Thousands of young people forced to go without food after benefits wrongly stopped under 'draconian' new sanctions regime

The under-24s are bearing the brunt of a punitive new system that stops payments without warning

Thousands of young people have been forced to go without food or other essentials after their benefits were wrongly stopped under a “draconian” new sanctions regime, research suggests.

Since the Coalition introduced more punitive benefit sanctions in October 2012, more than 45,000 young people have been hit with an incorrect penalty, according to IoS analysis of Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) figures.

A sanction can mean having welfare payments cut off entirely for a minimum of a month and as much as three years for “repeat offenders”. The hardline system, which means people can end up cast adrift for accidentally missing an appointment, is thought to be one of the reasons behind the vast numbers turning to food banks.

Experts say young people are being unfairly singled out by the strict new system of penalties. Despite making up only 27 per cent of Jobseeker’s Allowance claimants, 18- to 24-year-olds have accounted for 42 per cent of all sanctions handed out.

In total, 343,744 young people have had their benefits stopped because a job centre decided they have not abided by strict rules. About one in five cases results from someone failing to attend an interview with an employment adviser, though there have been examples of people being sanctioned for this despite never receiving an interview time.

YMCA England is publishing a report this week into the damaging impact of sanctions on the young people it works with. Denise Hatton, its chief executive, said: “The level of incorrect decisions being made by Jobcentre Plus is frankly scandalous. Benefits are supposed to be a lifeline and safety net for those most in need. When these benefits are taken away, it can be disastrous. When this is done without due cause, it is reprehensible.

“It is no surprise that the young people we support feel that the job centre is simply a place they have to go to be processed and punished.”

Of 79,924 young people who asked for their case to be reconsidered since the system changed on 22 October 2012, 38,969 had the decision overturned. A further 6,455 are recorded as successfully appealing a sanction, though the DWP says it is re-examining its own appeal statistics.

Sally Copley, head of UK campaigns at Oxfam, said that getting sanctions overturned is a “really painful” process that can drag on for months. Oxfam is pushing for more intensive one-to-one support for unemployed people as a more effective way of tackling poverty.

Shadow Employment minister, Stephen Timms, said: “David Cameron’s out-of-touch government is letting young people down, and the number of young people on Jobseeker’s Allowance for over a year has doubled since the election. The shambles at the Department for Work and Pensions, with a staggering 58 per cent of appeals against sanction decisions upheld, is distracting job centres from their real job of getting people back to work.”

The DWP has been dogged by claims that job-centre staff are given weekly or monthly targets for the number of benefits sanction decisions to take. The department strenuously denies this, describing the numbers as management information, not a target.

Nearly all YMCAs (94 per cent) responding to research out last week reported an increase in the number of young people they work with being sanctioned, with just under two-thirds indicating that the increase was significant.

More than four-fifths of the vulnerable young people who were sanctioned reported being forced to go without essential items. The most common areas where they were forced to cut back or go without were: food, 84 per cent; housing costs, 81 per cent; and toiletries, 75 per cent.

Citizens Advice has been inundated with requests to its bureaux for help with those facing sanctions since the changes came in 16 months ago. Citizens Advice chief executive, Gillian Guy, said: “Sanctions are meant to be a last resort but the experience of many of our clients is that job centres sanction first and ask questions later. In many cases the Government’s sanctions regime pushes people working hard to get a job further away from employment.

“A four-week minimum sanction can make it an uphill battle to put food on the table, let alone take on the training and skills development needed to maximise the chances of getting work.”

A DWP spokesman said: “Every day, Jobcentre Plus advisers are successfully helping people off benefits and into work as part of the Government’s long-term plan to build a stronger, more secure economy. The number of young people who are in work increased by 49,000 in the last three months, with the number claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance falling for the past 20 months.

“It’s only right that people claiming benefits should do everything they can to find work if they are able. Sanctions are used as a last resort and anyone who disagrees with a decision can appeal.”

Additional reporting by Dan Macadam

News
The surrealist comedian at the Q Awards in 2010
people
News
peoplePerformer had recently been diagnosed with prostate cancer
Life and Style
Six of the 76 Goats' cheese samples contained a significant amount of sheep's cheese
food + drink
News
Russell Brand arriving for the book launch in East London
peopleRussell Brand cancels his book launch debate due to concerns about the make-up of the panel
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
Could you tell the difference between this and an organic alternative?
food + drink

Culinary experts in The Netherlands thought it was 'fresh' and 'tasty'

Arts and Entertainment
Contestants during this summer's Celebrity Big Brother grand finale
tvBroadcaster attempts to change its image following sale to US
Life and Style
tech

Of all the computers Apple has ever made there’s only one that Steve Jobs had to sell his car to finance

News
New look: Zellweger at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday

Actress sees off speculation about her face in an amazing way

Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Dales attempts to sell British Breeze in the luxury scent task
tvReview: 'Apprentice' candidates on the verge of tears as they were ejected from the boardroom
News
Call me Superman: one of many unusual names chosen by Chinese students
newsChinese state TV offers advice for citizens picking a Western moniker
Arts and Entertainment
film

Marvel has released first teaser trailer week early after it leaked online

Arts and Entertainment
Awesome foursome: Sam Smith shows off his awards
music22-year-old confirms he is 2014’s breakout British music success
Arts and Entertainment
Frank Sivero in Goodfellas; Simpsons' wise guy Louie

The sound of Goodfellas mafioso Frankie Carbone demanding $250m in “damages” would be chilling enough on film, let alone in real life.

News
Let’s pretend: KidZania in Tokyo
educationKidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day
News
i100
Voices
'Irritatingly Disneyfied': fashion vlogger Zoella
voicesVicky Chandler: Zoella shows us that feminism can come in all forms
Life and Style
health
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Front end web developer - URGENT CONTRACT

£250 - £300 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: **URGENT CONTRACT** Our...

Year 3 Teacher

£21000 - £31000 per annum: Randstad Education Chelmsford: KS2 Teachers - Chelm...

ABAP Developer

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ampersand Consulting LLP: SAP ABAP Developer - Rugb...

Head of Finance - Media

£80000 - £90000 per annum: Sauce Recruitment: Working for an International Mul...

Day In a Page

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker
Renée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity

'Renée Zellweger's real crime was to age'

The actress's altered appearance raised eyebrows at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Patrick Grafton-Green wonders if they can ever recapture the old magic
Thousands of teenagers to visit battlefields of the First World War in new Government scheme

Pupils to visit First World War battlefields

A new Government scheme aims to bring the the horrors of the conflict to life over the next five years
The 10 best smartphone accessories

Make the most of your mobile: 10 best smartphone accessories

Try these add-ons for everything from secret charging to making sure you never lose your keys again
Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time against Real Madrid: Was this shirt swapping the real reason?

Liverpool v Real Madrid

Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time. Was shirt swapping the real reason?
West Indies tour of India: Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Decision to pull out of India tour leaves the WICB fighting for its existence with an off-field storm building
Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?