Senior MP highlights 'troubling' benefit sanctions as committee launches inquiry

MPs have launched a fresh inquiry into benefit sanctions amid warnings of troubling cases and extreme harm being caused to disabled people.

The Work and Pensions select committee will analyse the whole system where benefit payments are docked for a set period of time.

The committee will also analyse the so-called "yellow card" system of sanctions, which ministers are yet to implement two years after it was first trialled.

The Department for Work and Pensions said sanctions were only used in a small number of cases.

Labour MP Frank Field, who chairs the committee, said: "Sanctions are an important part of any benefits system but they need to be applied proportionately and fairly and to account for individual circumstances.

"I've seen deeply troubling cases in my constituency that suggest these objectives are not always being achieved.

"We will be reviewing the evidence to see if sanctions policy is working properly and if not, we will recommend improvements."

Sanctions can be imposed for breaching benefit conditions like attending a work placement, or for being minutes late for a Jobcentre appointment.

But there have been numerous reports of poor practice in the system, such as people in hospital being sanctioned for missing a benefits appointment.

"Punitive sanctions can be extremely harmful to disabled people, who already face hundreds of pounds a month of extra living costs," said Mark Atkinson, chief executive at disability charity Scope.

"There is no clear evidence that cutting disabled people's benefits supports them to get into and stay in work.

"Disabled people tell us sanctions cause immense stress and anxiety, pushing the very people that the Government aims to support into work further away from the jobs market.

"We need to finally see an end to the highly damaging sanctions regime."

The inquiry will look at recent sanctions policy developments, like the "yellow card" system which gives claimants 14 days to challenge a decision to impose a sanction before it is put into effect.

A trial of such a system was announced in late 2015 and took place in parts of Scotland the following year.

As yet there is no date for introducing the yellow card system, with ministers saying the final evaluation of the trial has proved complex.

The trial was done in response to a previous inquiry by the select committee into benefit sanctions.

The new inquiry will also consider the evidence base for the impact of sanctions, both that emerging from newly published statistics, and the robustness of the evidence base for the current use of sanctions as a means of achieving policy objectives.

A DWP spokeswoman said: "We're committed to ensuring that people get what they're entitled to receive in benefits.

"But it is reasonable that people have to meet certain requirements in return for payments.

"Sanctions are only used in a small minority of cases when people don't have a good reason for not doing what they agreed to do."

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