Single parents, carers and disabled people looking for work in Sheffield were left with ‘nothing to live on’ due to benefit sanctions, a report has found.
Sheffield Citizens Advice said the system - which is supposed to be a deterrent for people who are deliberately avoiding getting a job while claiming welfare - was ‘simply not working’.
A report, highlighted in the House of Commons by Sheffield Central MP Paul Blomfield, found clients in financial hardship had relied on food banks and come close to losing their homes as a result of their benefits being stopped.
One single parent, called Siobhan, had fled a violent partner and did not receive her Jobseekers’ Allowance as she had gone to the wrong venue for an appointment.
The report added: “She survived for four months on limited income from her child tax credit and child benefit and on food handouts.”
Other cases referred to included examples of people who did not understand the system, had not been made aware of a job appointment but had their benefit stopped for not attending - or had forgotten to take the right paperwork to the Jobcentre.
A single mum with language difficulties was sanctioned as she could only prove that she had looked for 16 jobs in a fortnight, rather than 20 as required.
Another mum with a disabled son, who was told she could no longer claim a carers’ allowance, has been sanctioned twice because of her caring responsibilities.
The report said: “Despite written support from her GP regarding her caring role, the Jobcentre won’t agree to modify her Jobseekers’ agreement or take into account that a final decision hasn’t been made on her son’s disability living allowance.”
Debts mounted as a result of sanctions, the report found.
In total 134 people contacted advisors in Sheffield about sanctions between October 2013 and March 2014.
Almost a quarter had disabilities.
Tim Arnold, of Sheffield Citizens’ Advice, said: “Our investigation shows the system simply is not working.
“Sanctions are all too often applied without good reason, are often disproportionate, and many are simply mistaken.
“Sanctions deepen people’s poverty and debt.”
Paul Blomfield held a debate in Parliament on benefit sanctioning yesterday and called for the system - which he said was target driven - to be reviewed.
He said: “Benefit sanctions are supposed to be a deterrent for the minority of people who deliberately don’t look for work. No one disagrees with that.
“But the reality is the system has gone badly wrong with dire consequences.
“The Government is digging its heels in and refusing to listen.”