MP Julian Huppert pressed the government yesterday (Monday, June 23) on benefit sanctions after fears that targets may at been set at JobCentres.
Following the Government’s reassurance that no targets had been set, he has written to the Regional Manager of East Anglia Job Centres asking her to make sure staff are aware that there are no targets, and they should not use sanctions inappropriately.
Julian raised the issue after worried Cambridge residents had expressed fears that their benefits were being threatened because staff were under pressure to sanction a certain number of people, regardless of whether they deserved it. They suggested that they were being pushed into situations so that they would fail to succeed, and hence be sanctioned.
He told Parliament: “I hear repeated concerns that there may be targets for benefit sanctions at JobCentres. Will the Secretary of State confirm that that is not the case, and send a clear message to advisers that they should not be seeking to sanction people inappropriately to hit some sort of target? Their aim is to help people.”
Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith assured Julian that this was not the case and advisers issued benefit sanctions only as a last resort.
He said the system has “a full set of checks and balances” and that “there is a mandatory reconsideration almost immediately of that decision and then there is the opportunity to appeal”.
“The purpose of a sanction is to help to remind the individual that this taxpayers’ money comes with an obligation to co-operate, to find work by seeking work,” he said.
Julian said later: “I am concerned that a number of constituents have come to me worried that they might have their benefits cut because staff are under pressure to meet government targets.
“Every case is different and I want to make sure staff feel confident enough to treat each case on its merits rather than working to a government-led target. I was reassured to hear that targets had not been set and I will be making sure it stays that way. I expect my letter and the clear statement from the Government to be sent to all advisers, so that they know they should not be seeking to apply a certain number of sanctions.