By Chaminda Jayanetti
More than 40,000 benefit sanctions were imposed on claimants with dependent children in 2013/14, according to figures released by the government.
The data, published by the Department of Work and Pensions (pdf) in response to a Freedom of Information request, indicates that anything up to 80,000 children aged 18 and under may have been in affected households.
The request was submitted by a third party via the website www.whatdotheyknow.com, which allows members of the public to submit FOI requests to public bodies.
Benefit sanctions can be imposed by job centre staff for a variety of perceived failings by claimants to do enough to find work. If a sanction is imposed, benefit payments are stopped for a certain amount of time, leaving claimants with little or no money to live on.
They are blamed by campaigners for driving up levels of food poverty, particularly among mothers who might forego their own food in order to be able to feed their children. The Trussell Trust, Britain’s largest operator of emergency food banks, has highlighted benefit sanctions (pdf) as a major reason for rising food bank use.
The DWP figures shows that 38,910 sanctions were imposed on Jobseekers Allowance claimants with dependent children between June 2013 and May 2014, the most recent 12 month period for which figures are available.
Of these, 14,620 were intermediate sanctions and 2,560 were high level sanctions. Intermediate sanctions can be imposed on JSA claimants if they are judged not to be available for and actively seeking work. They can last four weeks, or 13 weeks for subsequent sanctions.
High level sanctions can be imposed on claimants who lost their job because of misconduct, left their last job “without good reason”, fail to apply for “suitable” jobs, or refuse a job offer that job centre staff have told them about. These can last anywhere from three months to three years. 1,380 high level sanctions were imposed on JSA claimants with two or more children.
In addition to the JSA sanctions, 4,130 sanctions were imposed on Employment Support Allowance claimants with children. ESA is a benefit paid to disabled people, with sanctions imposed when a claimant is judged not to have “engaged with the support on offer” to assist with jobseeking.
Of the 43,040 total sanctions imposed on JSA and ESA claimants with dependent children:
- 19,250 were imposed on claimants with one child
- 13,120 on claimants with two children
- 6,560 on claimants with three children
- 2,730 on claimants with four children
- 1,380 on claimants with five or more children
If each claimant received one sanction, then the total number of children in affected households would exceed 80,000. However, because many claimants may have received more than one sanction, and indeed some claimants may be in the same household, the true figure is likely to be lower than that – but still in the tens of thousands.
The number of sanctions imposed on claimants with children was slightly lower between June 2013 and May 2014 than it was during the previous 12 month period (pdf), when 48,450 such sanctions were imposed.
However, the number of sanctions given to ESA claimants with children rose 80 percent during that time, from 2,290 to 4,130.
The figures for subsequent years are likely to be lower, as the number of sanctions handed out by job centres has fallen amidst widespread controversy over their indiscriminate usage and role in increasing food poverty.
However, the DWP is now extending benefit sanctions to people in low paid work, meaning that the number of children indirectly affected by sanctions is likely to rise from this year onwards.