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ERSA warns benefit sanction changes do not go far enough

Government changes to benefit sanctions do not go far enough and more needs to be done to ensure jobseekers are not hindered on their journey to employment, according to the Employment Related Services Association (ERSA).

The association welcomed plans to pilot a 14 day warning for claimants before receiving sanctions, and extending the definition of ‘at risk’ groups for hardship purposes to include those with mental health conditions and who are homeless.

However, in addition to today’s changes, it has called for:

1. An ‘early warning’ system which could be used at first offence rather than imposing a sanction.

2. The development of a far more robust evidence base about the effectiveness of sanctions and benefits conditionality generally on jobseekers.

3. Frontline employment providers of the Work Programme and other programmes to be given more discretion about when they should report jobseekers to Jobcentre Plus for potential sanctioning.

4. Greater clarity across the system about which jobseekers classed as ‘vulnerable’ and should be exempt from sanctions altogether.

5. The better sharing of information about jobseeker circumstances, including the results of Work Capability Assessments, as lack of information can lead to inappropriate sanctioning.

6. An automatic review of jobseeker circumstances when repeat sanctions fail to have an effect.

Kirsty McHugh, ERSA chief executive, said: “We welcome the recognition by the Secretary of State that the sanctions system is in need of reform, but are concerned that the changes today don’t go far enough.

“For some jobseekers, receiving a sanction can act as a ‘wake up’ call. However, for the majority, the sanction system is more likely to hinder the journey to employment. Jobseekers move into work quickest when they feel positive about work and thus sanctions should only be used as a last resort.”

Natalie Thornhill

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