If you think the DWP’s sanctions regime is already bad, the worst could be yet to come

A ripped brown envelope and the DWP logo
Steve Topple

The Department for Work and Pensions’ (DWP) sanctions regime has been subject to yet another damning report. This time, it shows that under Universal Credit, the system is looking out of control. And the worst could be yet to come.

The DWP: under the microscope

As writer Alex Tiffin spotted, the House of Commons Library has released a briefing paper called Universal Credit: why are sanction rates higher? The DWP’s flagship new benefit replaces six old ones (known as “legacy benefits“) with one payment. Currently, what’s known as “live service” Universal Credit has been rolled out in certain areas for new claims. Eventually, the DWP will move everyone onto “full service“, including those on legacy benefits.

The report looks at the sanction rates for people on Universal Credit compared to Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA). The paper mainly deals with sanctions for people who are ‘searching for work’. And the results show that under Universal Credit, the DWP is sanctioning these people at alarming rates.

The report found that in December 2017, the DWP sanctioned 4.6% of Universal Credit claimants; this is versus 0.3% of JSA ones. But the devil is in the detail. Because the report just shows the figures for people the DWP says must look for work.

Worrying figures

It found that of claimants searching for work:

  • The DWP had sanctioned 8.2% of claimants looking for work in December 2017; this fell to 5.3% in May 2018.
  • It sanctioned more under ‘live service’ Universal Credit (10%) than under full service (4%) in May 2018.
  • In April 2018, sanction rates were 5% for Universal Credit live service compared to 1% for JSA.
  • 73% of DWP sanctions for live service Universal Credit claimants between August 2015 and April 2018 were for “failing an interview requirement”.
  • In April 2018, DWP sanctions for “failing an interview requirement” were 86% for live service Universal Credit. This is versus 29% for JSA.

The DWP says… 

The report gave the DWP’s response to its findings. Minister Alok Sharma said:

People will say that under the legacy system the percentage of people being sanctioned was significantly less than for Universal Credit. It is a different system. To give you one example, one of the big reasons why referrals are made on sanctions is that people do not turn up for interviews. Under JSA, if we could not get in touch with you after five days you would effectively fall off the system… and you would not count. Under Universal Credit in that case you may potentially face a sanctions referral because what we would not want is for you to stop getting the additional elements in terms of your UC payment when it came to housing or children.

But the report shows that the DWP’s answer is not the whole story. Because it found that even taking out sanctions for “failing an interview requirement”, rates were still double under live service Universal Credit (0.8%) versus JSA (0.4%).

Unanswered questions

The report says there may be some reasons for these trends:

  • Sanction rates under live service Universal Credit may be higher than full service due to claimants waiting for Work Capability Assessments (WCAs).
  • Universal Credit has [pdf, p12] a more diverse range of claimants on it.

But it also notes it still has questions:

  • Why is the rate of sanctions so high under Universal Credit compared to JSA?
  • What are the consequences of sanctions on the likelihood of claimants finding work?

A warning

Ultimately, the report appears to end with a warning. It says:

[Universal Credit] could extend conditionality [sanctions] to up to 900,000 people not subject to conditionality under the ‘legacy’ system… Also, UC [Universal Credit] will apply conditionality to in-work claimants for the first time.

In other words, if people think the DWP’s sanctions regime is already bad – the worst could be yet to come.

Read the full report:

Get Involved!

– Support the blogs Universal Credit SuffererPolitics and Insights and The Poor Side of Life.

– Get involved with DPAC, fighting for disabled people’s rights.

Featured image via The Canary and UK government – Wikimedia 

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