Big rise in number of people getting benefits docked in Bath
More than 100 sanctions leading to dole claimants having their benefits docked were handed out in Bath in the first five months of last year alone.
The action to stop or reduce a person’s Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) is taken against those deemed by jobcentres not to be meeting the conditions for receiving the payout, such as attending adviser interviews or being available for work.
The system has been at the centre of recent controversy amid claims that jobcentre staff have been set targets to withdraw benefits in a move to bring down unemployment figures.
This is rejected by the Government which argues sanctions are only used as a last resort when claimants “refuse to play by the rules”.
Latest figures published in Parliament show 110 benefit sanctions were issued in Bath up to the end of last May, 240 in Chippenham, 100 in North East Somerset, 140 in North Wiltshire, and 300 in South West Wiltshire.
Latest full year figures for 2011 also showed the overall number of sanctions had increased markedly since 2009.
In Bath, there were 410 compared to 210 two years earlier, Chippenham 340 (140), North East Somerset 270 (130), North Wiltshire 260 (120) and South West Wiltshire 350 (150).
Last October, the Government introduced a tougher penalty regime.
Until then claimants could have their JSA sanctioned for up to 26 weeks, but under the new system their payment could be stopped for up to three years, depending on the breach of conditions and how many times it had happened before.
A DWP spokesman said: “When people claim Jobseeker’s Allowance, they agree to a contract - we offer them the support they need to find work but they agree to do everything possible to prepare for and find work.
“Sanctions are used as a last resort when claimants refuse to play by the rules. People cannot expect to keep their benefits if they do not hold up their end of the bargain.”
In March, Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith was forced to deny opposition claims that jobcentre staff had been set targets to sanction benefits.
Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary Liam Byrne pointed to a leaked email which suggested staff were being pressured by managers to increase the number of claimants referred to a “stricter benefit regime”, or face disciplinary action.
Mr Duncan Smith insisted “there are no targets for any sanctions whatsoever” and said anyone using them would be disciplined.