Punishment, criticised for being pointlessly cruel, doesn’t work, admits Amber Rudd (as she announces running for Prime Minister and the Tories are disappearing into a vat of shit over EU elections)
'The government is to abolish “counterproductive” three-year benefit sanctions, in an official acknowledgement that depriving jobless people of social security income for long periods undermines their attempts to move into work.
The announcement, made by the work and pensions secretary, Amber Rudd, during a speech on employment on Thursday morning, was welcomed by campaigners and MPs, who encouraged her to make further changes to the controversial policy.
The move marks a sharp change of tone by the government, which has for years doggedly defended the sanctions regime as a way of persuading people into work, despite mounting criticism from MPs, academics and campaigners that sanctions are major drivers of poverty and hardship.
Sanctions withhold unemployment benefit as punishment for apparent infringements of benefit rules, such as failing to attend a jobcentre meeting, or not spending enough time looking for work. Most are imposed for four weeks, a loss of benefit income of about £300. Three-year sanctions are issued when a claimant has made three or more serious breaches of work-related requirements.
Sanctions are notorious among claimants for the way they are issued, often for seemingly capricious and absurd reasons, such as arriving at a jobcentre meeting two minutes late, or for missing an appointment after being taken to hospital after suffering a cardiac arrest.
Rudd said the three-year sanctions would be phased out by the end of the year. In a House of Commons statement, she said: “Three-year sanctions are rarely used, but I believe that they are counter-productive and ultimately undermine our goal of supporting people into work.
“I have reviewed my Department’s internal data, which shows that a six-month sanction already provides a significant incentive for claimants to engage with the labour market regime.
“I agree with the Work and Pensions Select Committee that a three-year sanction is unnecessarily long and I feel that the additional incentive provided by a three-year sanction can be outweighed by the unintended impacts to the claimant due to the additional duration.”'
Read more: Tories ditch 'ineffective' three-year benefit sanctions