AN INDEPENDENT review of the benefits system in York has claimed Government sanctions have caused suffering to vulnerable claimants in the city.
The review was carried out by Advice York – made up of Citizens Advice Bureau, York Food Bank, Castlegate and York Housing Association and City of York Financial Assistance Scheme – in response to changes to Job Centre Plus.
The changes allowed authorities to stop benefits for between one and 26 weeks to claimants who had not met certain conditions, including failing to attend Job Centre interviews, failing to take part in back-to-work schemes, or not actively seeking work.
The report said: “Rather than incentivising employment, sanctions are debilitating it.
“Rather than encouraging clients into employment, the way sanctions are currently applied, discourages and gets in the way of people applying for jobs and can result in hardship once employment is found.”
The report highlighted a number of case studies from claimants around the city including one woman Job Seeker’s Allowance claimant who suffers from depression and asthma, and was sanctioned for four months for missing her work programme.
The case study said: “The client explained that the reason she has missed her work programmes is because of how down she is and is finding it difficult to go out of the house.
“The client is now receiving hardship payments, but she has debts that she is now unable to pay. She is generally struggling to live on her income of £86 per fortnight. Both these issues are exacerbating her depression, making her less able to look for work and fully engage.”
The report suggested Job Centre advisors could undergo better training to take individuals’ needs into account, rather than automatically apply sanctions.
It also said the problem with the sanctions was “a lack of flexibility and understanding”, recommended a further review into sanctions and whether they were effective in encouraging and enabling people to look for and get back into employment, and said claimants’ ability to use the internet to apply for jobs should also be considered.
In another case study, the report looked at a man who has been unemployed for two years and was sanctioned for missing an appointment at the Job Centre.
It was later revealed he was not receiving post at his home as his visiting girlfriend’s dog was attacking the postman and the Post Office declined to make deliveries to his house. They sent him a letter to say so, but it was kept at the post office.
He challenged the sanction imposed on him, but it was upheld. He has no income, electricity, gas or food, and has had to visit a local community church centre for breakfast. Advice York issued him a food bank voucher, but his sanction is still set to last for several weeks.
The report claimed this showed decisions made by Job Centre staff had not been reasonable, and showed “the long term consequences of a sanction can be severe”, with claimants borrowing money to live, then falling into further hardship repaying the loans when benefits are reinstated.