HOLYROOD can end benefits sanctions when it takes on welfare powers – by telling staff not to report breaches to the DWP, a report claims. A study released by the Scottish Greens today shows 13,000 people every year could face sanctions under benefits set to be devolved from Westminster.

However, the party claims this could be reduced to zero if the Scottish Government simply orders staff delivering work training programmes not to tell the Department for Work and Pensions about sanctionable offences such as lateness or absence, potentially putting up to £7 million “back in the hands of poor Scots”. The claim is based on the average jobseeker’s allowance sanction of around £530.

Greens social security spokeswoman Alison Johnstone said: “Our research shows 80,000 sanctions have been issued to people on employment programmes in Scotland since 2010. Some 13,000 people a year may soon face sanctions on devolved benefits.

“Sanctions simply don’t work. They do not help people into long-term employment and they clearly contribute to worsening physical and mental health. Scotland has an opportunity to take a different, positive approach.

“For the DWP to implement a sanction they need information from the provider of the employment programme. The Scottish Government could insist that programme providers do not pass information on.

“This already happens in a small way with young people involved in the sector based work academy, so there’s no reason we can’t apply the approach more widely. Preventing sanctions being implemented would send a strong message about fairness in our society.”

MSPs will gain powers over carer’s allowance, benefits for disabled people, and winter fuel payments, taking responsibility over expenditure worth £2.7 billion, or 15 per cent of overall social security spending in Scotland.

Universal credit, which is replacing jobseeker’s allowance and other benefits, will remain under Westminster control. However, mandatory work programmes for unemployed people will also be transferred, and the Greens report claims switching to voluntary participation “as far as possible” could cut sanctions, with the programme providers ordered not to report participants to the DWP.

Employability Minister Jamie Hepburn said his administration remains powerless to act, stating: “None of the UK Government benefits being devolved to Scotland are part of its conditionality and sanctions regime.

“Westminster will remain entirely responsible for decisions over an individual’s entitlement to working-age benefits such as jobseeker’s allowance, and any decisions over sanctions in Scotland after devolution. Dignity and fairness will be at the heart of Scotland’s devolved social security system and the services we will put in place to help people into sustained work.

“We will develop a new relationship with those who are out of work but taking part in devolved employment programmes, based on supporting and empowering people with the skills to get into work and sustain their employment.

“We remain critical of the UK Government’s welfare reform agenda, particularly their system of sanctions and have taken steps to mitigate the effects of their reforms.”

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