Work and Pensions Committee Inquiry into benefit sanctions policy – 2014

The response draws on Inclusion’s analysis of labour market and sanctions data, previous research on conditionality and sanctions regimes and extensive recent qualitative research on welfare reform impacts.

The response sets out our view that the system of benefit conditions, employment support and sanctions should be looked at in the round. We believe that there is strong evidence from the UK and internationally that the most effective systems for the unemployed combine clear benefit conditions with the right employment support to meet them – with the threat of sanctions where conditions are not met.

However the evidence is not entirely clear-cut.  In particular, there is no strong evidence that Work Focused Interviews have led to any positive impacts for those on incapacity benefits or ESA – and a wealth of qualitative evidence of negative impacts on those sanctioned.

It is important also to recognise the very real, and negative, impacts that the sanctions regime is having on the standing of Jobcentre Plus – and the Work Programme – within communities. The consequence is more often than not that marginalised and disadvantaged groups are reluctant to seek support, for fear that this will raise issues around their own entitlement to benefits.

We argue that a successful sanctions system should be one that is used sparingly and as a last resort. Instead, over the last two years, we have seen an unprecedented increase in the use of sanctions and an inexplicable increase in their severity. In our view, this represents a system that is failing – with individuals not understanding their responsibilities, institutions unable to enforce them properly, and families and communities suffering real hardship.

We argue that:

  • A wider review of the sanctions system should be an early priority for a new government
  • This review should also look at how sanctions, support and conditionality fit together within a single system
  • The sanctions regime for ESA claimants should be suspended until we have a clearer model for how we support ESA claimants to prepare for and find employment, understand what works and understand the impacts of sanctions on this group
  • An independent Ombudsman or Inspector should be created, with the power to examine cases and a clear remit to review the system
  • The impact of the government’s sanctions reforms should be formally evaluated (as the government has done for all of its other major welfare reforms)

Tony Wilson, Inclusion’s Policy Director, gave Oral Evidence to the Committee on 7 January 2015 –  this can be viewed here.