Benefit sanction used 818,000 times

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A new sanctions regime has led to Jobseeker's Allowance claimants having their benefits suspended more than 800,000 times because they failed to do enough to find work or turned down job offers, according to new government figures.

The tougher rules were introduced in October 2012 as ministers made it clear what claimants had to do in return for their benefits.

Payments have been suspended a total of 818,000 times since then if claimants failed to attend an appointment, rejected a job offer or were not doing enough to find work.

Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith said: "This Government has always been clear that in return for claiming unemployment benefits jobseekers have a responsibility to do everything they can to get back into work.

"As part of the Government's long-term economic plan, we are ending the something for nothing culture and supporting those who want to work hard and play by the rules.

"People who are in a job know that if they don't play by the rules or fail to turn up in the morning, there might be consequences, so it's only right that people on benefits should have similar responsibilities.
Sanctions are used as a last resort, but it's only right that there is a penalty if people fail to play by them."

The most common reason for a sanction was a failure on the part of a jobseeker to actively look for work.

Almost a third of those sanctioned did not take part in an employment programme.

In each month sanctions affect up to 6% of the number of people claiming Jobseeker's Allowance, said the Department for Work and Pensions.

Steve Winyard, head of campaigns and policy at the RNIB, said: "More than 15,000 disabled people are losing payments as a result of sanctions every month, including many blind and partially sighted people.

"Too often DWP and its agencies are not providing people with the information on what they need to do to receive benefits in accessible formats, like braille or large print.

"RNIB has won cases against DWP for these very failures. But sanctions have led to blind and partially sighted people being forced to rely on food banks whilst they wait for the Government to correct its own mistakes."

The DWP said people who are in genuine need can apply for hardship payments.

TUC general secretary Frances O'Grady said: "Church leaders are only the latest to say that the harsh benefits sanctions regime is causing hardship and destitution. The number of sanctions has grown sharply amid allegations of pressure on jobcentre staff to penalise more claimants.

"Of course the unemployed should seek work but, when people are being sanctioned for going to family funerals rather than seek work and those without IT skills penalised for not applying online, we are not catching cheats but undermining a safety net that any of us might need."

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