Following my email alert of 17 November, I now attach my full Briefing on the DWP benefit sanctions statistics released on 16 November. Key points are:
- There was a big rise in Universal Credit (UC) sanctions in June and July 2021. Up to the end of May there had only been 5,490 UC sanctions, for any reason, since the moratorium officially ended on 1 July 2020. But there were 8,687 in June alone and 15,929 in July. The latter figure equates to an annual rate of 191,000. This is not very far short of the 231,717 issued in 2019, the last complete calendar year before the pandemic, though still well below the levels reached under the Coalition. The DWP’s figures on UC claimants under sanction at a point in time indicate that the rise continued in August, and that it has taken place all over the country except in a very few areas.
- The rise in UC sanctions has largely been confined to the unemployed, and is almost completely due to sanctions for missed interviews. It is explained by the resumption of face-to-face interviews following on the return to full opening hours for Jobcentres, which took place on 12 April. It appears that to date there has been no decision by DWP to resume sanctions on any significant scale for reasons other than missed interviews.
- Of the approximately 29,600 UC claimants newly sanctioned since the end of the moratorium, 79% were male, and half (51.5%) were aged 18-24, with almost nine in ten (85.9%) aged 18-39.
There continue to be no new Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) or Income Support (IS) sanctions since the pandemic moratorium, but Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) sanctions have now restarted, albeit at a very low level (approximately 25 in the latest quarter).
- The rise in sanctions is concerning, though without more information it is difficult to properly assess its likely effects. Earlier analysis and anecdotal evidence indicate that sanctions for missed interviews can result in claimants spending very long periods under sanction. The exceptionally harsh Duncan Smith/Grayling/Freud sanctions regime introduced in 2012 remains almost completely unreformed. And many studies are showing that the combination of loss of earnings in the pandemic, withdrawal of the £20 per week UC uplift, the benefits freeze, the two child policy, the benefit ceiling and the sharp rise in the cost of living are already leaving very many households in a desperate financial position, with the added burden of mental health worsened by the pandemic.
– There has a been a significant fall in the number of claimants of UC from a peak of 5.972m in March 2021 to 5.776m in October 2021. Of the latter figure, 2.210m or 38.3% were subject to conditionality. By October, almost half of the increase in unemployment produced by the pandemic had been reversed, and JSA accounted for only 6.5% of unemployed claimants, the remainder being on UC.
- The news section at the end of the Briefing reports in particular on DWP’s acceptance that it has discretion to waive repayment of sanction hardship payments, and on several new reports dealing with the falling rewards of work and the problems of debt and hunger.
If you have any information about the impact of the reinstated missed UC interview sanctions on the ground, for instance through work with an advice agency, I would be most grateful if you would let me know”
With best wishes
Dr David Webster
Honorary Senior Research Fellow
School of Social and Political Sciences
University of Glasgow