Rising sanctions will mean ministers blow the trumpet – but we could be forcing people through the safety net

Tom MacInnes of the New Policy Institute looks at the number of sanctions imposed on recipients of Jobseeker’s Allowance.

Tom MacInnes is research director at the New Policy Institute. He co-authors the Joseph Rowntree Foundation’s annual state-of-the-nation report into poverty and social exclusion

The figures on the number of sanctions imposed on recipients of Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) published today by the Department for Work show that 420,000 people had their JSA stopped for failing to comply with tough new job seeking criteria in the first half of this year.

This is an increase of 4 per cent compared to the same time last year, under the old system.

But this is only part of the picture. The total number of people referred for sanctions rose by a quarter over the same period, but a smaller proportion of those referrals resulted in actual sanctions.

So what is happening?

Firstly, we should of course make clear that a 4 per cent rise in JSA sanctions is itself quite a big deal. JSA sanctions were already at record levels. Increases since the coalition came to power, following changes implemented by the previous Labour administration, meant that the number of people being sanctioned doubled between 2009 and 2012. In the first half of 2012, around 65,000 people a month were seeing their benefits stopped. Now that figure is around 70,000 per month.

But digging a little deeper into the figures there is something else going on. In the first half of 2012, 790,000 people were referred for a sanction. That means they had a ‘labour market doubt’ raised against them; Job Centre Plus may have felt they were not making themselves available for work, for instance. In the first half of this year, that figure rose to 980,000, a rise of a quarter.

What happens next is that a decision is made on this ‘doubt’. The decision may be adverse, in which case the sanction is applied, or non-adverse, in which case the sanction is not applied. There were 400,000 adverse decisions in the first half of last year, and 420,000 this – an increase of 4 per cent. The number of ‘non-adverse’ decisions rose from 235,000 to 285,000, a rise of 21 per cent. That means Job Centre Plus is effectively throwing out more of these referrals.

That doesn’t account for the full difference, however. Many of these referrals don’t get as far as the decision making stage, as people simply leave the benefit altogether. The number of sanctions that were ‘reserved or cancelled’, because the individual stopped claiming, rose from 155,000 to 280,000 between the first half of last year and the first half of this. That’s an increase of around 80 per cent.

Graph Joseph Rountree

We need to be a bit careful here – people move on and off JSA all the time; those 280,000 ceased claims may not all be a direct result of the sanction. But some of them certainly will be. On average, around 20 per cent of people claiming JSA stop claiming in any given month.

But that 280,000 represents around 30 per cent of people given a sanction over the first six months of 2013. So, unsurprisingly, people given a sanction are more likely to drop out of JSA than other people.

All of which is worth bearing in mind the next time a minister trumpets the falling JSA claimant count as an obvious good thing.

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6 Responses to “Rising sanctions will mean ministers blow the trumpet – but we could be forcing people through the safety net”

  1. Sparky

    Sounds like it’s working well.

    More people are being referred, and a good number of them simply then stop claiming, which is exactly what it was meant to achieve. They’re bogus claimants who have been rumbled. Of those that don’t stop claiming, more of them are having a non-adverse decision made, which proves that it’s not an arbitrary system but the sanctions are applied on a case-by-case basis. It also shows that it’s a myth that referrals are intended to stop legitimate claimants money.

  2. treborc

    The problem is of course if Labour get back in nothing would change labour has Ms Reeves a banker and building expert and Progress member,who would hammer down even harder.

    Nothing much between Miliband and Cameron really both are Tories in their own right.

  3. Barry Scarfe

    Garbage. Many of those who have stopped signing-on are genuine claimants who can’t stand the sneering attitude of too many behind the desk and the constant harrying of them. They have either turned towards crime or still live at home with their parents. Only a tiny hardcore don’t wish to work and any other claim is pathetic and puerile propaganda by repulsive rags like the Daily Mail and Daily Express.

  4. Sparky

    Let’s summarise what you’ve said.

    “Many legitimate JSA claimants have decided to stop claiming their rightful benefits because they don’t like the people who work in Job Centres. Instead they decided that a more sensible course of action would be to embark on life of crime. Those that didn’t turn to crime didn’t do so because they lived with their parents.”

    That is what you’ve just said, isn’t it?

  5. Tim Holmes

    The further we move away from universal and unconditional benefits, the more people will fall through the gaping holes in the “safety net”, and the worse the outcomes will be for the worst off – and, in turn, for the rest of society. We have to ask ourselves in all seriousness whether this is the kind of society in which we are happy to live. But almost no-one in public life has any stomach for that discussion, because the public sphere is dominated by the powerful and privileged.

  6. Sparky

    ‘Unconditional’. Really? Completely with conditions? I could just walk in off street, sign a form to say I’m unemployed and wait for money to show up, week in, week out, for the rest of my life, without ever having to do anything in return. Is that the kind of ‘unconditional’ you meant, or something else?

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