Rev Sally Foster-Fulton

Rev Sally Foster-Fulton

The Church of Scotland has joined with an alliance of other Churches to welcome today’s call for a full independent review of benefit sanctions.

This was one of the recommendations from a report of the House of Commons Work and Pensions Select Committee.

The Church of Scotland, along with Church Action on Poverty, the Church in Wales, the Methodist Church and the United Reformed Church, which collectively have more than one million members across Britain, have recognised what the Select Committee report describes as a system that is broken and needs urgent review.

Rev Sally Foster-Fulton, Convener of the Church of Scotland’s Church and Society Council, said: “It is clear that sanctions are doing more harm than good. A radical overhaul of the current system will need to be top priority for whoever is in Government after the election.

“Right now benefit sanctions are unjust, excessively punitive and fail to even meet the DWP’s stated aim of helping people into work. Indeed, there is clear evidence that they do the very opposite and make getting into work much harder. We must first assess whether the sanctions regime, in its present form, is fit for purpose.

“How can stripping away all financial support from someone on Job Seekers Allowance help them into work? If they cannot pay their bus fare to get to an interview or keep a mobile phone topped up so they can respond to potential employers, how is that supporting them into work?

“If they cannot pay their heating bill or buy healthy food, if they have to struggle under the added stress of severe financial pressure, how us that helping them back to work?”

Earlier this month the Churches published Time to Rethink Benefit Sanctions, a report which used new DWP data to highlight how the sanctions regime is harming families. In Scotland alone 6,500 children have been affected by sanctions on parents in 2013-14. Data obtained through Freedom of Information requests also shows that people who receive the sickness and disability benefit Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) because of a long-term mental health problem are being sanctioned at a rate of more than 100 per day across the UK. The most common reason for being sanctioned is being late or not turning up for an appointment.

Time to Rethink Benefit Sanctions, features the stories of people like James* who have had their benefits sanctioned:

“During the first three weeks of my sanction I continued to look for work as I was required to. By the fourth week however I was exhausted, unwell and no longer had it in me. I was not eating as I had no food and was losing a lot of weight. I told the Jobcentre I was unwell through not eating but was sanctioned for another three months for not looking for work properly.”