Labour MP Frank Field has called on the UK Government to conduct a major survey into the circumstances and wellbeing of jobseekers, whose benefit income is withdrawn each year under the harsh benefit sanctions regime.

Mr Field, who also chairs the Commons Work and Pensions Committee, carried out a forensic audit of the government’s welfare reform programme – Fixing Broken Britain? An audit of working-age welfare reform since 2010, published today by Civitas and co-authored by Andrew Forsey.

Worryingly, research found that the whereabouts of 1.5 million people leaving the welfare records each year is “a mystery.” He also raises concern that the wellbeing of at least a third of those who have been sanctioned “is anybody’s guess.” It’s not the first time these concerns have been raised.

It emerged in 2014, during an ongoing inquiry instigated by the parliamentary Work and Pensions Select Committee that Research conducted by Professor David Stuckler shows that more than 500,000 Job Seekers Allowance (JSA) claimants have disappeared from unemployment statistics, without finding work, since the sanctions regime was toughened in October, 2012.

This means that in August 2014, the claimant count – which is used to gauge unemployment – is likely to be very much higher than the 970,000 figure that the government is claiming, if those who have been sanctioned are included.

The research finding confirms what many of us already knew.

Professor Stuckler, who has analysed data from 375 local authorities, said: “The data clearly show that many people are not leaving Job Seekers Allowance for work but appear to be being pushed off in unprecedented numbers in association with sanctions.”

The Work and Pensions Committee decided to conduct a further in-depth inquiry into benefit sanctions policy, following the findings of the research. This inquiry will consider aspects of sanctions policy which were outside the remit of the Oakley Review. (You can see the terms of reference for the inquiry, and submissions are invited, all details of which are here – Committee launch inquiry into benefit sanctions.)

Labour MP, Debbie Abrahams, said: “Sanctions are being applied unfairly to job-seekers, as well as the sick and disabled.

“The reason the Government is doing this is that it gets them off the JSA claimant figures, so it looks like there are fewer people unemployed.”

She added: “Hundreds of thousands of people have had their benefits stopped for a minimum of four weeks and then approximately a quarter of these people, from the research that I’ve seen, are disappearing.

“They are leaving and we don’t know where they are going. That’s an absolute indictment of this policy and it’s a little bit worrying if we’re trying to tout this internationally as a real success story.”

The Government claim that sanctioned claimants who leave the benefit system are going into work – they also claim that their punitive sanctions regime “works”. But the Oxford study found this is untrue in a “majority” of cases. At the time, the government were accused of massaging unemployment figures via benefit sanctions.

Frank Field and Andrew Forsey write:

“The number of sanctions was halved in the year leading up to the 2015 election, but it still remained at half a million. Sanctions are therefore being applied at a scale unknown since the Second World War, and the operation of sanctions on this scale makes for a most significant change in the social security system as it has existed in the post-war period.

“A number of people – we know not how large a number – are being totally disconnected from both work and welfare, and risk being exposed to destitution.

The added: “Justice calls for a major survey of what happens to the hundreds of thousands of people thrown off the welfare rolls each year through the sanctioning process.

“It is unacceptable, not only for this government but for its predecessor and those who will follow, to take away benefit from a mass of people each year and not trouble themselves with how this army of people survive. For that is what is happening under the government’s sanctions policy.

“The ability to track the wellbeing of the whole population is now a part of being a grown up government, let alone a ‘One Nation’ government.

In the report, Field and Forsey call for four safeguarding reforms, “to restore greater fairness and transparency to the sanctions regime.” These are:

  • Propose that the government must forthwith begin a survey so that they can answer the simple but crucial question of what happens to those citizens expelled from the welfare rolls who appear not to find work.
  • Welcome the government’s decision to trial a Yellow Card early warning system, but suggest that should it fail to prevent injustices from occurring, the government should supplement this policy with the option for Jobcentre Plus staff of issuing a non-financial sanction for a claimant’s first failure to meet the terms of their Claimant Commitment.
  • Recommend that the Department for Work and Pensions trials a ‘grace period’ for vulnerable claimants of Jobseeker’s Allowance or Employment and Support Allowance, during which the requirements placed upon them are eased at times of transition or acute difficulty.
  • Request information from the government showing how much expenditure is withdrawn through its policy of sanctioning claimants.

Last year the Work and Pensions Select Committee heard independent estimates, that since late 2012 sanctions had resulted in at least £275m being withheld from benefit claimants (the comparable figure for 2010 was £50m). Committee member Debbie Abrahams MP said that the Department for Work and Pensions will not give or does not have actual figures.

However, it’s truly remarkable that the government somehow manage to pull numbers out of their secret Thunderball when they believe it’s in their own interests to do so.

  • twinkiedooter

    The TRUE reason for all the benefits cuts is so that the UK can send tons of money to the EU to support the invading armies into Europe on YOUR DIME. Get hip, Brits….they are keeping your money to send to the EU. Just how dumb is this I ask you? Vote OUT Camoron as soon as you can.

    • Leon Wolfeson

      Ah. blame the Other, using them as an excuse to hate the poor and demand isolationism, not to mention the anti-disabled bigotry…

  • gaia

    Its no mystery as people just don’t simply find work because they’ve been sanctioned as we would all deliberately get sanctioned right ?

    The tories should stop being spineless cowards and just admit to the public that any savings made from welfare are lost ten fold in healthcare and crime which cost way way more.

  • Bunky Spubbler

    For starters it’s time to stop referring to people as jobseekers. We are talking about human beings here. Jobseekers is a belittling and demeaning term which is derived from a scheme which confers rights only onto those who are willing to accept that they will spend their every available hour entirely focussed on chasing after whatever work is available (within a 50 mile radius) to the exclusion of all other personal interests / aims, no mater how unsuitable or low paid that work may be. All this in exchange for the most piffling financial recompense which in addition is entirely conditional on the judgement of the “personal adviser”. It’s would be difficult to come up with a more mean-minded and abusive scheme. And we pay taxes for this garbage.

  • Leon Wolfeson

    This is a direct result of your policies, Mr. Field.

    You’re the only one surprised.

  • Nicky Brennan

    hi guys. I appealed to an independent tribunal a work programme sanction 2 and a half years ago, and they are dragging it on and on. I have read these sanctions are being appealed in the appeal court and I await to find out if they are deemed unlawful which two other judges have said they were. if anyone has any news on work programme sanctions ruling could you let me know please. thanks guys