A new report, built on the most extensive research yet, confirms what we knew: that sanctions don't work. Why is the focus on following the rules, not helping the vulnerable?by Frances Ryan / May 22, 2018 / Leave a comment
In a routine familiar to many a social media user, this morning I opened Facebook to a jarring political meme: this time, one describing how ‘benefit claimants’ supposedly get £850 a week “whilst the rest of us who work don’t get that in a month.”
I found myself thinking of this as I read today’s damning report into the benefit sanction regime. In what is the UK’s most extensive research on benefit sanctions yet, the five-year study found removing people’s benefits is ineffective at getting jobless people into work. Instead, they are more likely to push those affected in to poverty, ill-health or even, for the particularly vulnerable, the grimly-dubbed “survival crime.”
For the minority who did obtain work, the study found the most common outcome was a series of short-term, insecure jobs, interspersed with periods of unemployment, rather than a shift into well paid, long-term work. Appallingly, the study found jobcentres to be more focused on enforcing benefit rules rather than helping people get jobs.
From their introduction under New Labour to their vast acceleration under the Conservatives, benefit sanctions have always been the political equivalent of ‘tough love’—the friend who causes you pain but insists it’s for your own good. Ministers have repeatedly claimed sanctions are effective in ‘focusing’ people for work—as if going hungry clarifies a lazy mind—despite repeated evidence that this is not true (in fact, sanctions have been found to actually push people further away from work).
The shift to increased ‘conditionality’ in the welfare system in recent years has been little more than ideological fantasy; the belief that the unemployed aren’t human beings who need support to find a job but scroungers who need starving as motivation to get off the ‘easy life’ of benefits. It speaks to a wider drive of scapegoating heightened in the post-crash era that has seen politicians point to marginalised groups—be they immigrants or disabled people—as the cause of the nation’s problems.
Shifting the blame
The rise in insecure poverty waged jobs or the inequality in educational opportunities, say, are conveniently not the problem. Instead, blame is placed on the individual who needs help, who is increasingly vilified and dehumanised.
This is evident in the almost sadistic implementation of sanctions—and the policy that led…