Revealed: Number of jobseekers in Newham that have suffered benefit sanctions
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Hundreds of jobseekers in Newham have had their benefits stopped or had them reduced for up to three years, shock figures reveal.
But now the government is yielding to pressure from anti-poverty charities and is scrapping such lengthy punishments.
Ending the three-year benefit sanctions has been announced by work and pensions secretary Amber Rudd because they were "counter productive" and failed to help people into work, she admitted.
Sanctions will now be capped at a maximum of six months.
Charities such as Turn2us have this week urged the government to make yet more reforms.
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"Study after study shows sanctions don't work," the charity's Anna Stevenson said. "So we urge scrapping all punitive measures and building a compassionate welfare system that works for everyone.
"Every day we hear from people saying sanctions have pushed them over the edge into poverty, leaving them hungry, in debt, and on the brink of homelessness."
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Claimants can face sanctions for being late for appointments, not doing enough to look for work or failing to attend training. High-level penalties last three or six months—or three years.
There have been 1,930 heavy sanctions on people claiming Jobseekers Allowance in Newham since October 2012, when the punishments were brought in, according to Department for Work and Pensions' data.
Ian Porter, from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, warned that sanctions should only ever be used as a last resort.
He said: "Our social security system should be a public service that protects people from harm—but sanctions are tipping people into destitution."
The Work and Pensions department insist that sanctions "are necessary for the integrity of the system" and are only used when people don't fulfil their commitments to look for work. But now there was a re-think by Whitehall.
A department spokesman said: "Financial sanctions become much less valuable over time and undermine our aim to help people into employment. That's why we announced a reduction in high-level sanctions to be more proportionate."
Jobcentre staff in Newham trying to impose high-level sanctions had their decisions overturned in 4,150 cases since 2012.
Numbers of punishments levelled against claimants all over the UK have reached two-million in seven years—including 186,000 at high level.