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Benefits sanctions system ‘broken’

27 November 2014
Tens of thousands of single parents [1] are facing wrongful sanctions under a broken regime overly focussed on sanctions at the expense of the practical support that would help single parents into work, warns Gingerbread today.

Parents who are sanctioned, many of whom are already struggling to get by, are forced to cut back spending on the essentials of food and heating, which in turn affects their children’s health and wellbeing, reports the charity. What’s more, single parents who are sanctioned are less likely than other claimants to be told that they may be able to claim hardship payments [2]. Gingerbread is publishing a new report today, calling for any parent sanctioned to be automatically given hardship payments to ensure some minimum protection for children in families affected.

Analysis in the charity’s new report, Single parents and benefit sanctions, has found that single parents are more likely to receive a ‘non adverse’ decision than other people referred for sanction or appealing a sanction, suggesting they are more likely to have been wrongly put forward for sanction in the first place. The latest government statistics show that two in five (41 per cent) of sanction referrals and decisions against single parents are overturned [3]. While sanctioned people wait for their sanction to be reviewed, their benefits remain blocked.

The government’s own research finds limited evidence that sanctions help people to move into work [4]. Gingerbread argues that sanctions processes and appeals are diverting resources from providing the practical support single parents need, such as opportunities for work experience or training.

Gingerbread Chief Executive Fiona Weir said: “The high rate of overturned sanction decisions for single parents suggests that many should never have been referred for sanction. It is extremely distressing for any parent to be told that they are going to lose £290 for a month when they need that money to feed their children.

“Our report has found that the benefits sanctions regime is broken; precious time and resources that are being spent on sanctions are coming at the expense of action that would help people back to work. Single parents want to work [5] but they have to balance any job with caring for their children, we have found that many job centres are losing sight of this.”

Gingerbread has heard dozens of reports of job centre advisers failing to apply the rules designed to protect single parents’ caring responsibilities and wrongly threatening single parents with sanctions [6].
One single mother was sanctioned for turning down night shifts because she couldn’t find anyone to look after her young daughter overnight, another single parent reported that she was sanctioned for missing a job centre appointment when her son was in hospital.

Under universal credit, many of the rules designed to protect single parents from wrongful sanctions are set to be downgraded from ‘regulations’ to ‘guidance’ for job centre advisers. Given evidence of widespread poor application of the current rules, Gingerbread is calling for the government to improve advisor training and ensure the protections are made into regulation and not left open to interpretation by overstretched advisers.

Fiona Weir continued: “The calls that we get are just the tip of the iceberg. We worry that parents who don’t know about the rules designed to protect them face being wrongly sanctioned or pressured into unsuitable jobs that they can’t sustain.

“Most single parents want to work.  Sanctions are getting in the way rather than helping.”
The full report, Single parents and benefit sanctions, will be available on Gingerbread’s website ( on Thursday 27 November.


Notes to editors

Gingerbread's report: Single parents and benefit sanctions, November 2014 (PDF)

About sanctions

Since April this year, single parents receiving income support, an out of work benefit that is intended to recognise caring responsibilities, have been subject to new conditions to prepare for work, dependent on the age of their child. Those who are deemed not to have complied, are sanctioned with 20 per cent of their income support (£72.40 a week) stopped until they do comply. If a parent is sanctioned for missing a job centre appointment, they will remain under sanction until a new appointment is arranged and they attend, which could take weeks.
Those sanctioned under jobseeker’s allowance have all of their £72.40 weekly jobseeker’s allowance stopped, initially for four weeks, but up to three years for serious and repeated failures on the part of the claimant.
[1] 16,166 single parents have had a sanction overturned; 43,131 have received a non-adverse decision after being referred for sanction since October 2012. DWP (2014) Jobseeker’s allowance and employment support sanctions: decisions made to June 2014.
[2] Hardship payments are a reduced amount of job seekers allowance (JSA). Less than a fifth (18 per cent) of single parents, compared with 23 per cent of JSA claimants, were told about the possibility of a hardship payment. (See report for full references.) People sanctioned under JSA have their JSA stopped from one week to three years, depending on the level of the sanction and how many times the person has been sanctioned before.
[3] DWP (2014) Jobseeker’s allowance and employment support sanctions: decisions made to June 2014. See figure 1 of Gingerbread’s report Single parents and benefit sanctions.
[4] DWP (2013) The Jobcentre Plus offer: final evaluation report.
[5] 84 per cent of non-working single mothers would like to have a job, become self-employed or return to study. Park, A. et al (2010) British Social Attitudes: the 26th report.
[6] See the full report for example calls to Gingerbread’s helpline.

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