No to benefit sanctions!

There is no such thing as a fair benefit sanction. The Department of Work and Pensions constantly lies about the numbers of claimants whose benefits are sanctioned saying that it is a tiny minority. In reality, nearly one in five claimants has suffered some kind of sanction in the past year. Along with delays in benefit payments, sanctions are the principal cause of people seeking support from food banks.

The number of benefit sanctions imposed in 2013 (1,120,000) exceeded the number of fines imposed by Magi­strates and Sheriff courts (849,000). Benefit sanctions are far more severe than court fines:

  • They frequently involve a complete loss of income, whereas court fines can often be paid off in instalments.
  • The claimant is not present when a sanction decision is made and has no representation.
  • There is no requirement to have a hearing before the punishment is imposed.
  • The official does not vary the penalty according to the claimant’s circumstances.

Mandatory Reconsideration prevents access to the Tribunal service. Until the late 1980s, the maximum period of disqualification was six weeks and could only be imposed by an independent adjudication service with full right of appeal to a Tribunal.

The number of benefit sanctions were already beginning to soar in the final years of the last Labour government: from 239,000 in the year to May 2006 to 367,000 in the year to May 2009, and to 547,000 in the year to May 2010. Until 1980 unemployment benefit was indexed to average wages; increases were then subsequently linked to changes in the RPI and then CPI. Had the original link been retained, today JSA would be £120 per week rather than £72.40 – but that would curb employers’ ability to impose poverty pay part-time or zero-hours contracts.

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 244 April/May 2015

 

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