A new harrowing but unsurprising report by the Citizens Advice Bureau on sanctions found that:
–60% of those sanctioned had been receiving JSA, but a further 33% were unfit for work and were receiving ESA.
-40% of respondents said they had not received a letter from the Job Centre informing them of the sanction.
–Almost a quarter of respondents did not know why they had been sanctioned. 29% of respondents said they had been sanctioned because they had not done enough to look for work. However, many people commented that the sanction had been applied unfairly, when they had in fact looked for work or attended an interview as required, because of a very narrow interpretation of the rules or for reasons that were beyond their control.
-More than half the respondents said they had not received any information about how to appeal against the sanction. Nonetheless, three-fifths (62%) of respondents had appealed. One third of these appeals had been successful and a further 23% of those who had appealed were still waiting to hear the outcome. Administrative delays in receiving formal notification of the sanction meant that a number of people had been refused leave to appeal because they were out of time, adding further to the perception that they had been treated unfairly.
-The majority of respondents had been sanctioned for four weeks or less, but almost one third had been sanctioned for 10 weeks or more. The average duration of the sanction was 8 weeks.
-Two-thirds of respondents had been left with no income after the sanction was imposed. Those with children reported they only had child benefit and child tax credits.
-Just under a quarter (23%) of those sanctioned were living in households with children. More than 10% of respondents were lone parents.
-Respondents coped with the loss of income by borrowing money from friends and family (80%), from the bank or on their credit card (8%) or from a pay day loan company (9%).
-They also cut down on food (71%), heating (49%) and travel (47%). Almost a quarter (24%) had applied for a food parcel. Some respondents had been left to scrounge for food from skips or bins, or had had to resort to begging to feed themselves.
–The sanction had a severe impact on the mental and physical health of many respondents. Existing health conditions were exacerbated because of poor diet and stress, and a number of respondents said they had attempted suicide or that they felt suicidal.
–There were also serious effects on the wider family, particularly children, because of the loss of income. There were stresses also on adult relationships: one respondent said ‘the strain has quite literally smashed our family to pieces’.
-Many respondents felt they had been unjustly treated because of the Job Centre’s own administrative errors or because a sanction had been imposed unreasonably given their circumstances.
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’m worried benefit won’t be sorted in time for rent as this could make us all homeless yet again. Last time we were homeless was a result of fleeing domestic violence and me and my children were put in B&B.