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Britain's Benefits Crackdown

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In October 2012, the coalition introduced a new stricter sanctions regime. Benefits can now be suspended for up to three years– or reduced indefinitely for people claiming Employment and Support Allowance.
Channel 4 Dispatches has investigated how the stricter sanctions regime affects some vulnerable claimants and has interviewed former Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) staff who claim that there are targets for sanctions despite the government’s constant assurances that there are no targets.
New exclusive figures:

  • Latest figures show 93,000 children were affected by sanctions over 12 months.[1] The DWP told us they do not recognise these figures.
  • Of DWP ‘peer reviews’ of 49 deaths following sanctions or when claimants had their benefit cut, 40 were carried out following a suicide or apparent suicide.

  • 33 of those reviews/enquiries resulted in ‘recommendations’ at national or local level.

The DWP has refused to provide details of the individual cases or the recommendations. They told Channel 4 Dispatches that they carry out reviews to work out if anything should have done differently. They say, carrying out a review does not automatically mean the department was at fault and that it would be highly inappropriate to publish private documents containing extremely personal information.[2]

Whistleblowers:
Channel 4 Dispatches has interviewed two whistleblowers from a Job Centre in Leicester who say they were subject to targets and had to “hammer” people. Both men have been named and identified on camera.
- Ian Wright, a former work coach, gave written evidence to the Work and Pensions Select Committee Inquiry.
- Alan Davies, a former personal adviser, has never spoken publicly before.

Ian was sacked by the Job Centre, while Alan resigned. Both were given Performance Improvement Plans for not giving claimants enough Job Seeker’s Directions. These are the ‘early warnings’ before sanctions are handed out.
Ian Wright says: “It was the management’s policy to drive up sanctions. From my experience they’re more interested in getting the paperwork right and meeting targets than helping the claimants get the benefits that Parliament decree they should do and sometimes sadly vulnerable people miss out.”
“There are or were certain advisors who would try and wind up customers, not give them the full information.”
Alan Davies says: “The pressure was enormous. I just felt that what they were asking me to do was totally wrong. They were asking me to hammer people who were quite, in their own way doing the best that they can to get a job.”
“Well sanction them, to make sure if you’re not doing exactly what we want, they weren’t willing to look at them as human beings.”
“I felt basically it was both ethically and morally wrong.”
The DWP told Channel 4 Dispatches: “There are no targets for sanctions – in fact the number of sanctions has gone down over the past year.”

Statistics

Since the tougher sanctions regime was introduced in October 2012, more than one and a half million benefit payments have been affected.[3]

  • Between March 2013 and April 2014, more than half a million people were sanctioned.[4]
  • Sanctions for people on Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) have increased fourfold over two years and are the fastest growing group of sanctions.[5]
  • In 2014 there were more than 3,000 ESA sanctions each month.[6]

A DWP spokesperson told Channel 4 Dispatches:
“Every day Jobcentre Plus advisers work hard to help claimants into work – unemployment is falling and a record number of people are in work. Sanctions are only used as a last resort for the tiny minority who fail to take up the support which is on offer.”

Notes to Editor
Channel 4 Dispatches: Britain’s Benefits Crackdown, Monday, March 2nd at 8pm

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