Financial News

  • 4 March 2014, 8:05

Poor 'Driven To Food Banks' By Benefits Curbs

A think-tank close to the Conservative Party has broken ranks to warn that 68,000 jobseekers are being wrongly stripped of their benefits each year.

The Policy Exchange says the mistakes - followed by draconian sanctions - are forcing people to food banks as they suffer "unnecessary hardship".

The warning will be particularly worrying for the Prime Minister because the Policy Exchange is a centre-right organisation chaired by the Conservative peer, Daniel Finkelstein.

The report says that recipients are being sanctioned and then later appeal and have the decision overturned - but many suffer unfairly in the meantime, it claims.

It calls for a new system in which first-time offenders are not immediately sanctioned but instead given a "benefits card" credited weekly for up to eight weeks. If recipients continue to breach job search conditions then the card would be removed.

The think-tank then suggests more stringent penalties for serial offenders.

"This system would provide a safety net, mitigating hardship whilst a sanction is appealed, forcing claimants to re-engage with Jobcentre staff and deterring non-compliance through the added inconvenience of daily sign on," it concludes.

The warning comes after a barrage of criticism of welfare reforms from church leaders and charities.

Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith has hit back, insisting his policies will help move people out of a dependency culture and back into work.

A spokeswoman for the Department for Work and Pensions said: "Every day, Jobcentre Plus advisers are successfully helping people off benefits and into work as part of the Government's long term plan to build a stronger, more secure economy.

"We have seen record numbers of people in work - the number of people in a job went up by 193,000 over the last three months and the number of unemployed people fell by 125,000.

"It's only right that people claiming benefits should do everything they can to find work if they are able. Sanctions are used as a last resort and anyone who disagrees with a decision can appeal."

She said there was a "well-established" system of hardship provision for those who face sanctions.

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