Benefits sanctions – Another area of Universal Credit that isn’t working for disabled people

Two people linking arms. Boy on the right has a hearing aid in.

Last November, after extensive consultation and research, the Work and Pensions Select Committee released their report on Benefit Sanctions under Universal Credit, including a number of recommendations for government. On Monday, we saw the government respond to this, telling us which recommendations they were going to accept and those that they wouldn’t. Both the committee report and the government response show us yet again that the government still have a long way to go in making Universal Credit work for disabled people.

Benefit sanctions have always been a feature of income replacement benefits, but the way these are used has changed under the new Universal Credit system. Benefit sanctions are where the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) deducts a percentage of a claimant’s Universal Credit standard allowance because their agreed conditions of claiming Universal Credit haven’t been met without good reason. (It’s perhaps important to state that good reason has not been defined). For example, this could be if a claimant doesn’t attend an appointment with a work coach, or if they don’t accept a job when they receive an offer of employment. Generally conditions relate to moving towards, or gaining employment, but they should always be relevant to the claimant’s circumstance.

Only people claiming certain elements of Universal Credit can be sanctioned. For example, those who attend a Work Capability Assessment and are placed in the Support Group will not be subject to sanctions. However, those people who are put in the Work Related Activity Group can be subject to a sanction.

Until now, there was no robust evidence evaluating the effectiveness of the sanctions regime on whether it was achieving its policy aim of getting more claimants to engage with the support on offer to get into work. The government has accepted the committee’s recommendation that there needs to be evidence to show this is the case, in order to show that it is not causing undue hardship to claimants.

However, whilst Universal Credit still fails to identify a claimant’s disability, we must continue to ask questions about how effective this evidence will be in evaluating how the sanctions regime is working for disabled people, alongside ensuring that disabled people are not wrongly sanctioned for things outside their control.

The Committee’s own research showed that sanctions for disabled people are ‘ineffective, counterproductive, and inappropriate’ because there are so many other factors that are in play, such as employer attitudes stopping disabled people gaining employment, or problems getting to job centres for appointments because of accessibility issues.

This is an even bigger concern when, as the committee highlighted in their report, that disabled people are between 26-53% more likely to be sanctioned than non-disabled people, and that there have been 1.2 million sanctions applied to disabled people in the UK since 2008.

The recommendation to include a marker for disability on a claimants Universal Credit claim has not been accepted, something that could provide a safeguard against the above issues.

Another committee recommendation that the government rejected is about those who are currently found unfit for work, but are expected to start making steps towards work in the next year (Work Related Activity Group). This group of people is currently  able to be sanctioned despite the government saying they are not fit enough to work at the minute, and therefore don’t have any other income. This puts financial hardship on a potentially very vulnerable group in society.

Despite being hailed as a simplification of the benefit process, there are so many aspects to Universal Credit that are still not being implemented in a fair way towards disabled people. The response this week from the government on changes to the benefit sanctions regime shows that we still have a long way to go on Universal Credit until it is working fairly for disabled people. We’re working hard in our policy and campaigns team to change this. For more information on what we’re doing, and how you can get involved, click here.

Quick guide to Universal Credit terms:

Benefit Sanctions: Their aim is to make claimants engage with support available to move into employment. It means that a percentage of a claimant’s monthly Universal Credit payment is deducted because their agreed conditions of claiming Universal Credit haven’t been met without good reason.

Work Related Activity Group: Claimants are put into this group if they are not currently fit for work, but are expected to be able to move into work soon so should start to make steps to prepare for this. Sometimes this group is also called Limited Capability for Work Group.

Support Group: Claimants are put into this group if they have a disability or long term health condition which means they are not likely to move into work.

Work Capability Assessment: This is the assessment that people who claim Universal Credit and have a long term health condition or disability that prevents them from working have to go through in order to access additional financial support. After the assessment, claimants will either be found fit for work, or placed in the Work Related Activity Group, or the Support Group.

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