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Benefits are halted for more than 2,600 Shropshire claimants

By Lisa O'Brien | Politics | Published:

More than 2,600 job seekers in Shropshire have had their benefits stopped or reduced for up to three years, new figures have revealed.

It comes after the Government announced it is scrapping lengthy sanctions.

Work and pensions secretary Amber Rudd has announced that she is ending three-year benefit sanctions, which she said were "counterproductive" and failed to help people into work.

Sanctions will now be capped at a maximum of six months.

Anti-poverty charities have welcomed the decision to scrap the harshest penalties, but urged the Government to make further reforms to end all punitive sanctions, which they said could leave people "hungry, in debt, and on the brink of homelessness".

Department for Work and Pensions data shows 1,510 high-level sanctions were imposed on people claiming Jobseekers Allowance in the Shropshire Council area between October 2012 – when the current sanctions system was introduced – and January 2019.

However, the data reveals job centre staff tried to impose high-level sanctions 3,990 times, with the decision overturned or the case against the claimant cancelled in the remaining 2,480 cases.

In Telford & Wrekin data showed 1,100 high-level sanctions were imposed, but job centre staff tried to impose high-level sanctions 2,830 times, with the decision overturned or the case against the claimant cancelled in the remaining 1,730 cases.

Reasons

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JSA claimants can be sanctioned for a variety of reasons, such as being late for appointments, not doing enough to look for work, or failing to attend a training programme.

High-level sanctions are the harshest penalties, and last for a period of three months, six months, or three years, depending on the severity of the claimant's infraction and how many times they have been sanctioned previously.

There have been 2.1 million sanctions handed out to JSA claimants across Great Britain since October 2012, of which 185,858 were high-level.

In total, 6,914 sanctions have been imposed on claimants in Shropshire and 8,324 in Telford and Wrekin.

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Anna Stevenson, welfare benefits specialist at the anti-poverty charity Turn2us, said she cautiously welcomed the news that sanctions would be capped, but called for further action.

“Every day we hear from people who have been sanctioned saying it has pushed them over the edge into poverty, leaving them hungry, in debt, and on the brink of homelessness," she said.

“Study after study shows sanctions do not work, so we urge the DWP to scrap all punitive measures, such as sanctions, and build a compassionate welfare system that works for everyone.”

A spokeswoman for the DWP said sanctions are necessary for the integrity of the system, and are only used when people don't fulfil their commitments to look for work.

"Financial sanctions become much less valuable over time and undermine our aim to help people into employment," she continued.

“That is why we recently announced a reduction in length of the maximum sanction to make them more proportionate, and why we have already launched an evaluation to consider further improvements we can make."

She added that most high-level sanctions lasted for three months rather than three years.

Lisa O'Brien

By Lisa O'Brien
Senior Reporter - @lisaobrien_Star

Senior reporter based at Shropshire Star's head office in Ketley. Covering the Telford area.

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