An estimated £20 million – £250 each on average – is being withheld from unemployed and disabled people this month under the government’s punitive and controversial sanctions regime.
Using Department for Work and Pensions data, the union calculates 74,000 people will lose more than £19 million in jobseeker’s allowance – an estimated 2,000% increase since the Christmas before the coalition government took office.
Almost £700,000 in employment and support allowance is being taken away from 6,800 disabled people this month.
The union is opposed to the system, known as the stricter benefits regime, which means jobseekers can have their benefits removed for up to three years and which charities cite as a reason for the rise in the use of food banks.
DWP continues to claim there are no targets for advisers in jobcentres to refer people for sanctions, but the union has provided evidence that the department’s appraisal system, linked to the disciplinary procedure, is used to enforce ‘expectation’ levels.
PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said: “There is no evidence that stopping people’s benefits improves their chances of finding long-term employment.
“Many are being punished for simply turning up late to an interview or refusing to work for free for a profitable company on one of the government’s failing workfare schemes.
“Use of these sanctions has spiralled in recent years, but they do nothing but heap blame and misery on some of the poorest in our society and they should be scrapped.”
How it is calculated
- DWP’s monthly sanctions figures are available up to June 2014
- We used trends over the latest 12-month period for which figures are available (July 2013-June 2014) to project how many claimants on jobseeker’s allowance and employment and support allowance will be sanctioned this December, estimating 80,800 people having a total of £20,373,000 in benefits stopped
- Worth £72.40 a week or £57.35 for under 25s. A sanction means the claimant’s benefit is stopped for a minimum of four weeks, but can be up to three years
- Monthly trends suggest 54,700 JSA claimants will be sanctioned this month, totalling £14,540,000 – based on 60% being on the adult rate and 40% on the youth rate, consistent with the ratio for JSA claimants being sanctioned since the stricter benefits regime began in October 2012
- We estimate a further 19,300 sanctions lasting 13 weeks will have been issued in October and November 2014 – based on the number of 13-week sanctions issued between October 2012 and June 2014 and the 60/40 adult/youth rate ratio – totalling a further £5,140,000 for December 2014
- Therefore, we estimate a total of 74,000 JSA claimants and a total of £19,680,000 are being sanctioned in December 2014. This excludes an estimated 2,300 claimants who have been sanctioned for three years since October 2012, as it is impossible to estimate how many of these have remained unemployed in that time
- We estimate £916,600 was sanctioned from JSA claimants during December 2009 – calculated as the average monthly amount out of a total of £11 million in JSA sanctions in 2009/2010. This month’s amount represents a 2,000% increase in the cash value of JSA sanctions since December 2009
Employment and Support Allowance
- The main benefit for disabled people of working age. Those assessed as being in the work-related activity group receive £101.15 a week (during the assessment phase, £72.40 a week or £57.35 for under 25s) and are subject to conditions so could face a sanction of a minimum of one week, and two or four weeks for further sanctions within a 12-month period
- Monthly trends suggest 6,800 ESA claimants will be sanctioned this December, totalling £693,000
- The DWP does not publish data for ESA claimants receiving a second or third sanction – only the total number issued. Our calculations are therefore based on a one-week sanction at the WRAG rate
How does cutting lifeline benefits “make work pay”? The claim made by the Conservatives is completely incoherent. The only way to make work pay would be to raise wages, not lower benefits. Furthermore, wages are now at an all time low.
Sanctions have pushed public boundaries and redefined what is acceptable, as they have introduced the previously unthinkable (well, since the 1940s) – the idea that people’s lifeline to support for meeting their basic survival needs is optional. The role of the State and how are our taxes are spent is being redefined. The media have also played a role in conveying the message that it’s acceptable to leave people without money for food and fuel, in one of the wealthiest countries in the world. We know from research (as well as common sense) that leaving people struggling to meet their basic needs will not help them into work.
As well as the draconian nature of sanctions, this is also about the Tories’ ideological drive to reverse the gains we made from the post-war settlement. They have always resented our NHS, public services, legal aid and welfare state. Now they are destroying them steadily, deliberately and surely.