A Labour MP who sits on the Work and Pensions Committee has said that benefit sanctions are “too arbitrary” and the Department for Work and Pensions must provide more clarity on when they apply.
Steve McCabe joined Matthew Wright on talkRADIO following an inquiry by the committee that found sanctions to be “cruel” and ineffective in encouraging people to find work.
“Maybe I should say at the outset that not a single person we took evidence from, including some of those who suffered the most, actually argued that there should be no sanctions,” said Mr McCabe.
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“People believe it’s right to have sanctions, but what they want is something that’s fair and transparent, and what we found is it’s far too arbitrary.
“One of our recommendations is that the department must provide clear regulations as to the grounds in which sanctions apply.”
'This has got to stop'
He described some of the situations in which people he’d taken evidence from had been sanctioned, and described an “extraordinarily high level of sanctions” against people who’d been in care.
“We had evidence of people who phoned up and said their bus had been delayed or there was a problem on the tube, and they were told that’s fine, only to discover they’d the been sanctioned,” Mr McCabe said.
“That sort of thing has obviously got to stop. We had examples that doctors had written clear notes saying this person couldn’t possibly work at this time, and that was completely ignored and they were sanctioned.
“Some of the people who suffer the most are people with disabilities, and care leavers - [there is] an extraordinarily high level of sanctions of young people just leaving the care system.”
'Tax evaders aren't dragged to court'
Wright added: “There were a few people on social media who said, and I don’t doubt them, that the trouble with the sanctions policy as a way of trying to control cheats, is that cheats tend to be quite good at it.
“The real losers of the sanctions are those who’ve never claimed benefits before and don’t know their way around.”
He also questioned whether tax avoidance was being treated as harshly as benefit fraud.
“I wonder why we spend so much time talking about benefit cheats when you look at the tiny amount of money they actually take, and we spend very little time talking about tax avoidance and evasion, not just by large multinational corporations who have endless meetings with our MPs, but also by the super rich. None of them are dragged to court,” he said.
In the financial year from 2016-2017, 2% of the total spend on benefits - around £3.6 billion - was due to fraud and error.