“CRUEL and degrading” benefit sanctions are to be reintroduced across the UK from tomorrow (Tuesday, June 30) despite calls from the opposition to extend the suspension period.

Speaking in the House of Commons today, Work and Pensions Secretary Therese Coffey said: “It’s important that as the jobcentres fully re-open this week, we do reinstate the need for having a claimant commitment.”

Face-to-face meetings between those on jobseekers allowance and jobcentre officers were suspended in March due to the pandemic.

The benefit sanctions, financial penalties which see people deprived of four weeks of benefits or more for failing to spend enough time job hunting or missing an interview, were suspended at the same time.

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Earlier this month Evan Williams, a research associate at the University of Glasgow, wrote that such sanctions had in the past paid “scant regard to the actual availability of jobs in the economy”, adding that they are “unlikely to be effective in lowering unemployment in the current context”.

His paper on benefit sanctions, published in the journal Social Policy Administration, concluded that the Tories’ use of such penalties negatively impacted on people’s anxieties and depression.

The “current sanctions policy can be considered to be ‘cruel, inhumane and degrading’,” he wrote.

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Labour has called the reintroduction of the sanctions “untenable” given the current economic situation, with unemployment rising, vacancies plummeting, and large numbers of the population still shielding from the virus.

Coffey said: “It’s an essential part of the contract to help people start to reconsider what vacancies there may be.

“But I know I can trust the work coaches, my jobcentre managers who are empowered to act proactively … there will be some people right now who’ve never had to look for a job in the last 20 to 30 years.

“They will need careful support tailored to ensure they can start to look for the jobs that are available, and that I hope will become very soon available.”