Church Action on Poverty joined with several churches recently to make a submission to an MPs’ inquiry into benefit sanctions. Lucy Zwolinska of the Joint Public Issues Team explains what we’re asking for.
“The threat [of sanctions] is so heavy. It is like being crushed. It seems as if we are no longer regarded as human beings. You are under constant suspicion and scrutiny.”
Maria McCormack and Darren Murray, Glasgow Poverty Truth Commissioners, quoted in Time to Rethink Benefit Sanctions
There is strong evidence that sanctions cause hardship but very poor evidence that the system improves labour market outcomes. Church Action on Poverty, along with other charities and churches, has been calling for an end to the sanctions regime for many years, most notably in 2015 in the report Time to Rethink Benefit Sanctions.
Unfortunately, this cruel and dehumanising regime continues. Sanctions remain integral to the benefit system and under Universal Credit this will only become worse, with an estimated one million families becoming vulnerable to sanctions.
The Work and Pensions Committee are currently undertaking an inquiry into benefit sanctions. The inquiry is examining recent developments in the policy around sanctions and into the evidence base that the Department for Work and Pensions use to justify sanctions.
The Baptist Union of Great Britain, the Church of Scotland, the Methodist Church, the United Reformed Church and Church Action on Poverty have submitted a response to the inquiry which you can read in full below, but here is a quick summary:
- We call for a full independent review of the sanctions regime where the views of those who experience poverty are included and valued.
- Any change in the regime should move away from the current initial focus on compliance and threat towards one of advice and support. Applying sanctions to those unable to work due to ill health is both damaging to the individuals concerned and counterproductive in improving work-outcomes; it is perverse to continue to do so without a full review of the evidence.