One Third Of Homeless People Hit By Benefit Sanctions

sanction-sabsA damning report has been published by Homeless Link which reveals that one third of homeless people on unemployment benefits, and just under a fifth of those on the sickness and disability benefit Employment Support Allowance, have had benefits stopped or sanctioned for failing to carry out ‘Work Related Activity’.

According to Homeless Link, who are an umbrella body for homelessness organisations, many of those sanctioned have mental health conditions, learning disabilities or substance use problems.  Young homeless people and non-English speakers also face a higher risk of sanction.

Around one million benefit claims are expected to be sanctioned this year.  Sanctions can now last up to three years and leave people dependent on discretionary Hardship Payments – which are being converted into loans and are not available to everyone – of just £43 a week.  Claimants can be sanctioned for an ever growing list of offences, including missing a meeting with an advisor, failure to complete ‘mandated’ activity on the Work Programme or failing to attend workfare.

The DWP claim these brutal measures help motivate people to look for work, a shockingly out of touch viewpoint which is shamefully shared by several homelessness organisations themselves who participate in workfare schemes.

The reality is that sanctions lead to abject poverty, where finding money for the next meal takes precedence over any form of longer term planning.  According to Homeless Link, sanctions are driving recently housed homeless people into arrears and evictions, whilst those in temporary accommodation such as hostels are unable to pay the weekly service charges which must be met out of benefits.  The report also claims that sanctions are making mental health or substance use problems worse for many homeless people.  In the words of one person interviewed: “you try to get back on your feet and you’re smacked back down”.

With Jobcentre staff working to unofficial targets to sanctions as many claims as possible, it is hardly surprising that it is the most vulnerable claimants who are targeted.  According to the report:

“Several survey respondents said their clients were sanctioned after missing appointments with Jobcentre Plus because of ill health or hospital appointments. One reported that a client was sanctioned whilst he was in hospital recovering from a heart attack. A homeless man described how he received a sanction despite rearranging his interview in advance so he could take his daughter to a hospital appointment.”

The report also warns that the benefit sanctioning regime is so widespread that it is now affecting homeless charities themselves, leading to some highly paid charity bosses almost dropping their vol-au-vents in concern.  22 organisations questioned for the report said they had increased the numbers of evictions or notices to quit they served on hostel or other supported housing residents.  Hostel service charges can be anywhere from around a tenner to 30-40 quid a week, a fortune to homeless people but not a huge amount to homeless charities.

No-one should be made homeless by a homelessness charity because their benefit has been sanctioned, and if charity bosses say they can’t afford that policy then they should pay themselves less until they can.

This report however is a much needed intervention from homelessness charities who until now have been near silent about the relentlessly vicious Tory attacks on homeless people.  One of the reasons for that silence is the involvement of many charities themselves in the sanctioning regime.  Some of those sanctioned will have had benefits cut due to ‘compliance doubts’ raised by Work Programme providers – which include several homelessness charities.  Others will have failed to attend Mandatory Work Activity in a @salvationarmyuk or @YMCA_England charity shop, where claimants can be sent to work for no pay or face benefits being sanctioned.

This report, which tells the truth about the impact of benefit sanctions on those whose lives are already in bits, should be widely read and shared.  But homelessness charities urgently need to put their own houses in order, and ensure that workfare and sanctions have no place within organisations that claim to help homeless people.

Follow me on twitter @johnnyvoid