BENEFIT sanctions are a core part of the UK Coalition Government’s welfare reforms, but how do sanctions affect people in Scotland? New evidence shows benefit sanctions have removed

£32 million from the Scottish economy and there are concerns that poverty and hardship are being created on a scale and intensity unseen for more than half a century. Three quarters of referrals to food banks have been related to sanctions or delays. Sanctioned claimants have been found to cut back on food and heating, borrow from family, use payday loans and miss rent payments.

The current sanctions regime was introduced in 2012 and is the harshest system of penalties since the welfare state was established. Sanctions have increased in frequency, duration and severity and are triggered more easily.

Job-search requirements designed originally for unemployed people are now being applied to those impaired by ill health and to lone parents.

Sanctions are set to increase further with the roll-out of Universal Credit, which is currently operating in Inverness and is due to Glasgow in June 2015. Universal Credit means sanctions will be applied even more widely – to new groups including partners of claimants and those who are in employment (who will be required to increase their work hours). Universal Credit also introduces a new fines system, such as £50 for “negligently making a false statement”.

The administration of the sanctions system is causing concern, with reports of communication problems leading to unjust and disproportionate sanctions, for example one disabled man who lost his benefit for a month during the Commonwealth Games because he was five minutes late for an appointment at Jobcentre Plus – even though he was being delayed by security guard checks at the door. Another missed an appointment as he did not know about it. These issues undermine the logic of sanctioning, by punishing people who are keen and compliant, rather than those who break the rules.

The system relies on having a support system to help people back to work but we have one of the most frugally funded employment services in Europe. Job-seekers receive little assistance in finding work when compared to other countries.

This balance of sanction and support is currently weighted towards harsh penalties for relatively minor “offences” with little support for from the Work Programme.

Serious concerns remain over the severity of sanctions, the nature of sanctions – removing essential income from families with young children – the application of sanctions and their effectiveness, which has yet to be proven.