Benefit sanctions are 'hindrance not a help'

BENEFIT sanctions can hinder not help people get back into work, according to a committee of MSPs.

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The UK Department of Work and Pensions has been heavily criticised in a report released today which said the sanctions system needs to be reviewed.

The Scottish Parliament Welfare Reform Committee said people should be given warnings before they lose benefit payments and must only be used as a last resort.

The committee had taken evidence from a range of organisations and individuals on the impact of sanctions and heard from a senior DWP official who said people were thankful of the "jolt" sanctions gave them.

The report, which was backed by four SNP MSPs and two Labour MSPs, made several recommendations, including a written warning at the first breach of benefit conditions before it is escalated to a sanction, to act as a deterrent not punishment. The Conservative MSP on the Committee, Alex Johnstone, dissented from the report.

The reports wants clearer explanations so claimants are fully aware of the requirements and consequences.

Ten working day notice should be given before a sanction is applied and greater levels of support and discretion should be applied.

Committee Convener Michael McMahon, Labour MSP said: "When Neil Couling from the DWP came to Committee and said people welcomed the jolt of being sanctioned, the committee was shocked.

"Our evidence says quite the opposite; being sanctioned leaves people with not enough money to make ends meet, certainly not enough to go out job hunting.

"How many of us could manage if we did not get paid one week, without any notice or often explanation?

"This demonstrates once again the enormous gulf between reality and DWP thinking."

The MSPs concluded benefit sanctions in their current form can lead to destitution.

Deputy Convener Jamie Hepburn SNP MSP, said it was "shameful" that 9000 single parents had been sanctioned in Scotland with a loss of benefits.

He said: "That is 9,000 families where the state has made putting food on the table even more challenging.

"We should be helping people back into work, not punishing them for failing to tick the right box in a form and forcing them into destitution."

Local government

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