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Sanctions and Homelessness David Webster Urban Studies University of Glasgow Homeless Action Scotland 14th National Homelessness Conference Edinburgh -

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Presentation on theme: "Sanctions and Homelessness David Webster Urban Studies University of Glasgow Homeless Action Scotland 14th National Homelessness Conference Edinburgh -"— Presentation transcript:

1 Sanctions and Homelessness David Webster Urban Studies University of Glasgow Homeless Action Scotland 14th National Homelessness Conference Edinburgh - 21 November 2013

2 Outline Huge increase in number & length of sanctions under Coalition Strong evidence that a high proportion are unreasonable, unlawful and pointless Lack of independence of DWP decision- making and useless appeal system Impact on claimants in general Specific impacts on homelessness and on homeless What can be done?

3 The tightening sanctions regime One fifth (19%) of all JSA claimants Apr Mar 2012 = 1,483,760 people (FoI) – more now 860,000 sanctions in year to 30 June 2013 (was 500,000 in last year before Coalition) 4.35% of all JSA claimants per month under Coalition (Labour: 2.6% per month ) One third of homeless JSA & nearly one fifth of homeless ESA claimants sanctioned May- July 2013 (HomelessWatch)

4 Tightening regime (2) Abundant evidence of pressure on DWP staff to maximise sanctions Fewer referrals are getting favourable decisions People are increasingly driven from claiming at all (‘reserved/cancelled’ decisions)

5 Tightening regime (3) All the most frequently occurring JSA sanctions lengthened from 22 Oct 2012 ESA (WRAG) sanctions also much harsher from 3 Dec 2012 – now lose all of personal allowance (previously only WRAG component) Minimum period now 4 weeks Now 3-year sanctions for repeat ‘failures’: already hit 700 JSA & 440 ESA claimants – proportionally higher for ESA Max. penalty for 75 years to 1986 was 6 wks

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10 Changing reasons People are more careful to hold on to a job in a recession - therefore, big fall in penalties for voluntary leaving/ misconduct (was always the main reason); ‘availability’ static Correspondingly bigger rise in more aggressive sanctions, especially – ‘Not actively seeking work’ (now 36.3%) – Non-participation in training/employment schemes (inc. Work Programme) (now 30.0%) Failure to attend advisory interview now 19.9%

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16 Unreasonable (=unlawful) sanctions Sanctions have gone up when the claimant count includes hundreds of thousands of people who would normally be in work Huge volumes of anecdotal evidence indicate that many sanctions are unfair, negligent or downright fraudulent This is possible because there is no legal protection for claimants other than a Tribunal appeal system which hardly anyone uses Further reduction in safeguards, e.g. since Oct 12 a JS Direction can be given orally!

17 Unreasonable sanctions (2) Ministers have not set targets but they clearly have driven up sanctions through management action – ‘Expectations’ – Performance reviews and PIPs – ‘Scorecard’ ‘A regular "deep throat" DWP correspondent describes the work: "You park your conscience at the door. Sanctions are applied for anything at all to hit the targets.“‘ - Polly Toynbee, Guardian, 8 Nov 2013

18 Unreasonable sanctions (3) ‘Had 2 job interviews. Informed Jobcentre I would be a little late. Was 15 minutes late. They sanctioned me anyway.’ ‘I was supposed to apply for 7 jobs a week, I applied for 10 one week and 5 the next week, so they sanctioned me for a week’ (NB This would now be 4 weeks) ‘I am epileptic and can’t apply for certain jobs that’s why I am limited, I apply for 5-10 jobs that I can do but it’s not enough.’ ‘Had to look after my mum. She is disabled and was very ill.’ ‘A letter was returned which they sent to the wrong address.’

19 Unreasonable sanctions (4) ‘They recommended two jobs for me to apply for but at that time I didn’t know how to use the website and was waiting to see my personal adviser for help, but he was on holiday when the sanction occurred.’ ‘I was left with no money because I did not go to a course that I can’t understand anyway as I have learning difficulties.’ ‘Did not do enough to find work, in between FINDING work and starting it.’ – Manchester CAB, ‘Punishing Poverty’

20 Esther McVey, Employment Minister - 6 Nov 2013 ‘The vast, vast majority of people don't get sanctions…… The people who get sanctions are wilfully rejecting support for no good reason….. Sanctions are only applied in the most serious cases….. We'll do everything to stop you having a sanction.’ ALL OF THE ABOVE IS INCORRECT, AND OBVIOUSLY SO.

