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Synod calls for "full independent review" of benefit sanctions

Sanctions were disproportionate and didn't "fit the crime", the Church of England's General Synod heard.

Members backed a motion from the Diocese of Leeds which called on the government to launch a review into the system where claimants have their benefit money stopped for a number of weeks.

The vote was overwhelming with 320 in favour, zero against and two abstentions.

The government says sanctions are required and are given when claimants fail to attend job centre appointments or do not look for work.

Revd Canon Kathryn Fitzsimons, from the Diocese of Leeds, moved the motion. She said: "Let me be clear that this motion is not about questioning the principle of people being sanctioned because they fail to meet appropriate expectations.

"We are however questioning recent substantial increases in the severity of the sanctioning process, and in the frequency of sanctions being applied.

"Does the punishment fit the crime is a key question.

"We are concerned about the disproportionality of the measures currently being applied."

Synod also agreed a motion that would encourage all churches to offer practical advice and support to people who are sanctioned.

Members agreed churches should use their work with food banks, credit unions and debt advice to help parishioners.

A motion urging the government to implement recommendations from an Archbishop of Canterbury funded report on hunger was also passed.

Sir Tony Baldry, former MP and Second Church Estates Commissioner, urged Synod members to visit their own member of parliament. He said a constituency visit would prevent MPs giving a standard answer.

In October 2015 Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith confirmed a trial of giving people a warning on their first 'sanction offence'.

The Department for Work and Pensions has been contacted for comment.

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