Alert: Very Big Rise in Universal Credit Benefit Sanctions

Sanctions Against Universal Credit Claimants Increase by 14,000 in Three Months
Byline Times – Chaminda Jayanetti – 19 November 2021

“Dear Colleague 

The DWP released its latest benefit sanctions statistics yesterday, 16 November. I will be circulating my usual Briefing on the figures in a few days. However, I want to lose no time in alerting you to the fact that the pandemic moratorium now appears to have come definitively to an end. There was a big rise in Universal Credit sanctions in June and July 2021. Up to the end of May there had only been 5,490 UC sanctions 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.

 The DWP’s figures on the number of UC claimants under sanction take us up to the end of August, and they indicate that the rise continued in that month. Analysis of these figures by Jobcentre Plus District shows that the rise has taken place right across Great Britain, indicating central control. I attach two charts which I hope will help to make the position clear.

sanctions rise graph by Jobcentre District
graph showing big rise in benefit sanctions


There has evidently been a major unannounced policy change by DWP to reinstate the sanctions regime, albeit there is no sign yet that it will necessarily reach the extremes of the great sanctions drive of 2010-15. Claimant behaviour does not change fast enough to account for the sudden rise in sanctions, nor can the progress of the issuing of new claimant commitments account for such a rapid change.

 This rise in sanctions is particularly concerning for two reasons. First, the exceptionally harsh Duncan Smith/Grayling/Freud sanctions regime introduced in 2012 remains almost completely unreformed; as the Briefing has pointed out, the abolition of three-year sanctions by Amber Rudd was in practice a minor change. Second, many studies are showing that the combination of loss of earnings in the pandemic, the 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.

 The rise in sanctions also raises the question of what has happened to the DWP’s study of their effectiveness, which was originally to be published in ‘late spring 2019’ but has not appeared.

 With best wishes

Dr David Webster
Honorary Senior Research Fellow
Urban Studies
School of Social and Political Sciences
University of Glasgow




Via email: Original email subject line: “ALERT: Big rise in benefit sanctions”

Benefit sanctions statistics to July 2021 (experimental)

From: Department for Work and Pensions
Published 16 November 2021