The Guardian reports on a study by the University of York that has concluded that benefit sanctions are ineffective at getting jobless people into work and are more likely to reduce those affected to poverty, ill-health or even survival crime.
The paper says that the five-year exercise tracked hundreds of claimants and concluded that the controversial policy of docking benefits as punishment for alleged failures to comply with jobcentre rules has been little short of disastrous:
“Benefit sanctions do little to enhance people’s motivation to prepare for, seek or enter paid work. They routinely trigger profoundly negative personal, financial, health and behavioural outcomes,” the study concludes.
Despite claims by ministers in recent years that rigorously enforced conditionality – including mandatory 35-hour job searches – incentivised claimants to move off benefits into work, the study found the positive impact was negligible.
It calls for a review of the use of sanctions, including an immediate moratorium on benefit sanctions for disabled people who are disproportionately affected, together with an urgent “rebalancing” of the social security system to focus less on compliance and more on helping claimants into work.
In the “rare” cases where claimants did move off benefits into sustained work, researchers found that personalised job support, not sanctions, was the key factor. With few exceptions, however, jobcentres were more focused on enforcing benefit rules rather than helping people get jobs, the study found.
“Although some examples of good practice are evident, much of the mandatory job search, training and employment support offered by Jobcentre Plus and external providers is too generic, of poor quality and largely ineffective in enabling people to enter and sustain paid work,” it says.
For those people interviewed for the study who did obtain work, the most common outcome was a series of short-term, insecure jobs, interspersed with periods of unemployment, rather than a shift into sustained, well-paid work.
Sanctions generally delivered poor outcomes, including debt, poverty and reliance on charities such as food banks, the study found. Often imposed for trivial and seemingly cruel reasons, they frequently triggered high levels of stress, anxiety and depression.
The chances of UK Ministers taking any notice of this study is negligible. Like the majority of the population they want to see those on benefits secure meaningful and rewarding employment. However, their approach has been too unfocussed, has penalised those with disabilities disproportionately and led to far too many negative outcomes.
There needs to be a much more targeted approach which supports those trying to get into work, incentivises and enables those who have low confidence or self-esteem and takes account of disabilities. That would involve the state no longer looking on claimants as numbers that help them fulfil their targets but as human beings in need of support.
I am not holding my breath.