More than 500 job seekers in Scarborough have had their benefits stopped or reduced for up to three years, new figures reveal.
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 560 high-level sanctions were imposed on people claiming Jobseekers Allowance in Scarborough 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 1,370 times, with the decision overturned or the case against the claimant cancelled in the remaining 815 cases.
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.
In total, 4,025 sanctions have been imposed on claimants in Scarborough.
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.
She said: “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.”
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.
She said: “Financial sanctions become much less valuable over time and undermine our aim to help people into employment.”