John seeks reassurance over jobseeker sanctions

A SOUTH Yorkshire MP has asked for reassurances that local Jobcentres don’t have targets and league tables for stopping the benefits of people looking for work.

The action by John Healey follows reports that staff in some Jobcentres have been pressured to increase the number of jobseeker’s allowance claimants they sanction, where their sanctions are seen to be below the expected rate.

Writing to Jobcentre Plus managers in Rotherham and Goldthorpe, he said: “People in Rotherham and Barnsley who are out of work rely upon their local Jobcentre Plus to help them find work and it is important that they have confidence that they are not being sanctioned arbitrarily.

“While sanctions are a necessary part of our welfare system, they must be a last resort and applied fairly.

“Sanctions can lead to destitution for individuals and families and make it harder rather than easier to achieve the goal we all want of getting people back into work.”

Mr Healey has asked the managers to ensure the problems around sanctions that have been highlighted elsewhere in the country are not an issue in Rotherham and Barnsley.

He has also asked them to confirm that:

• No system of targets or league table for sanctions operates at their Jobcentre Plus
• No member of staff is pressured to sanction claimants without proper justification; and
• Any member of staff who feels put under pressure to impose unjustified sanctions knows they can speak out without fear or repercussion, including by contacting the MP’s office in confidence.

There have been media reports of leaked emails that show the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) produces a national sanctions “scorecard”, containing information about how jobcentre districts are performing on applying sanctions.

Staff have reported that these scorecards result in targets and pressure when they are not meeting expected levels of sanctions.

DWP ministers have acknowledged they collect the data but denied it is a league table.

Sanctions – the removal of benefits for a fixed period – can be applied by the Jobcentre or work programme provider and given when claimants are thought to be not actively seeking employment, don’t accept help to find work or leave a job voluntarily.

According to the Citizens’ Advice Bureau, complaints about JSA sanctions are increasing.