Why is Universal Credit sanctioning three times more people than its predecessor?

The system pioneered by the Tories is either broken or was set up to punish those most in need of state support.

Figures suggest three times more people are being sanctioned under Universal Credit than the now defunct Job Seeker’s Allowance. Mistake or intentional Tory policy to punish welfare claimants? Social worker Nye Jones looks for an answer.

In the Budget last week, Philip Hammond announced the government would be reforming Universal Credit (UC). Waiting times for new claimants will drop from 6 to 5 weeks.

It’s hardly the climbdown critics of the policy had hoped for. The brutal regime of Universal Credit, which is causing people across the country to lose their homes and go hungry, goes on, albeit in a slightly diluted form.

Why do the Tories insist on continuing the rollout of this failing and regressive reform? In the words of the revolutionary economist Amartya Sen, “Benefits, meant especially for the poor, often end up being poor benefits”.

By making the whole process of receiving welfare difficult and labyrinthine – which Universal Credit certainly is – it is no longer seen as a right.

No longer a right, measly state handouts come to be seen as contingent on people’s behaviour – painting poverty as a result of poor decisions rather than political choices. Universal Credit intensifies this approach.

A recent report stated that claimants are three times more likely to be sanctioned on UC than it’s predecessor Job Seeker’s Allowance (JSA).

With no evidence that sanctions achieve the supposed goal of pushing people back into work, they appear an arbitrary punishment to benefits claimants – an ideological weapon in the Tories’ war against welfare.

Indeed, evidence shows that UC sanctions disproportionately affect those most in need of state support: the homeless.

A report by Homeless-Link found that 31% of homeless people claiming JSA have been sanctioned compared with just 3% overall.

Whether the intention of the Tories or not, the UC system punishes those most in need of support.

As Guy Standing, Professor of Development Studies at SOAS, argues targeted social security policies, such as UC, allow politicians to penalise anyone they class as ‘undeserving poor’ – this is what UC does to homeless people.

At the same time, benefits which are available to a wider cross section of society – those deemed deserving – tend to be more generous.

A report on The Historical Rates of Social Security Benefits by the House of Commons shows that Child Benefit, eligible for those earning £50,000 and below, has actually increased as a proportion of average earnings since 1990.

At the same time, more targeted benefits such as JSA and it’s disability equivalent Employment Support Allowance, have been reduced.

Accepting a reformed version of UC only serves to legitimise the view that individual behaviour is the root cause of poverty and hardship, blocking debates around systemic change. Welfare should be universal by nature rather than in name only.

Nye Jones is a freelance writer and social worker. He tweets here.

5 Responses to “Why is Universal Credit sanctioning three times more people than its predecessor?”

  1. John Latham

    Universal Credit, like Tory Brexit, is not fit for purpose. But I don’t think JSA is defunct just yet. This is because the introduction of Universal Credit Full Service is a postcode lottery. In other words, the legacy benefits are being replaced at different times in diverse parts of the country. It is also unclear when people will be migrated from JSA, ESA or Housing Benefit on to Universal Credit if they are existing claimants. This lack of clarity means that Universal Credit is a case of mis-selling. It is not the simplification that the Tories said it would be. It is a complex punishment of the people. Hence opposition parties should consider replacing it with a Universal Basic Income.

  2. Teresa May


  3. Sylvia Dobinson

    This is yet another benefit makes vulnerable weaker needing more care becoming in crisis making more people with no mental health having mental health. Give people support and they will improve and look for Work. Problem hubs decreasing with technology in line banking.royal bank Scotland open only 3 days a week in Farnworth small areas, its still a week behind in rent. Zero hours contracts be 5 weeks in arrears cause cannot submit until your birthday date tgagssay you signed on 1st of a month not adjusted if reduced your hours u TIL fist of next month. So one week then your housing paid at the same rate for another 5 weeks. Butpeople buy food first so no money pay rent homelessness. We voluntary independent advocacy service generic put vo,I tart Work is becoming harder and harder but we aren’t funded to small a charity but we needed. Bigger charities supposed work tifether with smaller ones theysay yes but even though we say we willing no one comes forward.

  4. Sarah

    Fantastically well written article. Non biased and I formative

  5. Gary Burns

    The Tories know only too well what they are doing, trouble is with their right-wing spin machine in the media they can and do take the general public in about feckless workshy scroungers, and since they have been able to do that the selfish start to follow the spin; I work why are they getting this and that.

    So they are only too happy to see another person, a family etc, get sanctioned and left to starve or be made homeless or both; but are only too happy to help a starving person say in the third world; nothing wrong with the latter but they should be quick to defend the former for which they don’t.

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