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

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
Teeth should be brushed twice a day to prevent tooth decay
education
News
Bryan Cranston as Walter White, in the acclaimed series 'Breaking Bad'
news
Sport
footballChelsea 6 Maribor 0: Blues warm up for Premier League showdown with stroll in Champions League - but Mourinho is short of strikers
News
Those who were encouraged to walk in a happy manner remembered less negative words
science
Arts and Entertainment
Princess Olga in 'You Can't Get the Staff'
tvReview: The anachronistic aristocrats, it seemed, were just happy to have some attention
News
Renee Zellweger as Bridget Jones
i100
Life and Style
tech

Board creates magnetic field to achieve lift

News
There have been various incidents of social media users inadvertently flouting the law
news

Life and Style
Stack ‘em high?: quantity doesn’t always trump quality, as Friends of the Earth can testify
techThe proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
News
Bourgogne wine maker Laboure-Roi vice president Thibault Garin (L) offers the company's 2013 Beaujolais Nouveau wine to the guest in the wine spa at the Hakone Yunessun spa resort facilities in Hakone town, Kanagawa prefecture, some 100-kilometre west of Tokyo
i100
Sport
CSKA Moscow celebrate after equalising with a late penalty
footballCSKA Moscow 2 Manchester City 2: Premier League champions let two goal lead slip in Russia
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

IT Project Manager

Competitive: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Chelmsford a...

Business Intelligence Specialist - work from home

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

Business Intelligence Specialist - work from home

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

IT Manager

£40000 - £45000 per annum + pension, healthcare,25 days: Ashdown Group: An est...

Day In a Page

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?
Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals

'You need me, I don’t need you'

Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals
How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

How to Get Away with Murder

Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
A cup of tea is every worker's right

Hard to swallow

Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
Which animals are nearly extinct?

Which animals are nearly extinct?

Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
12 best children's shoes

Perfect for leaf-kicking: 12 best children's shoes

Find footwear perfect to keep kids' feet protected this autumn
Anderlecht vs Arsenal: Gunners' ray of light Aaron Ramsey shines again

Arsenal’s ray of light ready to shine again

Aaron Ramsey’s injury record has prompted a club investigation. For now, the midfielder is just happy to be fit to face Anderlecht in the Champions League
Comment: David Moyes' show of sensitivity thrown back in his face by former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson

Moyes’ show of sensitivity thrown back in his face... by Ferguson

Manchester United legend tramples on successor who resisted criticising his inheritance
Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2015

UK city beats Vienna, Paris and New York to be ranked seventh in world’s best tourist destinations - but it's not London