Unfair sanctions and the single parent
The government is systematically underestimating the risk of sanctions to single parents, according to new research by Gingerbread, the national charity for single parent families.
Criticisms of benefit sanctions range from procedural complaints to questioning the need for any sanctions system.
One particular concern is that sanctions continue to penalise claimants for genuine mistakes or for failings in administration by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), rather than claimants intentionally contravening rules or avoiding job-seeking duties.
This is especially pertinent for single parents.
From Gingerbread’s advice and research experience, late arrival for an appointment a childcare emergency or DWP advisers’ lack of understanding of how single parents’ caring responsibilities can limit job-seeking too often results in sanctions.
“On the rise: single parent sanctions in numbers” is a major new examination of the government’s ongoing commitment to stringent ‘conditionality’ in the welfare system – the ever tougher standards that claimants of jobseeker’s allowance must satisfy in order to receive benefits.
The findings include:
1 – The risk of sanctions is far higher than the government claims – at its peak, around one in five single parents a year were referred for a sanction, and one in seven had a sanction imposed.
In the last decade, over 209,000 single parents were referred for a sanction; with some referred more than once, there were over 433,000 referrals in total.
Over the same period, around 160,000 single parents have had a sanction imposed; there were around 245,000 sanctions in total.
2 – Single parents are at particular risk of unfair sanctions – they’re more likely than other claimants to get their sanction overturned.
Since new rules were introduced in October 2012, 61 per cent of formal challenges to single parent sanctions are successful, compared with 53 per cent of challenges to other sanctions.
3 – Sanctions stop millions of pounds in benefit payments – £40 million has been stopped since new rules came in.
Under the new regime alone, sanctions have stopped around £40 million in JSA payments to single parents – or around £24 million once hardship payments and repayments of overturned sanctions are taken into account
The government defends the sanctions regime as a last resort, only used in a “tiny minority” of cases against those who deliberately refuse to cooperate. See From welfare state to welfare system.
Yet in the last decade, around 160,000 single parents have been sanctioned, affecting 250,000 children.
And this new evidence suggests that sanctioning is a much more common threat since stricter rules were introduced in 2012.
While around one in ten single parents were referred for a sanction a year before 2010, this increased to one in five when stricter rules were introduced in 2012/13. Similarly, while sanction rates were around 4-6 per cent before 2010, they peaked at 14-15 per cent under the new regime.
The findings are especially troubling as the new benefits system – Universal Credit – is set to increase the scope of conditionality, with 165,000 single parents of three and four year-olds soon to be at risk of being sanctioned if they are not actively seeking work.
The new changes will also see the introduction for the first time of ‘in-work conditionality,’ with single parents facing the prospect of sanctions if they don’t work enough hours or earn enough money.
Gingerbread’s Research Officer, Sumi Rabindrakumar, said: “Single parents want to work – already two-thirds do.
“We know through our helpline, however, that single parents increasingly feel punished for being unable to juggle seeking work and looking after their children; this report confirms this is in fact a widespread experience.
“Parents not only fall foul of an inflexible system, but are also sanctioned for errors made by the DWP itself – with resulting hardships that risk pushing them further from work.
“These are sobering findings, at a time when the government is dramatically increasing the reach of sanctions through welfare reform,” Rabindrakumar conintued.
“All the evidence suggests that a system that is supposed to help people out of poverty all too often unfairly strips away vital financial support from those who need it most.
“Unfair sanctions put families under severe strain and waste government resources.
“The government can no longer afford to put off a proper review of the sanctions system.”
To read the full report click here.
To read the executive summary click here.