Research shows that homeless people may be disproportionately affected by ‘punitive’ and ‘flawed’ sanctions regime

10 March 2015

A new report carried out for Crisis by researchers at Sheffield Hallam University, indicates that benefit claimants may be subject to a ‘postcode lottery’, due to sanctions rules being applied unevenly across the UK.

The report uncovers that the ‘hotspots’ for sanctioning in the UK are concentrated in Richmondshire, Aberdeenshire, Hampshire, Bromley and Derbyshire, where 10 or more claimants in every 100 has been sanctioned.
The report shows that around half of job centre sanctions decisions are overturned, suggesting that the way decisions are made by advisors on the front line, are often flawed.

Particularly the report focuses on the way benefit sanctions may be affecting homeless people, though it acknowledges that there is a ‘critical evidence gap’ in official statistics relating to sanctioned claimants’ housing circumstances.
However, drawing on available data, the authors do suggest that homeless people are more likely to be sanctioned if they are young, vulnerable males. One study suggests that sanctions have affected one third of homeless people.

The report states that ‘such evidence has raised questions about the fairness, appropriateness, and effectiveness of the sanctions regime in relation to homeless people’.

Dr Kesia Reeve of the Centre for Regional, Economic and Social Research at Sheffield Hallam University, said that: ‘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 report also explores the multiple impacts of sanctioning on the following:
• ‘Food poverty: Sanctions are forcing people to cut back on food, resort to food banks and even shoplift for food.
• Fuel poverty: Sanctions are leaving people unable to afford heating and struggling to pay their utility bills.
• Mental and physical health problems: Sanctions can have a severe impact on stress, anxiety and depression, making it even harder for people to find work.
• Family/relationship tensions: People are often forced to borrow money from family and friends, leading to family problems, tensions and arguments.

• Disengagement with the system: Sanctions can make it for harder people to find work, travel to interviews and buy suitable clothes and can de-motivate people from engaging with the system.’

The report can be read in full here.