EXCLUSIVE: Benefits investigation reveals heavy impacts of sanctions

Unite campaigners have demonstrated in the past with a 'die-in' outside Chesterfield Jobcentre.
Unite campaigners have demonstrated in the past with a 'die-in' outside Chesterfield Jobcentre.

A groundbreaking study on benefits receivers in Chesterfield has revealed the shocking impacts of the system on local people.

Research by Financial Action and Advice Derbyshire, and released exclusively to the Derbyshire Times, reveals the horrifying degree of pressure placed on people who are relying on the state to survive while they look for work.

Job Centre Plus

Job Centre Plus

* 95 per cent of sanctions result in stress and anxiety

* 3/4 people said sanctions made it harder to find work

Almost all jobseekers interviewed as part of the comprehensive study said they suffered some stress or anxiety as a result of receiving benefits sanctions, and shockingly a quarter said the horrendous effects (both financial and on mental health) of having benefits withdrawn were still being felt six months later.

But the research is most damning of jobcentre policies as a huge 72 per cent of interviewees said sanctions actually made their jobsearch more difficult.

Beverley Parker from Financial Action and Advice Derbyshire said: “Our research shows that punishing people for not following the rules is not only pointless, it is causing severe and enduring hardship for many people.

“Most people feel totally unable to do anything about the sanction and many are still feeling the effects six months later.”

“We would urge anyone who receives a sanction to take immediate steps to challenge their decision – and to ask for a hardship payment to cover their day to day living expenses.

“No-one should go without food or heating as a result of a sanction.”

The study, which looked into whether sanctions help people into work, found overwhelmingly that people living on benefits were forced to borrow money from friends and family to live, while 41 per cent went to a food bank.

Dispelling ideas that benefits receivers are work-shy, it also showed that 85 per cent said they felt happier in work.

Only 15 per cent of people said the sanctions encouraged them to apply for more jobs, and only 30 per cent said a sanction inspired them to follow jobcentre rules.

In extreme cases people also stopped paying their rent and utility bills, and four per cent of people broke the law by entering into ‘informal/cash-in-hand work’.

Amazingly, 57 per cent of people cut into their food bill to survive the sanction.

Angela Stansfield of the Jobcentre Plus said: “Sanctions aren’t a tool to encourage people into work, they’re placed when people don’t meet the criteria of a jobseeker, and we need to ensure people are receiving benefits appropriately.

“There’s help available when people are sanctioned, such as the County Council’s discretionary fund.”

Colin Hampton of Derbyshire Unite said: “The Jobcentre has moved the goalposts – sanctions used to be about protecting the public purse, but how do you know they are if people end up in mental institutions, hospitalised, or on other benefits? You probably cost the pubic more.

“They’re now saying it’s about bringing people closer to the labour market, but the evidence in these studies is that it doesn’t do that either.

“My argument is that sanctions are more about keeping people in work, so if you fear being out of work, you’ll accept any terms and conditions if you know there’s a punitive system that effects your physical and mental wellbeing waiting for you.”

Santions actually ‘make jobhunt harder’

Almost all (93 per cent) of people who took part in the FAAD study said sanctions were unfair, and a shocking 72 per cent said they actually made it more difficult to look for work.

One interviewee in the study who remains anonymous said the impacts of the sanction directly affected his jobsearch.

He added: “Even if they got an interview they don’t have the bus fare to get to it, plus if you’ve got no phone credit like I didn’t have, you can’t even apply for anything, and they don’t let you use the phones in the jobcentre”.

Another respondent told researchers: “I had no phone credit for three weeks. I’m on a contract phone and so I used up all my minutes. It made my life very difficult.”