#BenefitSanctions are not Unfair, Unjust, Exploitative or Punitive…

Recent updates: ‘#UniversalCredit: All Labour and LibDem policies explored – #ScrapUniversalCredit #AbolishBenefitSanctions‘ – ‘Binding resolution to scrap Universal Credit passed by Labour Party Conference – #Lab19‘ –
Corbyn: Labour will scrap Universal Credit and @DWP – Full press release and documents

‘Must Benefit Sanctions Be Stopped Without Exceptions in UK’? Or is it acceptable to only seek a ‘fairer non punitive benefit sanctions regime’, whilst appearing to oppose all benefit sanctions?

Below are some comments and extracts on Labour, Lib Dem, SNP, Tory and Unite the Union’s approach to these questions.

“There will be an end to zero-hours contracts”
Speech: Tony Blair (1995)

When campaigning against something such as fox hunting, if it has a slogan pretext or preface like ‘stop unfair fox hunting’, use of the word unfair implies that some foxhunting is fair.

For instance:

is saying that not all zero-hours contracts are exploitative and therefore this ban is not an outright ban. The 2017 Labour Party manifesto now promises to “Ban zero hours contracts”.

No to:

  • unfair benefit sanctions”

clearly expresses the view than many sanctions are fair.


Unite the Union campaigns to “stop” benefit sanctions using the hash tag #no2sanctions and campaigns to end unfair and unjust benefit sanctions. Clearly implying there can be fair and just benefit sanctions.


“More and more people are being hit by unfair and unjust benefit sanctions
Source: Flyer: ‘Stop benefit sanctions‘ – Unite Community/Unite the Union. March 2015 (emphasis added) – accessed 20/05/17 – (pdf) (emphasis added)

With regards Labour’s 2017 manifesto on Social Security, there is a call to:

Not only does this imply that many sanctions are not punitive it is only a call to end a regime, suggesting that a non punitive benefit sanctions regime is possible. This is therefore not a call to end benefit sanctions without exceptions.

2019 updates

Words matter

Here two words need careful analysis:

[1] punitive and

[2] regime.

as well as omission, such as the word “punitive” in:
Image 1

or “all” as discussed below.


“A Liberal Democrat government would scrap all benefit sanctions” + [1] [2]
Source: Disability news service. 18/05/17

sounds very promising. However, there is no such undertaking in the Lib Dem manifesto and this proposal stems from a Lib Dem 2016 conference and associated policy papers, which actually say:

“Liberal Democrats would scrap fixed penalty sanctions and instead implement flexible sanctioning guidelines. Benefit sanctions would be directed centrally, based on information from a claimant’s record. Sanctions would only be enforced once the situation had been discussed with the claimant’s local advisor, to ensure that sanctioning was appropriate”
Source: ‘Policy Papers – Autumn Conference 2016′ – ‘Mending the Safety Net’.

which is bears little resemblance to scrapping “all” benefit sanctions.*

The majority of Benefit Sanctions and Conditionality policies are reserved to the Westminster parliament, even so the Scottish National Party (SNP)  has been forthright in it’s opposition to sanctions, but it still only seeks a ‘fair’ regime. SNP’s 2017 manifesto says:

“Only a strong team of SNP MPs can take the
fight to Theresa May and halt the unfair benefit
sanctions regime” (emphasis added)

SNP MP Mhairi Black introduced a Private Members Bill to mitigate against benefit sanctions, implying some claimants are more deserving of sanctions without delay compared to those that “require” an “assessment” (undeserving – “carers, the homeless and the mentally ill“) before sanctions are considered. The Bill did not go forward “Despite SNP MPs packing out our benches, Labour MPs, aside from a few notable exceptions, failed to turn up and that meant a Tory Minister could use parliamentary tactics to deny us the opportunity to vote on it”

“Mhairi Black:

If we must have benefit sanctions, let’s make them fairer
Source: The National – 16/07/16

“I’m not giving up the fight for a fairer UK sanctions regime” (emphasis added)
Source: SNP – 04/12/16

SNP “Conference rejects the punitive Tory benefit sanction regime…and calls for the UKG to move urgently to scrap the unfair sanctions regime.” (emphasis added)
Source: Welfare Weekly – SNP Conference: Calls to scrap ‘draconian’ benefit sanctions regime – 19/3/17

“Political language — and with variations this is true of all political parties, from Conservatives to Anarchists — is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.”
Source: George Orwell in Politics and the English Language – 1946

Notes: What is the difference for benefit claimants between a sanction, a disallowance and a suspension of benefits? Both Labour, Liberal Democrats and SNP seem to be referring to the JSA and ESA benefit sanctions regime introduced during the  2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition administration. Ending a punitive fixed penalty benefit sanctions regime is not the same as ending “all” benefit sanctions, just implied proposals for a new  ‘just‘ and ‘fair‘ regime.

*Edit [2]:

*Edit [1]: Apparently a Lib Dem conference voted to end “all” benefit sanctions. But why the policy paper in question has not been amended to reflect this is unknown at present. It still remains that no such promise exists in the Lib Dem 2017 manifesto. Unable to find details of the amended policy, but did find:

“V  Sanctions applied to benefits are fundamentally wrong and leave people destitute who are already in poverty; the sanction system should be scrapped and replaced with an incentivised scheme.

Vi The sanctions system should allow greater scope for discretion with a stronger safety net to prevent sanctions causing extreme hardship; employment support should be separated from benefits delivery, which includes responsibility for sanctions.

Conference therefore endorses policy paper 124, Mending the Safety Net, as a statement of Liberal Democrat policy on working-age Social Security, and particularly welcomes its proposals to:…

“Scrapping fixed penalty sanctions and instead implementing flexible guidelines with added safeguards so no one can fall below a minimum income”…”
Source: ” F31: Mending the Safety Net (Social Security Policy Paper) Federal Policy Committee” Accessed 20/05/17

but can’t find anything explicitly referring to “all” benefit sanctions, only that Lib Dems would seek to end “fixed penalty” sanctions in any post June 8th 2017 administration.