East Ham PM Stephen Timms says unfair penalties in benefits system won’t help anyone


- Credit: Archant

Earlier this month, I spoke during a House of Commons debate about sanctions in the benefit system.

This is the system of “fines” under which people who don’t meet the conditions for receiving benefit, such as signing on at the job centre on the correct day, have their benefit reduced.

In the last year under Labour, £11million was withheld in benefit sanctions. There has been a huge increase since then.

According to an answer to a parliamentary question I asked, £60m was withheld in the first six months of 2012-13 alone.

Ministers have since refused to provide further updates.

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Food banks report that many people resort to them because they have been sanctioned.

The purpose of sanctions is to put people right if they don’t do what they should to find work.

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Increasingly, though, jobseekers feel job centres are trying to catch them out.

Jobcentre Plus staff say they are under pressure to hand out sanctions. People suffering sanctions often have no idea of the reason.

A Community Links report, Tipping the Balance, explores the impact of government welfare reforms in Newham.

It notes fear and misunderstanding around sanctions.

People are afraid of making tiny mistakes, like being a minute late for a meeting.

The report tells of a young woman wrongly sanctioned several times.

For example, she arranged with her adviser to do work experience with a business, so didn’t go to the job centre on the usual day. She was sanctioned.

Sanctions are a justified part of the benefit system. But they must be fair.

And the reason for them needs to be clear, otherwise people won’t be able to put right whatever it is that they are doing wrong.

Arbitrary and unfair sanctions don’t help anybody.

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