With a new Government in place, it’s urgent that we keep up the pressure for a rethink of the unjust benefit sanctions regime which is harming thousands of people. In this guest blog, Paul Morrison of the Joint Public Issues Team explains how you can take action.
Audrey muddled up her dates and arrived to sign-on at the Jobcentre on the wrong day. This was the first time she had made such a mistake. As a result Audrey had her income removed for a month.
When I tell stories like Audrey’s, people think that this must be the sanctions system being misapplied. People cannot believe that it could be Government policy to punish someone for missing an appointment by removing their income for a whole month.
It is absolutely clear such extreme punishment is the intended policy. We know this because Audrey’s story is taken from a Department of Work and Pensions manual. It is an example given to officials to demonstrate how the system should work.
Audrey’s story was made up by the DWP to show how the system should work but I can assure you that in the year we spent researching the Time to Rethink Benefit Sanctions report, we met many Audreys. Sadly, we also met many people who the sanctions regime had treated much more harshly than Audrey.
People like Mike who is a regular at a church-run drop in:
Mike had just had his first criminal conviction because he stole food. He stole food because he was sanctioned. After a few weeks of living under a sanction he was very hungry but couldn’t afford to buy food. He was sanctioned because he had been late to sign on at the Jobcentre. He was late because his bus was caught-up in roadworks.
When I tell stories like Mike’s, people cannot believe that punishing people for being late – for whatever reason – with hunger can possibly be the intention of policy.
Again, the DWP manual tells us that this is the case. Talking about people who have been sanctioned and have proved they have no access to any other support or income, it says:
“It would be usual for a normal healthy adult to suffer some deterioration in their health if they were without … essential items, such as food, clothing, heating and accommodation or sufficient money to buy essential items for a period of two weeks”. 
The manual then states that such people should not qualify for hardship payments for two weeks. The reason given is that to allow a hardship payment sooner would undermine the “deterrent effect of the sanction”. Here, hunger – to the point of damaging health – is deliberately used as a deterrent to prevent lateness.
To those who support the sanctions regime, I would ask; Are you prepared to have your salary removed for a month the next time you muddle your dates and miss a meeting? Are you prepared to go hungry if public transport lets you down? If not, rethink your support for the sanctions regime.
It is undoubtedly Time to Rethink Benefit Sanctions. Churches, charities, even the Parliamentary select committee agrees.
 DWP Training Memo DMG 37/12
 Decision Makers Guide: Volume 6 Chapter 35 Para 35095 – 35099 https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/decision-makers-guide-vols-4-5-6-and-7-jobseekers-allowance-and-income-support-staff-guide