Mar 042014

Policy Exchange published its report on sanctions yesterday. Apart from the mantra that a sanction regime is an integral part of welfare, when evidence shows that sanctions are good at driving people off benefits, but useless at helping them finding a job, a lot of attention has been focused on the number of wrongly sanctioned claimants. This number, around 70,000 people, is the number of people with a low level sanction and 1st offence, who had their sanction decisions overturned through appeal or reconsideration. Box 4.1 page 31 of the report elaborates on this.

It would have been a lot more informative to consider all overturned sanction decisions, whether at low, intermediate or high level, and to differentiate between overturned sanction decisions through appeals and through reconsiderations.  

Unfortunately, it is not presently possible to make these calculations as it seems that DWP, which is using a new statistical tool, Stat-Xplore, to allow extraction of different combination of statistics, had to remove all the data related to appeal outcomes because of ‘issues’. While the number of people who appeal a sanction decision is very small (10,362) compared to the total number of people sanctioned, it is the percentage of overturned sanction decisions through appeals compared to the total number of appealed sanction decisions which is above all indicative of the quality of decisions.

The same weight cannot be given to the outcome of a reconsideration as to the outcome of an appeal. Appeals are dealt with by independent tribunals while reconsiderations are done by DWP, and as David Webster, the Glasgow University researcher says: DWP decision makers are’mere agents of the Secretary of State and have had no independent responsibility to apply the law reasonably’.

It is interesting to note that Policy Exchange did not try to disaggregate the appeal and reconsideration figures for analysis. By doing so, the report confers undeserved credibility to the number of wrongly sanctioned claimants. 

So if the reconsideration figures have to be taken with a pinch of salt (a big pinch) and if the appeal outcomes are wrong, where does that leave us?