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Fri, 27 November 2020

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It’s time government ends the threats and reinstates the suspension of benefit sanctions

It’s time government ends the threats and reinstates the suspension of benefit sanctions

The threat of sanctions is causing huge anxiety for those people claiming Universal Credit who are shielding, writes Seema Malhorta MP. | PA Images

2 min read

The clinically extremely vulnerable and those they live with are facing benefit cuts if they refuse a job that puts them at risk of Covid-19.

Earlier this week in DWP Questions, I called on the government to re-suspend benefit sanctions, following the Government’s admission last week that the clinically extremely vulnerable and those they live with could have their benefits cut if they refused a job that put them at risk of Covid-19. 

In July, the government chose to reinstate conditionality and sanctions despite warnings that doing so would do nothing to support people back into work. The reality is that the threat of sanctions is causing huge anxiety for those people claiming Universal Credit who are shielding, and their loved ones who are concerned about putting their vulnerable family members at risk, particularly as parts of the country move into Tier 3 lockdowns.

Families are struggling

Tier 3 areas have higher rates of unemployment compared to the rest of England and the North West, with figures from the House of Commons Library showing that areas with enhanced restrictions in place have the highest unemployment claimant counts. In England, the national average is 6.6% but in Tier 3 areas 7.8% of the population are receiving unemployment support, while in Tier 2 areas the rate is 7.5%.

The impact of job losses is having a serious impact on household finances. Families are struggling. Citizens Advice estimates that 6 million adults have fallen behind on their bills during this pandemic, with 1.2 million falling behind on their rent. 

In areas where the virus is most prevalent, the risks for those with underlying health conditions are even greater. Combined with this, these same areas are showing greater levels of unemployment, at a time when we know that vacancy rates have almost halved from March to September. 

Those seeking clarity on the support and advice for those shielding will have looked at the government’s guidance on shielding updated on 13th October. But this adds nothing further about whether those in the clinically extremely vulnerable group, and those who live with them would face sanctions if they to turn down a job that could put them at risk. 

The continued threat of benefit sanctions, when the government has lost control of the virus and parts of the country are moving into stricter lockdown is completely untenable. 

It is time for the Government to think again, to end the threats and reinstate the suspension of benefit sanctions. Either that or clearly, we are not all in this together.

 

Seema Malhorta is the Labour MP for Feltham and Heston and shadow employment minister. 

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