21 ‘Hardship’ payments Brutal regime dating from 1996 (JS Act 1995) ‘Hardship payments’ 60% of JSA (rarely, 80%) Harsh test, e.g. no payment if cash from a payday lender exceeds ‘applicable amount’ Two-week wait before application except for arbitrarily defined ‘vulnerable’ - officially acknowledged to damage health In 2005 one quarter getting 60%, 1 in 67 80% Effects particularly serious for homeless Under Universal Credit will become repayable

22 Appeal system Current system designed by Peter Lilley, enacted by New Labour (Harriet Harman) Social Security Act 1998 ended independent adjudication (in existence since 1911), transferred decisions to Secretary of State – Appeal Stage 1: internal ‘reconsideration’ – Appeal Stage 2: Tribunal (legal aid ended 1/4/13) Few appeal – seen as long and futile, lack of support, can’t afford phone calls/stamps/fares Tribunal rulings set no precedent so Sec of State can keep using same unfair devices

23 Appeal system (2) April 2000 to April 2012 inclusive: -17.0% asked for reconsideration, 52.8% successful -Only 1.8% appealed to a tribunal, 17% successful Nov 2012 to June 2013 inclusive: – 25.3% asked for reconsideration, 50.9% successful (= 4% freed of sanctions by extra 1 st stage appeals) – 1.7% appealed to a tribunal, 42.2% successful Massively increased Tribunal success rate suggests that many/most of the extra sanctions are dishonest – but few go to Tribunal

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26 Impact on homelessness: Sources of information Three recent major reports: – Homeless Link/CRISIS/St Mungo’s – ‘The Programme’s Not Working’ (Nov 2012) – CRISIS – ‘Dashed Hopes, Lives on Hold’ (Jun 2013) – HomelessWatch – ‘A High Price to Pay: the impact of benefit sanctions on homeless people’ (Sept 2013) – survey of 52 organizations Many CAB reports inc. Gtr Manchester CAB survey ‘Punishing Poverty’ (Oct 2013) Huge amount in newspapers & on web

27 Sources of information (2) DWP has no useful research on sanctions and homelessness The most recent govt research on sanctions does not mention homelessness (Peters & Joyce, DWP 2006) – Research design not likely to find homeless people - one third (32%) of their sample had moved and could not be included – Sanctions running at much lower level in 2004 when fieldwork done

28 Sanctions and homelessness: Two aspects 1.Effect of sanctions in making people homeless 2.Impact of sanctions on homeless people 1.Same as on anyone 2.Particular effects on homeless people

29 Sanctions: Creating homelessness Of 45 services responding to HomelessWatch, 23 said clients had been evicted as a result of sanctions There is no way of estimating total number losing their homes, but it is clearly substantial Main problems are: −Loss of Housing Benefit/Council Tax reduction through lack of information −Arrears of service charges not covered by HB −Family disputes resulting from sanctions −General loss of ability to cope

30 Creating homelessness (2) Housing & Council Tax Benefit/Reduction – Sanctioned claimant’s ‘passported’ HB/CTB/CTR claim is terminated – But claimant is not told that they must submit a new claim on the basis of nil income – This looks deliberate – Result is that claimant starts to run up arrears and often ends up evicted

31 Creating homelessness (3) HB/CTR max. backdating reduced to 6 months Oct 2008 and only allowed if ‘good reason’ – sanctioned claimants don’t appear to get it Even if HB continues: – Homeless hostels have additional charges not met by HB – 30 of 39 organizations reported arrears in these due to sanctions (HomelessWatch) – Council Tax in England now also usually has a percentage not met by CTR Sanctioned claimants must meet these from nil or heavily reduced income

32 Creating homelessness (4) Martin, bricklayer, missed appointment because in hospital. Sanctioned 4 months. Lived off family & friends. Lost home, now in hostel. Won appeal but still in hostel – BBC Radio Sheffield, 4 Nov 2013 ‘Because my Housing Benefit wasn’t paid for 3 months and still hasn’t been reinstated I’m facing eviction and I’m a full time carer to my adult son’ – Manchester CAB

33 Creating homelessness (4) ‘At 52 years of age I lost my home and my 21 year old son, who has had to move in with his girlfriend’s family. We are both sofa-surfing with absolutely no hope for a future of any kind…..I stay with a friend who feeds me, but have been suicidal for a long while now’ ‘I have been kicked out of my mother’s household due to being sanctioned and I’m now homeless’ – Manchester CAB ‘One young homeless man described how his mother asked him to leave home in part because he could not repay the money he borrowed from her after he was sanctioned’ – HomelessWatch

34 Impact on claimants, homeless or not Damage to health & family relationships Debt Family and friends suffer hardship Sanctions cause 25% of Food Bank use Increased crime (incl. ‘survival theft’ ) People pushed into worse jobs that don’t last Claimants’ & employers’ time wasted through pointless job applications People alienated from employment services Claimants fear to complain re bad treatment

35 Impact (2) ‘I had no income, and had to borrow from my parents (who are also on benefits and don't get much income). It has affected me mentally, and I am severely depressed and having anxiety attacks.’ ‘Starved and lived off what I had. Scrounged food from bins and only left the house after darkness fell. Had no electric or gas. Struggled and went without nothing for 3 days.‘ ‘I’ve lost over 2 stone in weight through lack of food.’

