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Benefit Claimants Say Sanctions Make It Harder To Find Work

Polling seen by PoliticsHome suggests most people required to attend Jobcentres believe benefit sanctions undermines their work prospects. (Alamy)

3 min read

Exclusive: New research has found that the majority of people required to attend job centres to access benefits believe being hit with sanctions when they don't attend undermines their ability to find a good job.

A poll of people out-of-work receiving universal credit and obligated to attend regular Jobcentre appointments for the New Economics Foundation (NEF) by Survation, exclusively seen by PoliticsHome, found claimants felt let down by what they perceived as a focus on rules over support.

Of those polled, 61 per cent said the threat of sanctions made it harder for them to have a trusting relationship with support services, with the figure rising to 69 per cent for those with a disability.

On the threat of sanctions having an impact on a claimant's mental health, 63 per cent said it negatively impacted their mental health with the figure rising to 73 per cent for people with disabilities or other health conditions. 

When it comes to the substance of meetings at the Jobcentre, 73 per cent said their first meeting focused on rules and obligations, rising to 75 per cent among those with a disability. A further 59 per cent felt the Jobcentre wanted to get them into any job as soon as possible regardless of how good a fit a role was for them, with the number rising to 65 per cent for people with a disability or health condition 

The polling accompanies a new report by the NEF which concluded current benefit obligations for a claimant to retain their universal credit are not effective for supporting people into appropriate jobs and are also damaging to their wellbeing. 

In the report, NEF outlined alternative proposals including moving from requirements and punishment to shared accountability between Jobcentre advisers and claimants.

Tom Pollard, head of social policy at the NEF, told PoliticsHome the government's "obsession with applying stringent and prescriptive conditions to job seekers" coupled with sanctions "is harming their efforts to find appropriate and secure work". 

"Demanding compliance from people means they end up jumping through hoops rather than finding jobs that are a good fit for them," said Pollard.

"This is particularly important when so many people who are out of work face additional barriers such as health conditions and disabilities. It doesn’t have to be this way.

"Politicians need to help reset the relationship between the Jobcentre and people out of work, to focus on engagement and support rather than compliance and punishment.”

Responding to the polling, a spokesperson for the department for work and pensions (DWP) said: “Sanctions are designed to encourage people to meet certain commitments, preparing them for workplace responsibilities. Most claimants agree this makes them more likely to look for work or take steps to prepare.

“They are only applied if claimants fail, without good reason, to meet the requirements they agreed to.

“The vast majority of sanctions are applied due to claimants failing to attend mandatory appointments and can often be resolved quickly by the claimant re-engaging with the Jobcentre and attending the next appointment.”

In June, professor David Webster, one of the UK’s leading academics on benefit sanctions, told PoliticsHome sanctions were damaging to the UK's economic inactivity and productivity crisis. 

“It’s very costly, in terms of productivity, to push people into jobs that are below their level – and they don’t want, and where conditions are worse," Webster said.

"Obviously it's an encouragement to employers, but if you allow employers to buy very cheap labour that’s no help for productivity.”

In May, Labour told PoliticsHome it will publish data on the number of people sanctioned by the DWP who have disabilities in a bid to increase transparency if it wins the next election.

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