Hardship caused by benefits sanctions

Benefits sanctions are having a severe impact on the mental and physical health of many claimants, according to the findings of a survey carried by the Manchester Citizens Advice Bureau. The study examined the extent and impact of benefits sanctions in Manchester, following concerns over the apparent increase in the number of CAB clients who had sanctions against them, and in the duration of sanctions.

Key findings

  • 40 per cent of respondents said they had not received a letter from the Jobcentre informing them of the sanction. Almost a quarter did not know why they had been sanctioned. Many felt they had been unjustly treated because of the Jobcentre’s own administrative errors or because a sanction had been imposed unreasonably given their circumstances.
  • More than half the respondents said they had not received any information about how to appeal against the sanction. Nonetheless, over three-fifths (62 per cent) of respondents had appealed: of these appeals as many as a third had been successful, and a further 23 per cent were still waiting to hear the outcome.
  • The average duration of the sanction was eight weeks, with almost a third sanctioned for ten weeks or more. Two-thirds of respondents had been left with no income after the sanction was imposed. Just under a quarter (23 per cent) of those sanctioned were living in households with children. More than ten per cent were lone parents.
  • Respondents coped with the loss of income by borrowing money from friends and family (80 per cent), from the bank or on their credit card (eight per cent) or from a payday loan company (nine per cent). They also cut down on food (71 per cent), heating (49 per cent) and travel (47 per cent). Almost a quarter (24 per cent) had applied for a food parcel. Some respondents had been left to scrounge for food from skips or bins, or had had to resort to begging to feed themselves.
  • The sanction had a severe impact on the mental and physical health of many respondents. Existing health conditions were exacerbated because of poor diet and stress, and a number of respondents said they had attempted suicide or had felt suicidal. There were also serious effects on the wider family, particularly children, because of the loss of income.

SourcePunishing Poverty? A Review of Benefits Sanctions and Their Impacts on Clients and Claimants, Manchester CAB Service
LinksReport | GMCVO press release | Ekklesia report

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