The government has significantly understated the impact of its benefit sanctions regime, according to Guardian research that shows one in six of all jobseekers have their payments stopped each year.
The figures contradict official claims that only a small minority of jobseekers have been affected by the government’s increasingly severe welfare policies.
The Guardian’s analysis shows that of those unemployed for 12 months up to April 2014, 16.7% faced a financial penalty. The figure for the previous year was 14.8%.
This compares to 7.8% in 2009 and 7.7% in 2010 – the last years of the Labour government.
The Guardian’s annualised figures contrast with the government’s stated monthly sanctions rate of 6% – a figure used to back Whitehall claims that sanctions are imposed only as a “last resort” and on a small number of people.
Two formal complaints have been lodged with the UK statistics watchdog in recent weeks, with the government accused of misleading the public over the extent of sanctions and calls for more robust data to be issued.
Last month, the welfare minister, David Freud, refused to give parliament annualised sanction rates, saying that it was too expensive for the Department for Work and Pensions to provide them.
The Green party, which has been seeking publication of the figures, said: “The DWP clearly has something to hide. It has misrepresented its figures to cover up the full extent of its pernicious sanctions regime.
“The DWP should come clean and provide a true and accurate annual estimate. About one in six jobseekers are being sanctioned and this is taking a terrible toll – not just on jobseekers, but their families and children.”
Sanctions – the financial penalties under which a jobseeker loses unemployment benefits – have become an increasingly important tool as successive governments have tightened welfare rules to demonstrate that they are tough on benefit claimants.
The most recent tightening, in October 2012, saw the time limit that a jobseeker could be stripped of benefits rise to a minimum of four weeks and a maximum of three years. In 2013, the absolute number of sanctions issued by jobcentre staff hit the 1m mark.
The government has come under increasing political pressure over its sanctions policy, which has been blamed for causing stress, ill health, hunger and food bank dependency among vulnerable jobseekers and linked to the death of several claimants, including ex-soldier David Clapson.
On 26 July, the government’s official policy board, the social security advisory committee, called for an urgent review of sanctions, pointing out there was no evidence that the system helped get people into jobs.
The committee’s advice echoed the findings of a cross-party MPs’ report in March, which called for an independent review after concluding the current sanctions system was unfair, punitive and ineffective. The government has yet to formally respond.
In January, the Commons work and pensions committee heard independent estimates that as a result of benefit sanctions £275m had been withheld from claimants since 2012.
The DWP criticised the Guardian figures, saying they were likely to be an overestimate and insisted that its use of monthly figures was robust. A spokeswoman said: “A monthly figure better reflects the number of current claimants who are subject to a sanction, and is therefore a better estimate at a given point in time.”
The department said it had clarified the conditions of claiming benefits, to which jobseekers must formally agree. It added that the absolute number of sanctions had started to fall.
Governments have only ever publicly produced monthly figures – which have fluctuated between 3% and 6% each month over the past five years – to illustrate how the scale and impact of sanctions policy change over time. But two complaints, submitted to the UK Statistics Authority, argue that the monthly figure is technically flawed and that by using it the DWP distorts public understanding of the policy.
In a detailed 12-page complaint submitted by one of the UK’s foremost sanctions experts, Glasgow University research fellow David Webster accuses the DWP of “systematic understatement” and “gross and systematic misrepresentation of sanctions as affecting only a small minority of claimants when the data shows that they affect a large minority”.
Last month, UKSA acknowledged in a reply to a similar complaint from Jonathan Portes, the director of the National Institute of Economic and Social Research, that the DWP was in breach of the code of practice for official statistics over its presentation of sanctions data, noting that its methods and data sources were “unclear”.
Speaking to the Guardian about his complaint, Portes said: “It is absolutely clear that, whether deliberately or otherwise, DWP presentation of the sanctions statistics has been at best confusing and sloppy. Worse still, that has led to ministers and the media making statements about the supposedly low level of sanction rates, which are quite clearly misleading.”
The source of Portes’s complaint was a DWP press release in May citing a range of annual sanctions-related numbers. The release claimed that 94% of jobseeker’s allowance claimants were not hit with sanctions, although it is not made clear that this figure is a monthly average.
The confusion that citing monthly rates can cause was illustrated in a Commons debate in February, in which the Tory MP for Stourbridge, Margot James, accused Labour MPs of overstating the extent of sanctions, which she said only applied to “a small minority”.
James told MPs she had been told by her local jobcentre that its annual sanctions rate was less than 5%. After Webster contacted her following the debate to point out that the 5% was a monthly average figure, she acknowledged her mistake and promised to amend her statement on the matter in future. Webster estimates the annual rate for Stourbridge jobcentre was likely to be nearly 18%.
The above article is from The Guardian
Donate from £2.50- https://jsuknewsofficial.wordpress.com/donate/