The Work and Pensions Committee have released a report concluding the human cost of the Universal Credit system’s sanctions, and its effect on disabled and chronically ill people is “too high” to continue to apply and roll out the system.

The Committee’s report says that the Cameron-Cleg coalition government, under which Iain Duncan Smith pushed through the 2012 Welfare Reform Act which introduced Universal Credit and the phasing out of Disability Living Allowance, “had little or no understanding of the likely impact of a tougher sanctions regime”. While the government promised to review the system in six years, the Committee says they are “none the wiser,” showing the effectiveness of sanctions is at best mixed, and at worse, shows the sanctions to be counterproductive.

An expert witness for the Committee suggested: “If it was not for the embarrassment, the Government would have suspended ESA sanctions altogether as soon as that National Audit Office finding came out that sanctioned ESA claimants were less likely to get into work.”

Noting that single parents, care leavers, and disabled or chronically ill people are disproportionately affected by the withdrawal of their benefits, they recommended that the government “immediately stop imposing conditionality and sanctions on anyone found to have limited capability for work, or who presents a valid doctor’s note,” until they can “point to robust evidence that longer sanctions are more effective, higher level sanctions should be reduced to two, four and six months for first, second and subsequent failures to comply.”

Committee chair Frank Field MP said of the report: “We have heard stories of terrible and unnecessary hardship from people who’ve been sanctioned. They were left bewildered and driven to despair at becoming, often with their children, the victims of a sanctions regime that is at times so counter-productive it just seems pointlessly cruel.

“While none of them told us that there should be no benefit sanctions at all, it can only be right for the Government to take a long hard look at what is going on. If their stories were rare it would be unacceptable, but the Government has no idea how many more people out there are suffering in similar circumstances. In fact, it has kept itself in the dark about any of the impacts of the major reforms to sanctions introduced since 2012.

“The time is long overdue for the Government to assess the evidence and then have the courage of its reform convictions to say, where it is right to do so, ’this policy is not achieving its aims, it is not working, and the cost is too high: We will change it.”

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