Benefits 'taken away unfairly' from 70,000 people

Published on Monday, 03 March 2014 10:07
Written by Daniel Mason

Nearly 70,000 jobseekers have had their benefits unfairly withdrawn, contributing to the rise in the number of people relying on food banks, a thinktank warned today.

Policy Exchange said the sanctions regime should be reformed to make it more compassionate towards first time offenders but harsher on those who repeatedly break the rules.

According to the report, Smarter Sanctions, some 68,000 people on Jobseekers' Allowance have had their benefits taken away wrongly, causing them unnecessary hardship.

It said the figures referred to claimants who, for example, had financial penalties imposed for missing a jobcentre interview for the first time and were forced to turn to food banks until the sanction was later overturned on appeal.

"It is clear that there are a significant number of people who have their benefit taken away from them unfairly," said Guy Miscampbell, the author of the report and Policy Exchange's economic and social policy research fellow.

"Four weeks without any money is driving people to desperate measures including a reliance on food banks."

The right-of-centre thinktank proposed that first time offenders be issued with a 'benefits card' credited with their weekly payments, to be used for a maximum of eight weeks. If any further are rules were broken the card and the benefits would be taken away.

"Issuing first time offenders, who may or may not have been fairly sanctioned, with a 'yellow card' in the form of a benefits card would be a more compassionate way of trying to help people back into work," said Miscampbell.

The report also called for harsher penalties for serial offenders, including removing benefits for 13 to 26 weeks for a third breach, with another 13 weeks added for any further offence. Between October 2012 and September 2013 there were 30,000 people on their third sanction for transgressions such as missing jobcentre interviews, the research found.

"The welfare system must also come down hard on people who are consistently failing to do all they can to find a job," Miscampbell said.

"Fairness is integral to the sanctions system and people must know if they choose not to play by the rules then they will receive harsher penalties."

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