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The government has rejected pleas to curb benefit sanctions

The Work and Pensions Committee is claiming that the government is refusing to assess the welfare impact of sanctions following a report in which they slammed them as "pointlessly cruel"

EPA/Andy Rain

The government has refused recommendations to rein in benefit sanctions in its response to a Universal Credit report.

The Work and Pensions Committee released a damning study in November last year that slammed the department’s sanctions – imposed for missed Job Centre appointments or failing to show efforts to work – as “pointlessly cruel”.

But the government’s response, published today, has remained unmoved on recommendations calling for sanctions to be cut back with up to 100 per cent of Jobseekers’ Allowance or Universal Credit standard allowance able to stripped from claimants.

DWP ministers have agreed to evaluate the practice – dubbed “the only major welfare reform this decade to never have been evaluated” by the committee – when it comes to employment.

However, calls to research the impact sanctions have on well-being have fallen on death ears, despite the committee’s original report finding that sanctions on the most vulnerable do not drive employment and are instead “harmful and counterproductive”.

The report highlighted stories like that of Jen Fidai, a young disabled woman forced to sofa-surf and sleep in the university library for a year, and ultimately give up her studies, after she was sanctioned erroneously.

Exemptions from sanctions for claimants with limited capability to work were also kicked back by the government, as was the recommendation that those waiting for a Work Capability Assessment should also not face action if they have a doctor’s note.

The latter call will be left to Job Centre work coaches, according to the government, sparking fears of a lack of consistency.

Calls for single parents to never be docked more than 20 per cent of their lone parent benefit were also rejected.

“Our report laid bare the inhumanity of the government’s sanctions regime, which it has pursued for years without ever stopping to check whether it works or what it is doing to the people it is meant to ‘support’,” said Committee Chair Frank Field.

“In response, the government has failed utterly to grasp the seriousness of the matter. It talks about reviews and ‘proof of concept’: it might want to take a look at the concept of not pushing disabled people and single parents—not to mention their children—into grinding poverty and hardship.”

However, the Work and Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd may want to pay attention to figures from Finland’s universal basic income trial last week.

The provisional results of the experiment that removed benefit sanctions for 2,000 people over two years demonstrated no clear evidence of any change in employment levels.

The main issue that led to an increase in foodbank use could have been the fact that people had difficulty accessing their money early enough

Rudd did admit that Universal Credit’s rollout has driven up foodbank use earlier today, though.

“It is absolutely clear that there were challenges with the initial rollout of Universal Credit,” she told the House of Commons earlier today. “And the main issue that led to an increase in foodbank use could have been the fact that people had difficulty accessing their money early enough.

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