UK

Benefit penalties cut by Amber Rudd for claimants who fail to follow rules

family in Liverpool
Image caption Critics warn that children risk becoming "collateral damage" if benefits are withdrawn

The maximum financial penalty for benefit claimants is to be cut, Work and Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd has announced.

Sanctions can be imposed on claimants who do not meet conditions such as attending job centre meetings.

In some "high level" cases, such as a failure to take up paid work, people can lose benefits for three years.

Ms Rudd said this maximum penalty will now be cut to six months, adding that she wanted a system which was "fair".

The Department for Work and Pensions previously insisted its scheme was "reasonable".

A report released by the Work and Pensions Committee in November 2018 found single parents, care leavers and people with disabilities and health conditions were "disproportionately vulnerable" to and affected by sanctions.

As well as missing appointments, sanctions can currently be imposed for failure to show efforts to find work, and can see claimants lose all of their jobseeker's allowance or universal credit standard allowance.

Last year's report also warned that children risked becoming "collateral damage" as the withdrawal of parents' benefits harmed their welfare.

Speaking at the Recruitment and Employment Confederation in London, Ms Rudd said: "In the future, the longest length of sanctions will be six months.

Image copyright PA
Image caption Amber Rudd said policies should be compassionate and work for everybody

"I am undertaking an evaluation of the effectiveness of universal credit sanctions to see whether other improvements can be made.

"I feel very strongly about making sure that the policies of this department are fair, compassionate and that they work for everybody."

Shadow work and pensions secretary Margaret Greenwood said Labour had long been pressing for the government to scrap its "punitive" sanctions regime.

"Six months is still a very long time to leave someone without any income at all. It is not just the individual who is affected, but their family too," she said.

"There is clear evidence that sanctions and excessive conditionality do not help people into sustained employment.

"They also cause stress and anxiety for many and are one of the key reasons that people ask for help at food banks."

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