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Benefit sanctions are having a devastating impact on vulnerable people in Salford.
Instead of encouraging people into jobs, they are driving people into destitution and despair and putting a huge strain on public and voluntary sector organisations.
Young people, in particular, are ‘disappearing’ – abandoning benefit claims and relying on friends and families already under financial strain to bail them out.
That’s the conclusion of the latest report into the impact of benefit sanctions and Universal Credit by the Salford Task Force, a partnership of Salford City Council Salford CVS, Citizen’s Advice and Salford Unemployed and Community Resource Centre. It follows a similar report in 2014.
Download the 2016 Report: DWP Benefit Conditionality and Sanctions in Salford
“People on benefits are already struggling to afford food, heating and essential costs. They can’t save so they have no financial safety net. They live in dread of being sanctioned which isn’t the right frame of mind for job hunting, volunteering or going back into education,” said City Mayor Paul Dennett.
“If they are sanctioned and lose their benefits they’re immediately in crisis – turning to food banks, voluntary agencies and public sector organisations for help with food and keeping a roof over their heads. This is putting a huge strain on people and organisations struggling to maintain services and support in the face of government funding cuts. Over 60% of referrals to Salford Central Food bank are for people who have been sanctioned.
“We are particularly concerned about young people who don’t have strong literacy or IT skills or who have unsettled or chaotic home lives with no access to computers. They need intensive help from support agencies which are struggling to cope with the demand and are often sanctioned for not trying hard enough to find work. Often they are paid rates below the government’s new minimum wage of £7.20 because they’re under 25. Some then have to borrow from relatives just to eat until the sanction is lifted, putting a strain on stretched household budgets. Either this, or drop their benefit claim altogether living hand to mouth – sometimes turning to crime to survive.
“Often the same people are sanctioned multiple times instead of tackling the underlying problem. We heard about one man who is deaf and has learning difficulties who has been sanctioned five times for being unable to complete work search diary sheets and cope with appointments.”
Since the first report, which was submitted to the all-party Parliamentary enquiry into benefit sanctions, Salford partners have worked with Jobcentre Plus to raise awareness of how to meet the needs of vulnerable clients and provide claimants with clearer information about their commitment to job seeking and the consequences of not complying.
They have also worked to tackle the impact of sanctions on housing benefit, which could lead to rent arrears and re-possession action, which has led to more cases being dealt with at an earlier stage.
They have also trained frontline workers about welfare reform changes and how to better support claimants and developed expertise in the advice sector to challenge sanctions.
However the latest report says that while the overall number of sanction decisions has gone down nationally, the rate of people being sanctioned in Eccles and Worsley Jobcentres has actually increased since the last report.
The Task Force are taking the findings of the report and asking Salford’s Skills and Work Board to agree a partnership action plan for the city and to join national calls for an independent enquiry into the conditionality and benefit sanctions regime.
The 2014 report is available here: DWP Conditionality and Sanctions interim report
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