Universal Credit sanction impacts on disabled people
In yesterday's announcement, the Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt stated that he wants to see more people working as part of his vision for a healthier society. He argued that work is good for both physical and mental health, and that having a job can provide a sense of purpose and self-esteem. Under the new rules, claimants will be expected to prove that they are actively seeking work and attending job interviews, or risk losing their benefits. Hunt also announced plans to expand the Fit for Work scheme, which is designed to help people with health conditions return to work. However, critics have warned that the changes could push vulnerable people into poverty and homelessness, and that there are not enough jobs available to meet the demand.
He also said he would raise the executive income limit from 15 to 18 hours a week. If people don't follow the system, they risk losing some benefits, which include weekly or fortnightly meetings with a job coach and a commitment to spend up to 35 hours a week looking for a job.
The increase comes just six months after Hunt's predecessor, Kwasi Kwarteng, announced he would raise the bar from nine to 15 hours.
Ministers and the DWP claim sanctions are an effective way of encouraging more low-income earners to start working or work longer. However, the DWP declined to publish research it commissioned in 2019 on whether this was the case.
Last week, the Information Commissioner's Office asked the DWP to release research which the department have refused to release under freedom of information legislation.
The ICO, ruling on the DWP's rejection of the FoI's request for the document to appeal, said Information Commissioner John Edwards "considers that there is a particularly strong public interest in scrutiny and understanding of the information available to those deciding whether to continue with a controversial policy such as sanctioning benefits".
Parliament's Work and Pensions Committee has previously warned that the DWP's repeated failure to publish research "could undermine the trust [of] the public, parliament and the department".
Last summer, the committee wrote to then Work and Pensions Minister Thérèse Coffey saying her department had failed to publish several reports - including on sanctions - "despite expectations or previous commitments to do so".
In response, Coffey said there were "no longer plans to release a report."
"The notion of a sanction acts not only through its imposition on a claimant but importantly also through its effect as a deterrent" she said.
“Due to the way the report was commissioned, we were unable to assess the deterrent effect and therefore this research does not present a comprehensive picture of sanctions..”
According to the ICO's decision, the DWP has until April 10 to publish the report. If this is not the case, the Information Commissioner can write to the High Court on the matter, which can be regarded as contempt of court.
Announcing the spring budget reforms, Mr Hunt said two million people in the UK who were out of work or on low incomes were receiving universal credit - “more than enough to fill every single vacancy in the economy”.
“Independence is always better than dependence, which is why we believe those who can work, should,” he said.
“So sanctions will be applied more rigorously to those who fail to meet strict work-search requirements or choose not to take up a reasonable job offer.”
Currently, anyone who works more than 15 hours a week while receiving Universal Credit is subject to a so-called "light touch regime," which requires them to attend a job interview at a job center when they start receiving benefits, and then again eight weeks later.
Hunt also announced returnships: a new type of apprenticeship for people over 50 who are out of work but have not yet reached retirement age to return to work.
These will "bring together our existing skills programmes to make them more appealing for older workers, focussing on flexibility and previous experience to reduce training length", he said.
What is Universal Credit and how can disabled people be impacted by the sanctions?
Universal Credit is a social security payment for people who are out of work or have a low income.If you’re getting Personal Independence Payment (PIP) or Disability Living Allowance (DLA), it will continue to be paid along with your Universal Credit payment. (Find out more here)
Sanctions are penalties that can be imposed on Universal Credit claimants if they do not meet certain requirements or fail to comply with specific conditions. This can include not attending job interviews, not searching for work or not attending training courses.
Disabled people are more likely to be sanctioned than non-disabled people due to various reasons, such as difficulty in accessing job opportunities, facing barriers to work, and needing reasonable adjustments to participate in activities.
Sanctions can have a severe impact on disabled people, as they may already be struggling to make ends meet or face additional costs associated with their impairment, such as higher bills or health-related expenses. Sanctions can push disabled individuals further into poverty, making it even harder for them to buy essential goods and services.
Furthermore, sanctions can also impact their mental and physical health, leading to depression, anxiety, and isolation. They may also result in losing their housing, which can have additional detrimental effects on their health and wellbeing.
In summary, Universal Credit sanctions can disproportionately affect disabled people, leading to financial hardship, social exclusion, and adverse health outcomes. The new sanctions that have been put into place will only make this even harder for disabled people.