Benefit sanctions pushing people into homelessness, charity warns

Posted On: 
10th December 2015

The Government has been urged to rethink its “disastrous” benefit sanctions scheme after new research claimed it was forcing some vulnerable people into homelessness. 

The charity Crisis commissioned a survey of more than 1,000 people in homeless hostels and day centres across the UK.

More than 200 of those polled had been subject to benefit sanctions in the last year. 

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Of that number, 21% said the sanctions had resulted in them becoming homeless, 75% that their mental health was negatively affected, 77% that they had gone hungry or skipped meals, and 16% that they had slept rough.

In addition, 64% of those sanctioned said they had gone without heating and 60% found it harder to look for work.

Crisis is calling on the Government to check beforehand whether imposing welfare sanctions will result in the claimants to become homeless.

Crisis chief executive Jon Sparkes said: “Benefit sanctions are a major cause of homelessness and poverty. They’re hitting vulnerable people hardest and preventing them from finding work. Many will be trying to rebuild their lives or coping with trauma or illness. At times like this, losing the support of benefits can be disastrous.

“Sadly, the vast majority of people we spoke to wanted to work and agreed there should be some sort of conditions attached to benefits, yet too often the system didn’t take their circumstances or aspirations into account and instead seemed to treat them with mistrust. 

“It’s clear that the regime isn’t working for the most vulnerable. The Government’s recent proposal for a two week period of appeal doesn’t go far enough. We must make sure that homeless people and those at risk of destitution are identified and protected from an early stage.”

Of those subject to the sanctions regime, 39% said they had been penalised in the last year – more than twice the level of all claimants.

Dr Kesia Reeve of Sheffield Hallam University, which conducted the research for Crisis, said the impact on mental health and job opportunities was “staggering”.

Mind, the mental health charity, described the sanctions as “counterproductive” to claimants getting back into work.

“Pressurising someone to engage in often inappropriate activities under the threat of losing their benefit causes a huge deal of additional anxiety, often making people more unwell and less able to work,”
the charity’s policy and campaigns manager Tom Pollard said.

‘NOT FIT FOR PURPOSE’

Labour has seized on the findings to argue the programme is “simply not fit for purpose”.

“This report is a damning indictment of a broken sanctions regime,” said Shadow Employment Minister Emily Thornberry.  

“Instead of dealing with the rising benefits bill, by tackling low pay and building more affordable homes, the Tories introduced a new regime of benefit sanctions which brought a culture of fear into jobcentres, pushing people into extreme hardship and in many cases out onto the streets.  

“The Government says that sanctions are supposed to help people into work, but clearly in these cases, where the most vulnerable are being hit hardest, that isn’t what’s happening.”