What proportion of benefits claimants are sanctioned?

11 August 2015

"Watchdog asks DWP for 'objective and impartial' sanctions statements"—The Guardian, 7 August 2015

The Department for Work and Pensions says that less than 6% of people claiming Jobseeker's Allowance (JSA) are sanctioned. For claimants of Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), the figure is less than 1%.

But Dr David Webster from the University of Glasgow disagrees. He calls these figures a "gross and systematic misrepresentation", arguing that a "large minority" of claimants are affected.

And he has figures produced by the DWP to back him up; information given in response to a Freedom of Information request shows that 18% of JSA claimants were sanctioned in 2013/14.

Now the UK Statistics Authority has waded in, asking the DWP to produce "a more comprehensive analysis of sanction rates for JSA claimants, supported by a clear explanation".

What's going on?

The devil here is in a small, technical detail.

The DWP calculates its figures using monthly average caseloads. If people only claimed for one month in the year, then there'd be no confusion.

On average in 2014, less than 6% of people claiming JSA in a given month were sanctioned. But people often stay on JSA for more than a month, and 18% of individual JSA claimants were sanctioned during 2013/14.

A slightly more accurate—and provocative—way of stating the DWP's figure is 'over 94% of claimants aren't sanctioned in any one month.'

It is good to see the UKSA step up to secure less selective figures from the DWP.

The DWP has in the past had problems with the way its data is used, and it's disappointing to see similar concerns again. We, and obviously the UKSA, will be watching for any more problems.

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