I welcome the decision from the Work and Pensions Secretary, Iain Duncan-Smith, that claimants will be given two weeks before their benefits are sanctioned. This decision is a response to criticism from a parliamentary committee that the sanctions regime is too harsh.
Figures from the DWP showed that 58% of people seeking to overturn sanctions were successful – up from 20% before 2010. That shows, amongst other things, that the DWP is probably not implementing its own system properly.
While welcoming this decision, I believe that it doesn’t go far enough. Many people who are sanctioned are those who struggle with basic skills (literacy, numeracy, or digital exclusion). They need support from specialist advice agencies, many of whom have seen reductions in legal aid and their ability to represent individuals who struggle with the system.
Other advice services are on the verge of closure because of the reduction or loss of funding from their local authorities.
Rights are only as good as the ability of an individual to enforce them. Having seen close up an example of someone making a claim, it appears that the welfare system could have been designed to confuse and frustrate.
Making the sanction regime less harsh is a start. Now the government must ensure people can get support, advice and representation