Shropshire Star

Shropshire 'postcode lottery' claim over sanctions for Universal Credit claimants

Hundreds of jobseekers in Shropshire have have their benefits cut or stopped in a what is being called a "postcode lottery" of Universal Credit sanctions.

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Job seekers face a "postcode lottery" of sanctions

Analysis of Home Office data by think tank the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR), has found that in Telford and Wrekin, one in 10 Universal Credit claimants searching for work have had their benefits either halted or reduced.

In the rest of Shropshire, that figure is just one in 15, and the IPPR is now calling on the government to halt the "postcode lottery" of sanctions during the cost of living crisis.

The IPPR analysis found that of the 3,820 people receiving Universal Credit in Telford and Wrekin that were deemed to be 'looking for work' as of November 2022, 400 (10.5 per cent) had been sanctioned by having their benefits either cut or reduced.

In Shropshire, of the 4,143 people Universal Credit claimants, just 282 (6.8 per cent) had been sanctioned.

The IPRR said people are most often sanctioned due to missing Jobcentre appointments.

Across the country, around 100,000 people have had their Universal Credit payments cut, around one in every 13 claimants.

Henry Parkes, senior economist at the IPPR, said: “Sanction rates are climbing rapidly, and it seems your chances of being sanctioned are largely down to the temperament of your local Jobcentre.

"We already know that sanctions can push people into destitution, so as the cost-of-living crisis continues it is urgent that the government pauses, rather than expands, its sanctions regime while it investigates what’s driving the rise and variation in sanction rates."

He added that the rate varies significantly between local areas – ranging from 2.9 per cent of recipients in Broadland, Norfolk, to 13 per cent in Knowsley, in Merseyside.

The figures show people in the North of England are far more likely to face benefit sanctions – with the North East (9.2 per cent), North West (9 per cent) and Yorkshire and the Humber (8.8 per cent) topping the list of worst-impacted regions.

The West Midlands, meanwhile, had 7.6 per cent penalised as of November.

“To press ahead instead with even tougher sanctions when the existing system is already something of a postcode lottery, and when everyone is struggling with rising living costs, would be both foolish and unfair,” Mr Parkes said.

He added there was not enough clarity on why jobseekers on Universal Credit are having their benefits cut, or for the significant regional differences.

In the spring Budget, Chancellor Jeremy Hunt announced the sanctions regime is to be "strengthened", particularly for those failing to look for work.

A Department for Work and Pensions spokesperson said: “Our priority is to help people find and move into work and the latest figures show an overwhelming amount - 97.6 per cent - of sanctions are applied simply due to claimants failing to attend mandatory appointments, not for failing to undertake work search requirements.

“Sanctions can often quickly be resolved by the claimant re-engaging with the Jobcentre and attending the next appointment,” the spokesperson added.