SNP hit out at welfare sanctions

Fresh concerns over the impact of changes to the welfare system have been raised by the SNP after figures showed significant rises in the number of disabled people, women, lone parents and young people facing benefit sanctions.

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Statistics from the UK Government's Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) show a 65% rise in the number of disabled people receiving sanctions for jobseeker's allowance between 2009 and 2013.

The number increased from just over 8,000 in 2009, to 11,616 in 2012 when the Government introduced its new sanctions regime, and then rose again to 13,128 in 2013.

There was also a 76% increase in the number of women being sanctioned, rising from 7,914 in 2009 to 13,993 in 2013.

Elsewhere there was a 563% rise in the number of lone parents sanctioned, increasing from 476 in 2009 to 3,157 in 2013.

Sanctions - the loss of some or all welfare payments - can be imposed when a recipient does not comply with the rules, such as failing to attend an interview.

SNP MSP Kevin Stewart said: "These figures show a staggering increase in the number of people being hit by Westminster's deeply unfair benefit sanctions.

"The welfare system should be supporting and empowering people with disabilities, not making life more difficult for them.

"Women already bear the brunt of welfare cuts, with 69% of planned cuts falling on them - these figures show that despite David Cameron's attempts to appear to be taking action on equality, the number of women being sanctioned is up by three quarters.

"The Scottish Government is doing what it can to mitigate the impact of welfare cuts, but with the full powers of independence we could do so much more."

A spokesman for the DWP said: "The fact is that every day, Jobcentre Plus advisers are successfully helping people off benefits and into work so they can secure their future and we have seen that in the last year alone, employment in Scotland is up 76,000.

"Sanctions are only used as a last resort, but it's only right that people claiming benefits should do everything they can to find work, if they are able. We make it clear to people at the start of their claim what the rules are and that they risk losing their benefits if they don't play by them.

"The benefits system is there as a safety net for people at times of need and supports millions of people who are on low incomes or unemployed. People who are in genuine need can apply for hardship payments. If someone disagrees with a decision made on their claim, they can appeal."

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