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Food bank rise driven by unfair benefit sanctions - MPs

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Food bank rise driven by unfair benefit sanctions - MPs

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Published by Jon Land for 24dash.com in Central Government and also in Communities, Housing, Universal Credit

Food bank rise driven by unfair benefit sanctions - MPs Food bank rise driven by unfair benefit sanctions - MPs

Inappropriate sanctions imposed by Jobcentre Plus staff are one of the key reasons behind the rise in the number of people receiving help from food banks, according to a report by MPs.

The Work and Pensions select committee today called for an independent review of the operation of benefit conditionality and sanctioning to ensure that the rules are being applied fairly and appropriately.

The report states: "Evidence suggests that JCP staff have referred many claimants for a sanction inappropriately or in circumstances in which common sense would dictate that discretion should have been applied.

"Some witnesses were concerned that financial hardship caused by sanctioning was a significant factor in a recent rise in referrals to food aid. The report recommends that DWP take urgent steps to monitor the extent of financial hardship caused by sanctions.

"These should include collecting and publishing data on the number of claimants 'signposted' to food aid by JCP and the reasons why these claimants were in need of assistance."

Dame Anne Begg MP, chair of the Work and Pensions committee, said: “An unprecedented number of claimants were sanctioned in the year to June 2013. Whilst conditionality is a necessary part of the benefit system, jobseekers need to have confidence that the sanctioning regime is being applied appropriately, fairly and proportionately and the government needs to assure itself that sanctioning is achieving its intended objective of incentivising people to seek work.”

Today's report also said that the primary purpose of Jobcentre Plus should be to ensure that jobseekers are helped into work and not simply to get them off benefits.

According to the committee, as universal credit is introduced across the country more thorough assessments of claimants' barriers to employment need to be introduced as the present system is "haphazard and prone to missing crucial information".

Dame Anne Begg MP said: “People can leave benefit for a range of reasons, not all of them positive. JCP’s performance is currently measured primarily by the proportion of claimants leaving benefit by specific points in their claims. This takes no account of whether they are leaving benefit to start a job or for less positive reasons, including being sanctioned or simply transferring to another benefit. We believe this risks JCP hitting its targets but missing the point.

"JCP must be very clearly incentivised to get people into work, not just off benefits.”

The report recommends that the DWP should work to establish a jobseeker classification tool to allocate claimants to separate work streams, ensuring that those facing the greatest challenges receive the most support.

Dame Anne Begg MP added: “The processes by which JCP currently establishes claimants’ needs are haphazard and prone to missing crucial information about a person’s barriers to working, including homelessness and drug dependency. A more thorough and systematic approach to assessing claimants’ needs is required.”

Concern was also raised in the report about the long-term resourcing of job centres.

It states: "DWP is required under the 2013 spending round to further reduce its running costs. At the same time Jobcentres are being required to implement changes that could substantially increase their workload. These include:

• Weekly signing on for “half of all jobseekers”;
• Daily signing on for a third of claimants returning to JCP from the work programme; and
• The introduction of an “in-work conditionality” regime under universal credit, widely expected to apply to over one million low paid universal credit claimants.

"There is a lack of transparency around DWP’s assessment of the likely impacts of these changes, in particular the impacts on the numbers of people attending Jobcentres and the resulting workload. It is not currently possible to assess, from any regularly published information, whether JCP will be sufficiently resourced to deliver the range of policy changes and at the same time offer effective employment support."

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