Last week the Dundee Courier published a big article proclaiming Dundee still ‘Sanctions City’. We have nothing but criticism for the sanctions system, but this headline is both misleading and unhelpful. Dundee jobcentre still has the highest number of sanctions of any jobcentre in Scotland, but it also has significantly more people signing on than any other Scottish jobcentre, so this is to be expected. What this headline obscures is the huge drop in the number of sanctions since 2013/14, as this graph shows.
Being sanctioned is brutal, and is even worse for people on Universal Credit, when Hardship Payments become loans that have to be paid back off future benefits. But fear of sanctions is also a major cause of distress, so it is very important not to make people think that the risk is greater than it actually is!
We should also not ignore the drop in sanctions because it suggests that even the DWP can feel the pressure to respond to widespread outrage and campaigns: although, as we have discussed in the past, they may also have concluded that the fear of sanctions is enough to keep benefit claimants constantly on their toes, and they only need to implement enough actual sanctions to keep that fear alive.
We need to be careful, too, not to allow the focus on sanctions to obscure the many other ways that the DWP has devised to put pressure on people claiming benefits. As sanction numbers have fallen, so the number of people we have had to help because they have been refused disability benefits has gone up, and the foodbanks are being kept busy ensuring people survive benefit delays, but perhaps that doesn’t make such a snappy headline. There’s so very much to be concerned about; but exaggerating the probability of sanctions through lazy statistics is only feeding the DWP fear factory.