Last Tuesday (28th January) the Work and Pensions Committee, of which I am a member, published a report which backed my request during Committee evidence sessions that the Government should set up an independent review into the way sanctions are being applied to hundreds of thousands of people on benefits.
This followed two Committee evidence sessions in November where I quizzed Iain Duncan Smith, Secretary of State for Work and Pensions and his Minister of State for Employment, Esther McVey and called for an independent review.
I brought to the Secretary of State’s attention evidence from a whistleblower who approached me with evidence that the Government are setting Jobcentre Plus staff targets to get as many claimants off benefits as they can just so they can distort the unemployment figures.
I have also had a number of constituents coming to my advice surgeries with examples of inappropriate sanctions, including one who had a heart attack during a health assessment and was sanctioned for inability to complete the assessment.
The misery this Government is causing to hundreds of thousands of people on benefits in Oldham and across the country is unforgivable; but, at last, they can no longer ignore the demand that a full and independent review should be carried out.
No-one is arguing with the fact that anyone who is on benefits should do all they can to find appropriate work. However, this Government have gone beyond the pale by using underhand tactics to manipulate unemployment data.
Since the initial evidence session with Iain Duncan Smith, I have received e-mails and letters from people across the country giving evidence of inappropriate sanctions that had been applied to them.
The Work and Pensions Committee report into Jobcentre Plus makes a number of conclusions and recommendations including:
“Evidence suggests that JCP staff have referred many claimants for a sanction inappropriately or in circumstances in which common sense would dictate that discretion should have been applied. A limited independent review of sanctioning has been established by DWP. The Committee recommends that there should be a separate, broader independent review of the operation of benefit conditionality and sanctioning to ensure that the rules are being applied fairly and appropriately. This review should also investigate whether, and to what extent, sanctioning is having the desired effect of encouraging claimants to engage more actively in job-seeking.
“Some witnesses were concerned that financial hardship caused by sanctioning was a significant factor in a recent rise in referrals to food aid. The Report recommends that DWP take urgent steps to monitor the extent of financial hardship caused by sanctions. These should include collecting and publishing data on the number of claimants “signposted” to food aid by JCP and the reasons why these claimants were in need of assistance.”
The full report can be found here
The transcript from the evidence session with Esther McVey MP on 20th November 2013 can be found here