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J J Ellison
UK News

Benefit sanction report "disturbing", says Archbishop

by Antony Bushfield

The figures, revealed in a Freedom of Information request by a coalition of major UK Churches, show nearly 7 million weeks of sanctions were given to benefit claimants in the same period.

Archbishop Dr Barry Morgan told Premier they were a "shocking statistic".

The report, titled Time to Rethink Benefit Sanctions, is published by the Baptist Union of Great Britain, Church Action on Poverty, the Church in Wales, the Church of Scotland, the Methodist Church and the United Reformed Church.

Jobcentre Plus can sanction people for failing to meet a number of work-related requirements or if a claimant left a job voluntarily and without a good reason, or if they are dismissed for misconduct.

The highest level of benefit sanctions can last for three years.

The government says claimants who are sanctioned and have children receive hardship payments straight away.

The report spoke to a number of people who had their benefits sanctioned.

One man who didn't want to be named said: "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."

The Archbishop of Wales, Dr Barry Morgan, said: "The findings of this report are disturbing. It exposes a system that is harsh in the extreme, penalising the most vulnerable of claimants by the withdrawal of benefits for weeks at a time.

"Most worryingly, it appears from DWP guidance, quoted in the report, that deprivation and hunger are knowingly being used as a punishment for quite trivial breaches of benefit conditions.

"Employers would not be allowed to stop someone's wages for a month the first time they were 10 minutes late for an appointment, but this is the kind of sanction that is being imposed on some of the most vulnerable people in our society, including those with mental and physical health problems."

Paul Morrison, Public Issues Policy Adviser for the Methodist Church, said: "Those who already have the most difficult lives are those most likely to be sanctioned.

"Sanctions impact disproportionately on young people, care leavers, homeless people, single parents, the mentally ill and those with long term illness. This system causes problems for the very people that most need help.
 
"But sanctions don't just have a financial impact. The people we've spoken to have told us of the shame, demoralisation and loss of self-worth caused by this system.

"As Christians we believe that everyone is loved, valued and made in the image of God, and we have a responsibility to challenge any structure or system that undermines that dignity."

A DWP spokesman said: "We do not recognise these figures.

"The truth is that every day Jobcentre Plus advisers work hard to help claimants into work - unemployment is falling and a record number of people are in work. Sanctions are only used as a last resort for the tiny minority who fail to take up the support which is on offer.

"The number of sanctions has gone down over the past year."

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