Benefit sanctions scheme 'flawed'
The next government should launch an urgent review of benefit sanctions because the current regime is "punitive and flawed", according to a new report.
Homelessness charity Crisis warned of a "postcode lottery" in the use of sanctions, with differences across the country over the chances of being affected.
The charity published a map of "hotspots" it said showed where people were most likely to be penalised, headed by Richmondshire in Yorkshire (15 Jobseeker's Allowance sanctions per 100 claimants), Test Valley in Hampshire (12) and Southampton (11).
Crisis said homeless people may be disproportionately affected by sanctions, with many facing obstacles that make it harder for them to meet conditions of the regime.
Research for Crisis by the Centre for Regional Economic and Social Research at Sheffield Hallam University said sanctions could increase people's risk of becoming homeless.
Jon Sparkes, chief executive of Crisis, said: "The Government has assured us that benefit sanctions are only for those who refuse to play by the rules, but evidence is mounting of a punitive and deeply flawed regime.
"Sanctions are cruel and can leave people at severe risk of homelessness - cold, hungry and utterly destitute. At the same time, people who are already homeless can struggle to meet the conditions of the regime. Many are trying to rebuild their lives, and losing the support of benefits can be disastrous. This isn't helping people into work. It's kicking them when they're down.
"We want our next government to commit to an urgent, wide-ranging review looking at the appropriateness and effectiveness of sanctions, especially for people at risk of or experiencing homelessness."
The report said there had been a "dramatic" increase in sanctions over the past five years, adding that they were forcing people to cut back on food or unable to pay bills such as heating.
The report's author, Dr Kesia Reeve of Sheffield Hallam University, said: "This evidence review raises serious questions about the appropriateness, effectiveness, and consequences of benefit sanctions, particularly for homeless people.
"The evidence at present is limited, but points clearly to a system that is more punitive than it is supportive and that fails to take into account the barriers homeless people face.
"The scale and magnitude of sanctions is startling, as is the wide variation found across the country."
A Department for Work and Pensions spokesman said: "This report fails to recognise that we have already changed the rules to give homeless people time to arrange accommodation before they have to look for work. Crisis themselves have welcomed these changes.
"The report also fails to mention that the number of sanctions is falling.
"The truth is that every day Jobcentre Plus advisers are helping people into work, with a record number of people now in jobs. Sanctions are only used as a last resort for the tiny minority who refuse to take up the support which is on offer."