The Employment Related Services Association (ERSA), the representative body for the employment support sector, has today (22 October 2015) welcomed the statement from the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions on benefit sanctions, but warned that further changes are needed to system. 

In particular, ERSA has welcomed the piloting of a 14 day delay for claimants and extending the definition of ‘at risk’ groups for hardship purposes to include those with mental health conditions and who are homeless. However, ERSA has also warned that, although the ability for Jobcentre Plus to sanction jobseekers should not be abandoned entirely, the changes being proposed by the Secretary of State were unlikely to go far enough.

In addition to today’s changes, ERSA is calling for:
1. An ‘early warning’ system which could be used at first offence rather than imposing a sanction.
2. The development of a far more robust evidence base about the effectiveness of sanctions and benefits conditionality generally on jobseekers.
3. Frontline employment providers of the Work Programme and other programmes to be given more discretion about when they should report jobseekers to Jobcentre Plus for potential sanctioning.
4. Greater clarity across the system about which jobseekers classed as ‘vulnerable’ and should be exempt from sanctions altogether.
5. The better sharing of information about jobseeker circumstances, including the results of Work Capability Assessments, as lack of information can lead to inappropriate sanctioning.
6. An automatic review of jobseeker circumstances when repeat sanctions fail to have an effect.  

At present, Jobcentre Plus can issue benefit sanctions, thus removing benefit entitlement for a specified period from jobseekers who fail to comply with agreed activities, such as meetings with advisers or skills programmes.  Providers of the Work Programme and other programmes are obliged to refer some jobseekers to Jobcentre Plus when there has not been compliance with agreed activities. 

Kirsty McHugh, ERSA Chief Executive, said:

“We welcome the recognition by the Secretary of State that the sanctions system is in need of reform, but are concerned that the changes today don’t go far enough.  For some jobseekers, receiving a sanction can act as a ‘wake up’ call.  However, for the majority, the sanction system is more likely to hinder the journey to employment.  Jobseekers move into work quickest when they feel positive about work and thus sanctions should only be used as a last resort.”


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Notes to Editors

1. The Employment Related Services Association (ERSA) is the sector body for those delivering or with an interest in employment support services.  ERSA’s membership spans the private, voluntary and public sectors and ranges from large multi-nationals through to small specialist charities.  It has over 200 members, including all prime contractors of the Work Programme. The majority of its members are not for profit.
2. ERSA’s submission to the Work and Pensions Select Committee inquiry into sanctions can be found here. 
3. The statement from the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions on benefit sanctions can be found here.
4. ERSA is able to set up interviews with jobseekers who have found work and providers of employment support services. Case studies are available on ERSA’s website. Interviews with ERSA’s Chief Executive Kirsty McHugh are available on request.