Sanctions: for 'those who can'?

Tuesday, 5 August 2014 - 10:41am

Following the publication of two major reports on welfare, Paul Anderson of Homeless Link and Daniel Dumoulin of St Mungo’s Broadway review the latest developments in the sanctions landscape and how they relate to homelessness.

Photograph: Chris JL (Flickr)

Last September, Homeless Link published research which found that people claiming Jobseekers Allowance while homeless were dramatically more likely to face a benefit sanction than the general claimant population. This led to a number of shared initiatives involving the Department for Work and Pensions, Homeless Link, St Mungo’s Broadway and other key stakeholders.

New legislation on easements

One of these was the development of new legislation which gives Jobcentre Plus (JCP) advisors discretion to apply an ‘easement’ to conditions around looking for work which people are asked to commit to if they are claiming JSA. The easement is aimed at people who have recently become homeless.

In contrast to rules that were previously in place, the easement can last for more than a week and there is no limit on the number of times it can be applied in a year.

Anyone who is granted easement will be expected to take reasonable steps to find accommodation, rather than having to show that they are looking for work. This could mean visiting a day centre, looking for accommodation in a newspaper or making an appointment with a local authority housing department. See this Homeless Link guidance for more information.

We believe that this new legislation is a step in the right direction. At Homeless Link and St Mungo’s Broadway we worked to influence Government while this legislation was being drafted, making sure the views and experiences of our clients and frontline staff were heard.

We will be monitoring the legislation’s impact, building on the work we are already doing with Jobcentre Plus to ensure that the easement is used to better enable people who experience homelessness to get back on their feet.

How easements might have helped Michael

Take Michael for instance, a person who contacted one of our organisations for advice. If the easement had been in effect he might have avoided the stress and uncertainty he experienced when he was sanctioned and had his benefits stopped when he became homeless.

Michael had been made redundant a few months before and was being asked by the Jobcentre to complete a large number of job applications each week and provide evidence that he had done so. At the end of his tenancy, Michael’s landlord sent him a letter threatening to take him to court if he did not leave his flat. Clearly his priority at that point was to find somewhere to live. It takes little imagination to see how suddenly becoming homeless made it extremely difficult for Michael to look for jobs.

Two reports on this were published last week. Both Matthew Oakley’s Independent Review of Jobseeker’s Allowance sanctions and the Work and Pensions Select Committee report on Employment Support Allowance point to broader problems with the benefits system that help explain why so many people experiencing homelessness are trapped in unemployment. It’s encouraging to see that the Government accepts all of the recommendations of Matthew Oakley’s review – at least in principle.

For those who can

So whilst easement and the possibility of further extensions to it are very welcome, the Government must focus more on improving the employment support available to people while they are homeless. Earlier this year, Homeless Link ran a series of “Working Together” events with JCP across England to increase awareness of the employment challenges faced by homeless people.

The cover page of the DWP part of the GOV.UK website says “Work for those who can is the most sustainable route out of poverty.“

We agree, but much more needs to be done to ensure that people who are homeless are able to develop the skills that the need to compete in the labour market. And this needs to be matched by greater availability of affordable and stable housing available in areas where there are opportunities for people who have experienced homelessness to find a job.