Young people take brunt of tougher jobseeker sanctions

By Derren Hayes

| 07 November 2013

Poverty and youth campaigners have warned that unemployed young people are being disproportionately affected by jobseeker benefit sanctions.

JSA sanctions are applied when Jobcentre Plus officials believe jobseekers are not looking hard enough for work. Credit: DWP

Figures published by the Department for Work and Pensions show that between October 2012, when the new tougher sanctions regime was introduced, and June 2013, the number of unemployed people that have had sanctions applied to their jobseekers’ allowance (JSA) rose 13 per cent. 

Of the 580,000 sanctions issued over that period, 43 per cent were against 18- to 24-year-olds, even though young people made up just 27 per cent of total JSA claimants. Due to changes in the way data is collected, there are no comparative figures for the number of sanctions issued against young people prior to the new regime being introduced.

The tiered sanctions see JSA claimants lose payments for fixed periods from four weeks to three years depending on the severity of the failure to meet conditions to look for work set by Jobcentre Plus.

Ministers introduced the tougher sanctions to encourage people back into work, but charities have warned it is increasing levels of poverty and distress among young people.

YMCA England said it had serious concerns about the way the sanctions had been communicated to jobseekers; how they are being administered by Jobcentre Plus; and the negative impact it is having on young people’s physical, mental and economic wellbeing.

Denise Hatton, chief executive of YMCA England, said: “Rather than motivating vulnerable young people to find employment, receiving a sanction can hinder their ability to prepare and look for work, making the prospect of them getting off benefits a more distant reality.”

Hatton called for the impact that sanctions are having on young people’s lives to be part of the independent review into their use being led by Matthew Oakley, former head of economics and social policy at the think-tank Policy Exchange, which is due to report next spring.

“We encourage Matthew Oakley to seek the views and participation of the vulnerable young people affected by these policies, to help inform his recommendations,” Hatton added.

The Child Poverty Action Group said the rise in the use of sanctions was creating a “Kafkaesque nightmare” that is resulting in more people being forced to use food banks because of financial hardship.

Under the sanctions regime, JSA claimants can have their benefit suspended for between four and 13 weeks for lower and intermediate level failings, and from 13 weeks to three years for higher level failings.

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