Homeless people looking for work are being disproportionately hit by government benefit sanctions. One in three homeless people on Jobseeker's Allowance (JSA) have been penalised with a cut in their benefits, compared to just three per cent of jobseekers overall, according to research by the charity Homeless Link.
The coalition's introduction of more punitive sanctions for jobseekers last year now means that just missing an appointment can leave welfare claimants with no benefits for a month. They are designed to motivate, but the study says that these penalties often push homeless jobseekers into an even more precarious situation.
Researchers looked at data from more than 50 organisations working with homeless people and found that nearly a third reported homeless people being sanctioned while grappling with poor mental health, learning difficulties or substance misuse problems. The report found that in most cases these problems got worse as a result of sanctions – pushing some to commit petty crime rather than motivating them to find employment.
The most common reason for homeless jobseekers being sanctioned was failing to attend a Jobcentre Plus interview. But homeless services also reported that it was common for those they helped not to receive important communications that could have enabled them to avoid being sanctioned.
The shadow Work and Pensions Secretary, Liam Byrne, told The IoS: "This government isn't helping homeless people get back on their feet and into work; they're making it harder. Sanctions should push people into jobs, not into the hands of loan-sharks or to the mercy of food banks.
"This government is now so out of touch it has lost all sight of its basic task: to get our country back to work, not push a generation into debts from which they'll never recover. That's why our message is clear. Introduce a compulsory Jobs Guarantee for anyone and everyone left to languish on the dole for more than 24 months."
Some 84 per cent of services working with homeless people reported that those they helped experienced increased anxiety or depression when sanctioned. Fewer than one-fifth of services believe the threat of sanctions is motivating some clients to get into employment – and two-thirds said that it had pushed some towards crime to survive.
Rick Henderson, Homeless Link's chief executive, said: "The welfare system should provide a safety net to protect people at risk of falling into destitution and support them into work. This report highlights the fact that the sanctions regime is doing very little to help homeless people towards the long-term goal of independence and stability.
"Claimants do have responsibilities but it is clear that sanctions may be forcing them deeper into the problems that led them into homelessness in the first place. We're calling on the Government to ensure the conditions for receiving benefits take into account individual circumstances."
Tougher sanctions and hardship payments for those on JSA prompted a 40 per cent rise in people seeking assistance from Citizens Advice in the year to March. In the first three months of this year alone, some 3,000 people needed help from bureaux with sanctions.
A Department for Work and Pensions spokesman said: "It's only right that people should do everything they can to find work if they want to claim Jobseeker's Allowance. However, if a jobseeker tells us they are homeless, or has an addiction or health problem, this would be taken into account by their Jobcentre Plus advisers. Sanctions are only used as a last resort and we have worked with homelessness charities – including Homeless Link – to revise our guidance to staff to ensure someone's individual circumstances are taken into account. Anyone who is in genuine need can apply for hardship payments."