hardship.

“Our research has found single parents are more likely to be incorrectly sanctioned than others. It’s likely many of the families who have had their support cut will have been wrongly sanctioned,” she said.

“What’s worrying is that the proposed reforms to universal credit will mean those single parents with young children will face even tougher conditionality rules, similar to Jobseeker’s Allowance.

“Sanctions cause severe financial hardship for those affected, particularly for single parents who are cut off from the financial support they need for themselves and their children. This forces them to cut back on the essentials like food and heating for their families. 

“The system focusses far too much on delivering sanctions, which are too often wrongfully applied, instead of offering the support that would help people back to work. Gingerbread is concerned that wrongful sanctions will rise in line with increased universal credit conditionality.”

The new figures relate to the 12 months to September 2015. They show 42,100 sanctions imposed in the 12 month period, or 5.8 per cent of all claimants. 39,600 individual claimaints have been sanctioned, with some sanctioned more than once.

6 per cent of all claimants in the group were sanctioned in the latest full financial year of 2014-15, up from 5.6 per cent in 2013-14 and 5.4 per cent in 2012-13.

The latest figures to September 2015 are not directly comparable to the financial year figures as they include overlap of previous periods.

The DWP says claimants are only sanctioned as a “last resort” when they do not give a good reason for attending a so-called “work-focused interview”. 

A DWP spokesperson said the actions only affected a “a very small minority” of parents.

“Our reforms to extend free childcare, flexible working and increase the amount of money people earn before paying tax are helping more lone parents get into work and gain the security of a regular wage,” she said.

“Only a very small minority of lone parents face a sanction for not taking up the job support we offer in return for benefits, and the proportion of sanctions has fallen.”

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