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Welfare reform under a ‘One Nation’ government – what of the missing millions?

Frank Field MP today calls on the government to initiate a survey of those hundreds of thousands of citizens whose benefit income is withdrawn each year under the sanctioning regime.

In a forensic audit of the government’s welfare reform programme, published next Monday by Civitas and co-authored with Andrew Forsey, Frank finds that the whereabouts of 1.5 million people leaving the welfare rolls each year is a mystery. He also highlights how the wellbeing of at least a third of those who have been sanctioned ‘is anybody’s guess’, before raising concerns over the government’s failure to provide information on the impact of its sanctions policy on poverty, employment and public expenditure.

Frank and Andrew write: ‘The number of sanctions was halved in the year leading up to the 2015 election, but it still remained at half a million. Sanctions are therefore being applied at a scale unknown since the Second World War, and the operation of sanctions on this scale makes for a most significant change in the social security system as it has existed in the post-war period.

‘A number of people – we know not how large a number – are being totally disconnected from both work and welfare, and risk being exposed to destitution.

‘Justice calls for a major survey of what happens to the hundreds of thousands of people thrown off the welfare rolls each year through the sanctioning process. It is unacceptable, not only for this government but for its predecessor and those who will follow, to take away benefit from a mass of people each year and not trouble themselves with how this army of people survive. For that is what is happening under the government’s sanctions policy. The ability to track the wellbeing of the whole population is now a part of being a grown up government, let alone a ‘One Nation’ government.’

Frank and Andrew set out four reforms to restore greater fairness and transparency to the sanctions regime. They:

• Propose that the government must forthwith begin a survey so that they can answer the simple but crucial question of what happens to those citizens expelled from the welfare rolls who appear not to find work.
• Welcome the government’s decision to trial a Yellow Card early warning system, but suggest that should it fail to prevent injustices from occurring, the government should supplement this policy with the option for Jobcentre Plus staff of issuing a non-financial sanction for a claimant’s first failure to meet the terms of their Claimant Commitment.
• Recommend that the Department for Work and Pensions trials a ‘grace period’ for vulnerable claimants of Jobseeker’s Allowance or Employment and Support Allowance, during which the requirements placed upon them are eased at times of transition or acute difficulty.
• Request information from the government showing how much expenditure is withdrawn through its policy of sanctioning claimants.

ENDS

For further information contact:

Andrew Forsey
T: 0207 219 6636
E: andrew.forsey@parliament.uk

Or:
Jack Mason
T: 0207 799 6677
E: jack.mason@civitas.org.uk

Notes

The full publication, ‘Fixing Broken Britain? An audit of working-age welfare reform since 2010’, will be published by Civitas: Institute for the Study of Civil Society on Monday 18th January. It will be launched at 10am in the Macmillan Room, Portcullis House by Frank Field MP.

Frank Field has served as Member of Parliament for Birkenhead since 1979. In 1990 he took up the chairmanship of the Social Security Select Committee and continued in this role up to 1997. In that year he accepted the position of Minister for Welfare Reform in Tony Blairs first government. He then served as a member of the Public Accounts Committee between 2002 and 2005. In 2010 he was appointed by David Cameron to lead the Independent Review on Poverty and Life Chances. Frank co-chaired last years All-Party Parliamentary Inquiry into Hunger in the United Kingdom and he currently chairs the Work and Pensions Select Committee.

Andrew Forsey is head of Frank Field’s parliamentary office, having joined in 2013. In 2014 he served as Secretary to the All-Party Parliamentary Inquiry into Hunger in the United Kingdom. Andrew then wrote the inquirys two follow-up reports in 2015, focusing on the extent and causes of hunger in this country.

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