36 Impact (3) ‘My mum has been taken to court and fined for not being able to pay the shortfall in Council Tax and is struggling to pay the rent arrears accrued when I was sanctioned and the strain has quite literally smashed our family to pieces – I feel like a burden on her and have felt suicidal on more than one occasion’ ‘It’s all getting too much. We are now prisoners in our home, no point going out, can’t buy or do anything’ – Manchester CAB

37 Impact (4) Julie doesn’t like borrowing money but had no choice after she was sanctioned. After she bought food and paid her bills, she didn’t have much money left. The food she bought ran out and she had to visit a foodbank so that she could eat. Julie says she is lucky she was ill and wasn’t very hungry. She spent a lot of time in bed because she was ill, which meant she could keep her heating on low and not use much electricity. – CRISIS, ‘Dashed Hopes, Lives on Hold’ (June 2013)

38 Impact (5) Huge diversion of Jobcentre resources to sanctioning, away from employment support All observers agree that Jobcentre Plus is currently providing very little genuine employment support (see HofC Work & Pensions Committee written evidence) Only 8 of 45 orgs said sanctions were motivating homeless clients to get into employment, and 3 of 45 that they led them to engage better with Jobcentre Plus (HomelessWatch)

39 Particular impact of sanctions on homeless people Homeless people already in crisis – sanctions pile on another, making it impossible to cope Young people are particularly likely to be sanctioned – and also to be homeless Homeless people usually lack support from family & friends – which is key to survival Many homeless people have other issues, e.g. mental illness, substance use, learning difficulty, making sanctions likely & coping more difficult

40 Impact on homeless people (2) Letters particularly likely not to reach claimant Language difficulties of homeless migrants Support workers spending more time dealing with sanctions and less helping clients to independent living (HomelessWatch) How do you resettle a homeless person serving a 3-year sanction? – only way out is 6 months in continuous employment – hard to achieve

41 Leslie Morphy, Chief Executive of Crisis – 6 Nov 2013 “These ’sanctions’ are cruel and often handed out unfairly, due to errors on the part of the job centre or Work Programme provider. They can leave people utterly destitute – without money even for food and at severe risk of homelessness. Quite how this is meant to motivate people or help them back into work is difficult to see.”

42 What can be done? Three levels: – Casework – Campaigning – Longer term reform

43 Casework Your client MUST appeal at least to the ‘reconsideration’ stage – the average case has a better than chance of success Go to their MP – the DWP caves in rapidly as they want to keep MPs’ support for the system After both the above, consider a Tribunal appeal – chances of success have risen sharply Your client MUST get their HB/CTR/hardship payment applications in on time

44 Campaigning Scottish Welfare Fund should be reformed to allow assistance to sanctioned claimants Good opportunity in forthcoming Scottish Welfare Fund Bill Get your horror stories into the media Campaign over the most blatant failures of the system: – Safeguarding HB/CTR. These claims should be automatically continued when there is a sanction – Lack of independence in DWP decision-making

45 Scottish Welfare Fund Guidance 6.9‘ Crisis Grants and Community Care grants should not undermine DWP’s sanctions and disallowances. If an applicant is subject to a disallowance or a sanction by the DWP, and their benefit is reduced as a result, a Crisis Grant should only be awarded to meet expenses which are the consequence of a disaster or the cost of food for their children. The applicant may be able to get a hardship payment from the DWP.’

46 Longer term reform Sanctions should be abolished Sanctions have little effect on the overall level of unemployment A high proportion of the things claimants are forced to do are not sensible Claimants’ own strategies for getting work should be respected There are other ways of influencing behaviour Sanctions cause too much damage to people & society For more detail see vc/EvidencePdf/1401

47 Longer term reform (2) Apart from the Baldwin govt’s ‘Actively Seeking Work’ campaign of , the National Unemployment Insurance system worked happily with very few disqualifications other than 6 weeks for Voluntary Leaving & Misconduct until the later 1980s Conditions are unavoidable in any insurance scheme, but there should be a proper safety net for people who do not meet them

48 Conclusion All three major parties are deeply implicated in the sanctions system Currently politicians are responding to what they perceive as public hostility to the unemployed But this can be changed - the main priority should be to raise public awareness since this is very low

49 More information Citizens Advice Bureau publications (on web) Guardian website My Written Evidence to House of Commons Work & Pensions Committee inquiry Role of Jobcentre Plus in the reformed welfare system Pdf/1401 Working Brief, Autumn 2013 issue Paul Spicker’s Social Policy blog me at:


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