Universal Credit Sanctions have a devastating impact on some of our most disadvantaged and vulnerable members of society

By Marie-Claire Gully-Hart at

Under the Tory/Lib-Dem coalition government, sanctions on the unemployed reached over a million in 2013. Through the Welfare Reform Act 2012 the DWP, Department for Work and Pensions, created a monster that was given absolute power to indiscriminately dish out penalties higher than court fines.

Claimants can be sanctioned their full benefit income for a minimum of four weeks up to three years. Between 2010 and 2015 around a quarter of all jobseeker’s allowance claimants had their benefits stopped, namely for failing to meet job search requirements, missing an appointment, or even being late for one. More than 70,000 ESA claimants’ benefits were stopped, of which more than 5,000 for at least six months.

How could they not have foreseen the devastating impact their punishing regime, under the guise of ‘welfare reform’ and ‘motivating people to work’, would have on the most disadvantaged and vulnerable members of our society?

Some people may not know where to find help or how to apply for hardship loans. Letters from the DWP can be difficult to understand and their lack of straightforward communication is astounding.

Sanctions have a debilitating effect on every aspect of a person’s life. Even in the absence of pre-existing mental or physical health afflictions, to have one’s ‘benefits’ stopped is extremely stressful, when many are already in debt.
Why are we being treated with such a lack of compassion? We have a right to our dignity, to be treated fairly, to feel safe in our community; instead we are betrayed by a system that calls itself ‘social security’.

Appeals to sanctions are lengthy, incurring delays in payments for weeks or months. We feel degraded, angry and powerless to fight back. Is this what bullying looks like on a national scale?

Whilst under sanction, we are still expected to spend 35h/week looking for jobs, going to interviews and any ‘re-offences’ carry a higher penalty. According to research, many claimants have disappeared off the radar. Some undoubtedly will have taken their lives.

Is this what DWP calls a good result to drive the unemployment figures down?
With a degree of public outcry, JSA/ESA sanctions are now delivered less liberally, however they are still very high under the new Universal Credit regime.

If you have been sanctioned and need some advice you can visit Citizen’s advice in St Aldates or their website: http://adviceoxford.org.uk

or the Rose Hill Advice Centre during their opening times:
Monday 9.30am – 12.30pm 2.00pm – 4.00pm (appointment only)
Tuesday 9.30am – 12.30pm (appointment only) 2.00pm – 4.00pm
Wednesday 9.30am – 12.30pm
Thursday 9.30am – 12.30pm (appointment only) 2.00pm – 4.00pm.

Rose Hill Community Centre, Carole’s Way, OX4 4HF. Tel: 01865 438634