"As of January 2012, over 22,000 people had been stripped of their benefits for failing to participate in the Work Programme alone. That figure must now have doubled."
The Government's welfare policy was recently under scrutiny with multiple jobseekers taking legal action against the DWP for imposing 'unfair' benefit sanctions.
The scrutiny follows a high court ruling, reported in the Guardian, in which the department was found to have violated its own rules on providing clear information about the sanction, rendering it unlawful. However claims that the DWP violated legislation on 'forced labour' were rejected.
In their own account, Public Inquest Lawyers quoted Tessa Gregory (of the same company) who stated that as of January 2012, over 22,000 people had been stripped of their benefits for failing to participate in the DWP's Work Programme; a figure which 'must now have doubled'. This was subsequently quoted in yesterday's Independent.
Helpfully, Public Interest Lawyers provide a reference for their figure which led us to the DWP's ad hoc release on Work Programme referrals, attachments and Jobseekers Allowance sanctions, released on 27 July 2012.
The release includes details on the number of JSA sanctions imposed for failing to participate in the Work Programme between the scheme's introduction on 1 June 2011 and 31 January 2012.
The table below makes it quite clear where the figure of 22,000 is coming from:
Must the figure have doubled by now?
At first glance it seems reasonable to assume that the figure would have doubled by now. We have data for the first seven months and since then a further six months have passed; not exactly double the time but close nevertheless.
However, considering that we have no multi-year, times-series data on this issue, we cannot know for certain that the number of individuals sanctioned in the second seven months would necessarily mirror those of the first.
In fact, it is possible that, even if the total number of claims doubles, the number of people who claim may not change so radically. Returning to the data presented in the above table, we can see that the number of sanctions exceeds the number of individuals sanctioned (32,820 to 22,260).
In truth, we just don't know what has happened to figures since the end of January and it is somewhat futile to speculate. We contacted the DWP to see if they had an estimate but still await an answer.
Could 22,000 be an underestimate?
It is worth noting that Ms Gregory did not specify that she was referring to JSA explicitly. As such, the number of 'people [who] had been stripped of their benefits for failing to participate in the Work Programme' should actually include people have had sanctions imposed upon them for other benefits.
For instance, individuals in receipt of the work-related activity component of Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) participating in the scheme can also be subject to sanctions, as DWP guidance makes clear:
"If an ESA participant fails to participate in a mandated WRA without good cause, a sanction will apply. The Work Related Activity Component of their benefit will be reduced to 50% for the first 4 weeks increasing automatically to 100% reduction from week 5..."
There are, however, no published figures for ESA sanctions - however we have asked the DWP if any are avaiable and will update accordingly. However without these the 22,000 figure is likely to be an underestimate for 'all benefits'.
The figure of 22,000 is correct, by the DWP's data, for the number of people who have had their JSA 'stripped' for failing to participate in the Government's Work Programme up to January this year. However for 'all benefits', this is likely to be an underestimate as ESA sanctions are not included in the data.
Unfortunately, there is not enough information available to estimate how many people will have received sanctions since January, and while a 'doubling' is a possibility, it is far from a certainty.