A sanction does not just mean that someone loses income for a period of time. The wider ramifications of a sanction are felt by the individual, their family, community and the also by organisations they come into contact with.
Advice agencies are fire-fighting and the fear must be that we hit a brick wall as advisors deal with the onslaught that the sanctions regime is causing. Dealing with sanctions will take over a larger part of our role and perhaps we can see the impact they are having outside our immediate remit – on social work budgets or such like.
We must make sure advisors are fully aware of the rules and are trained to challenge the DWP regarding their decisions. However, fighting the fire is not enough. We must do more.
The sanction regime is punitive, causes misery for clients and is unjust but this does not mean we can win an argument, in the short term at least, that it needs overhauled. The Independent Review regarding sanctions (https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/jobseekers-allowance-sanctions-independent-review) was not an opportunity to voice concerns regarding the impact of sanctions. It was looking at the process for sanctions and is not designed to question the nature of the sanctions regime. But all is not lost.
There are 3 opportunities which may give us an opportunity to question the regime. These are the possibility of Independence for Scotland and an entirely new system being put in place. We may find that further devolution is the inevitable consequence of a ‘no’ vote. Might the possibility of devolving functions of the Job Centre or the DWP be raised?. The final opportunity and one which will happen at some point, in 2015 or later, is a change of government at UK level. All present an opportunity to demand change and the sanction regime in particular must be challenged.
It will not be enough for us to simply state what is happening and site isolated examples. We must systemically, as Welfare Rights teams, as organisations and local authorities be able to explain the damage that is being done to individuals, families and communities as a direct result of sanctions.
Some Welfare Rights teams will ascertain the outcomes they have achieved for clients. For example an award of PIP may allow someone the financial freedom to engage in society. Is there a way of recording the impact of Welfare Reform? Can we establish the impact a sanction has not only on the individual concerned but on Local Authorities and wider still?
There are many questions needing asked. What is the point of a sanction? What impact does a sanction have? Does it lead to a re-doubling of efforts to find work or does it cause despair, extreme poverty, increase barriers to work, are there health implications and is there is link to criminal activity? It is not a stretch to say that when someone is sanctioned that their chances of finding employment are reduced due to these affects. But can we prove this?
My proposal is that RAS considers a study looking specifically at the impact of sanctions. A study of the impact of a sanction would draw out and make clear what the consequences of a sanction are. Can we detail the wider impacts – on individuals, families, councils and others?
We must be armed with evidence and then, when the circumstances allow, use it to push for change. I believe that the sanction regime is counter-productive and adversely impacts upon the central purpose of the Job Centre – to get people back into work. We need something to back up these assertions which I think we all know to be true.