Monday, 2 March 2015

Sanctioned benefit levels hit new high - up 3,000% since 2009/10


Andrew Fisher on the astonishing rise and rise of sanctions in the benefit system

New figures out earlier this month showed 150,003 sanctions issued to jobseekers for the last three months (Jul-Sep 2014), down from 160,282 in the three months prior (Apr-Jun).

So is the rise in punitive measures that has seen sanctions increase by 137% under this government compared with the last (see Robbing from the poor ...) finally over, given a 6.4% decrease in the total number of sanctions?

The number of claimants has declined over that period from an average of 1,038,367 (Apr-Jun) to 975,433 (Jul-Sep). This represents a 6.1% decrease in the average number of claimants - meaning the sanction rate has stayed roughly the same.

So while many commentators have rightly been highlighting the rise in the number of sanctions, how does the rise in sanctions correlate with the claimant count, i.e. has the sanction rate increased dramatically?

The chart below shows the rise in the number of sanctions seemed to accelerate with the passing of the Welfare Reform Act 2009, although this period also coincided with rising unemployment.


So if we now look at the sanction rate (the number of sanctions issued per month compared with the monthly claimant count) how does that chart now look?


So sanction rate shows us that the 2009 Act itself seems to have little immediate effect. If we compare the sanction rate in the last 52 months of Labour government with the 52 months of Conservative government for which data is available, it shows the sanction rate of JSA claimants has increased by 62%.

In the two years after which the sanction regime was tightened further in October 2012, the sanction rate of claimants has nearly doubled from the last period under Labour, rising by 86%.

But the main issue with the sanctions regime post-October 2012 is not the increase in the number of sanctions, but the length of sanction that is imposed: a minimum of four weeks for a first offence, rising to 13 weeks for most subsequent offences - although penalties of 26 weeks and even 3 years are possible (over 2,000 sanctions have been issued for 3 years).

The last time we analysed the data (in November 2013), we found that "in cash terms, the figures are even more stark: in 2009/10, £11 million of jobseeker's allowance (JSA) benefits were sanctioned, but in first six months of 2012/13 alone it was £60 million" (source here).

Our estimate (using DWP data) is that in the last year (Oct 2013 - Sep 2014) the value of JSA payments sanctioned is £355 million.

This represents a more than 3,000% increase* on the value of JSA sanctioned in the last year of a Labour government - which explains why the issue of benefit sanctions has become such a big political issue, and have caused such hardship and rising food bank usage.

As Professor David Webster has said, "benefit sanctions are an amateurish, secret penal system which is more severe than the mainstream judicial system".
enefit sanctions are an amateurish, secret penal system which is more severe than the mainstream judicial system - See more at: http://www.crimeandjustice.org.uk/resources/benefit-sanctions-britains-secret-penal-system#sthash.knfJ9wI4.dpuf
enefit sanctions are an amateurish, secret penal system which is more severe than the mainstream judicial system - See more at: http://www.crimeandjustice.org.uk/resources/benefit-sanctions-britains-secret-penal-system#sthash.knfJ9wI4.dpuf

It is no wonder then that claimant activists are protesting on 19 March in a National Day of Action against Sanctions.

 *This is what a 3,000% increase looks like:
  

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