Church of Scotland calls for urgent review of benefit sanctions

Church_of_ScotlandThe Church of Scotland has joined with other churches and charities calling on the UK government to set up a full, independent review of the benefits sanctions system.

In the 100 days since the House of Commons work and pensions select committee called for a review the government has given no indication it intends to act. Over that 100 day period last year, more than 15,000 Scots on Job Seekers Allowance were sanctioned. The Kirk is now calling for the government to urgently heed the committee’s report and act on its recommendations.

The Rev Dr Richard Frazer, vice-convener of the Church of Scotland’s Church and Society Council, said: “The impact and effect of sanctions on individuals, families and communities across Scotland have been devastating. It is shocking that the UK government is proposing changes to how it defines child poverty, without any indication it will act on the need to review the impact of the welfare cuts it has already imposed. It should be listening to the voices of those children and families who live in poverty, about what they need to get on.

“Far from encouraging people back to work, they impose punitive and indiscriminate financial hardship on thousands of people who need help. Removing support from people with mental ill health or parents of children will do nothing to reduce inequality and improve life chances for people who struggle against poverty.”

Dame Anne Begg, MP for Aberdeen South from 1997 to 2015, who chaired the select committee, said: “If sanctions work as a deterrent, why are so many people still facing multiple sanctions? As there are so many questions about the effects on people who have been sanctioned, it is time the government implemented the recommendation of my select committee in the last Parliament to carry out a full, independent review of the whole sanction regime.

“Many believe that sanctions are being applied to the wrong people for often trivial reasons and are the cause of the increased use of foodbanks. Only an independent review can get to the truth of what is actually happening so that government policy can be based on evidence and not seen as merely punitive.”

In March this year the group of churches, which includes the Church of Scotland, the Church in Wales, Church Action on Poverty, the Methodist Church and the United Reformed Church called for such a review in their report Time to Rethink Benefit Sanctions, which cited new evidence about the negative impact of the current regime. The report revealed that around 100,000 children were affected by sanctions in 2013/14. The data, obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, also shows that people who receive the sickness and disability benefit Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) because of a long-term mental health problem are being sanctioned at a rate of more than 100 per day.

“The case has been made,” said Paul Morrison, public issues policy adviser for the Methodist Church. “The sanctions system requires fundamental review and we call upon the new Parliament to respond positively to the recommendations of the Select Committee. Churches and charities are backing this call because we see day by day the harm that benefit sanctions cause in the communities we serve.”


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