The controversial practice of docking benefit payments for unemployed people who fail to adhere to strict new requirements imposed upon them is a ‘damaging’ waste of time, a survey by the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) suggests.
The Tory-led coalition government introduced a new benefits sanctions regime in October 2012 to replace an earlier system which they claim was far too soft.
However, 70% of jobcentre advisers who responded to the PCS survey said that benefit sanctions ‘had no positive impact’ in influencing the behaviour of jobseeker’s.
Three quarters had noticed an increase in the number of claimants being referred to food banks as a result of their benefits being cut.
This is in stark contrast to comments made by the Director of the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), Neil Couling, who told the Scottish Welfare Reform Committee that there was no relation between benefit sanctions and food banks and that unemployed people were turning to food aid to “maximise their economic opportunities“.
Critics of the new system argue that removing a benefit claimants means of supporting themselves can result in those people spending less time looking for work, not more, because they are forced into survival mode in order to find food and pay the bills, which may include visiting a food bank or criminal activities like shoplifting.
According to the PCS survey, 23% of respondents said they had been given ‘explicit targets’ for making benefit sanctions referrals and 81 per cent said that there was an ‘expectation’ placed upon them.
Almost two-thirds said they had been pressurised to sanction benefit claimants and more than one-third said they had been placed on a ‘performance improving programme’ (PIP) for failing to refer “enough” unemployed people for potential sanctioning. 10 per cent had been subjected to ‘formal performance procedures’.
The PCS say that the PIP can eventually lead to dismissal and described the action of pressuring staff to refer claimants for sanctioning as a ‘veiled threat to people’s jobs’.
The survey also revealed that 72% of jobcentre staff has been subject to ‘violence or threats’ from benefit claimants, with 37% seeing an increase in actual physical abuse.
Despite this, the PCS are keen to stress that whilst this is unacceptable they fully ‘understand the anger directed toward jobcentre staff’, and that they have a ‘shared interest with claimants’ in bringing ‘counter-productive’ benefit sanctions to an end.
The PCS has urged the government to ‘analyse and take responsibility for the damaging effect’ benefit sanctions are having on those affected and their families.
Unfortunately, it is unknown how many jobcentre staff the PCS surveyed.