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MP urges probe into unfair benefits sanctions

2014-02-01 23:50:00

Debbie Abrahams

The Government is under pressure to investigate if thousands of people are being taken off benefits unfairly - following a campaign by a Greater Manchester MP.

Westminster;s Work and Pensions Committee has called for an independent probe to check that benefits sanctions and conditions - which withdraw welfare from jobseekers - are being applied 'fairly and appropriately'.

It follows months of campaigning in the House of Commons by Oldham's MP Debbie Abrahams who has accused the government of using sanctions to 'distort' unemployment figures by pulling people off handouts.

Ms Abrahams confronted Work and Pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith and employment minister Esther McVey after being approached by a whistleblower who works as a Job Centre Plus adviser in the north of England and constituents who have been hit by sanctions.

In a report published today the Work and Pensions Committee said: "Our evidence suggests that many claimants have been referred for a sanction inappropriately or in circumstances in which common sense would suggest that discretion should have been applied by JCP (Jobcentre Plus) staff.

"DWP should launch a second, broader, independent review of conditionality and sanctions, to include investigation of whether the process is being applied appropriately, fairly, proportionately and in accordance with the rules, across the Jobcentre network.”

Ms Abrahams said: "Thanks to the bravery of our whistleblower we now know that the government are setting Jobcentre Plus staff targets to get as many claimants off benefits as they can just so they can distort the unemployment figures.

"The misery this government is causing to hundreds of thousands of people on benefits in Oldham and across the country is unforgivable.

"But, at last, they can no longer ignore the demand that a full and independent review should be carried out.

"No-one is arguing with the fact that anyone who is on benefits should do all they can to find appropriate work. But this government have gone beyond the pale by using underhand tactics to manipulate unemployment data."

Committee chair, Dame Anne Begg, said: "An unprecedented number of claimants were sanctioned in the year to June 2013.

"Whilst conditionality is a necessary part of the benefit system, jobseekers need to have confidence that the sanctioning regime is being applied appropriately, fairly and proportionately and the Government needs to assure itself that sanctioning is achieving its intended objective of incentivising people to seek work."

A Department for Work and Pensions spokesman said Jobcentre advisers were working successfully to move people off benefits.

He added: "It's only right that people should do everything they can to find work in return for their benefits.

"We make it clear to people at the start of their claim what the rules are and that they risk losing their benefits if they don't play by them.

"We will provide jobseekers with the help and support they need to find a job, but it is only fair that in return they live up to their part of the bargain.

"Sanctions are only used as a last resort and people who are in genuine need can apply for hardship payments.

"If someone disagrees with a decision made on their claim they can appeal. There are no targets for sanctions."

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