The SNP is today highlighting further expert evidence on the ‘devastating’ impacts of sanctions on women – amidst further backing for powers over the sanctions regime to be in Scotland’s hands rather than Westminster’s.

Ahead of this week’s meeting of the Scottish Parliament’s Welfare Reform Committee, a series of expert submissions have underlined the appalling impact of sanctions on single mothers, survivors of domestic and sexual abuse, disabled women and refugees in particular.

Close the Gap, One Parent Families Scotland, the Fawcett Society, Inclusion Scotland, the Scottish Refugee Council, Child Poverty Action Group and the Scottish Women’s Convention all submitted written evidence highly critical of the UK Government’s social security cuts.

Many of the organisations provided case studies of those impacted by cuts – with One Parent Families telling the story of Emma, 20, who is receiving JSA, pregnant and suffering from severe morning sickness. When she tried to reschedule her work focused interview due to being incapacitated by morning sickness, she was sanctioned for four weeks.

The Scottish Women’s Convention also described how one woman, who was ten minutes late for an appointment due to having to take her four year old to the toilet, was also sanctioned for four weeks, and as a result was unable to feed her children.

The evidence also states that sanctions have led to some women being unable to afford to buy sanitary products.

This new evidence comes as other front-line organisations have made clear to the Committee their reservations with leaving the sanctions regime under the control of the UK Government – amidst growing calls for the full devolution of powers over social security to Scotland.

The SNP has previously backed calls from organisations such as Citizens Advice Scotland for a moratorium of the sanctions regime.

Commenting, Clare Adamson said:

“This is some absolutely heart-breaking evidence from front-line organisations on the appalling impact Westminster’s sanctioning regime is having on vulnerable women across Scotland – and shows exactly why we need these powers in Scotland’s hands.

“From single mothers to refugees, it’s clear that these sanctions are hurting the very people who need help the most – and the fact that organisations who see the impact of sanctions first hand in our communities are speaking out should make people sit up and take notice.

“The SNP has already been clear that there needs to be an immediate review of the UK Government’s conditionality and sanctions regime – and the DWP should not be allowed to impose any more unfair sanctions on vulnerable people while the review is ongoing.

“But more than that, we need the powers to put a stop to this relentless assault on vulnerable people – and to design a new and better system.

“Vulnerable women in Scotland can’t afford to continue to have these powers callously wielded by the likes of Iain Duncan Smith – we need full powers over social security in Scotland to allow us to protect, support and empower people who need help, rather than pushing them into poverty with punitive cuts and sanctions as the Tories are continuing to do.”

Case studies

One Parent Families Scotland via Fawcett Society evidence:

“Emma is 20 years old and two months pregnant. She has been out of work and so is claiming JSA. Emma has been suffering from severe morning sickness and as a result is incapacitated first thing in the morning. When she called her JSA Adviser to say she wouldn’t make her work focused interview and to ask for it to be rearranged she was told he was in a meeting but that the message would be passed on. The Adviser called a week later to ask why she hadn’t turned up, she then received a letter the next day to say she had been sanctioned, losing her JSA for 4 weeks.”

Child Poverty Action Group:

“A pregnant woman with two young children failed to complete mandatory work activity because she could not get access to a computer. Her sanction was applied on Wednesday but she was not informed that she could apply for a hardship payment until the Friday. She was told on the Friday that she would not be able to access the payment until the following Monday and had no money to get through the weekend.”

Scottish Women’s Convention:

“Sanctions have hit people hard and have left many with even lower self-esteem and confidence than they had previously. Women have been coming to the organisation I work with asking for sanitary products because they have been sanctioned and have no money.”

Scottish Women’s Convention:

“One woman recently supported by our Fife service was 10 minutes late for an appointment due to an unforeseen event with one of her children (a four year old needing the toilet on the way to an appointment), she was sanctioned. The impact of this sanctioning for her wellbeing and the wellbeing of her family was devastating.

“She was without money for 4 weeks and as a result she was unable to purchase fuel cards for her gas and electricity meters or feed her children. A number of other household bills went unpaid and she had to borrow money from friends and relatives in order to survive.”

The impact of sanctions on lone parents

Close the Gap:

““Current provision of childcare is entirely insufficient to meet the needs of all women who are categorised as ‘economically inactive’.  This means that not all women will be able to meet the needs of the programme, and will therefore be subject to sanction.”

“Lone parents, 91 per cent of whom are women, are particularly impacted by the policy of increased conditionality and sanctions.”

Inclusion Scotland:

“Very recently published research carried out in a deprived  area of Scotland puts out that ‘they key welfare changes impacting adversely on lone parents were the activation and sanction policies applied when out of work and earlier re-categorisation from carer to employee when seeking work’.  Sanctions for lone parents on JSA have risen from under 200 per month prior to 2008 to 4700 per month now.”

One Parent Families Scotland:

“There is now a large amount of evidence which shows that sanctions are often applied in an arbitrary and unfair way, plunging families into severe poverty, with devastating effects on people’s health and wellbeing.  These findings chime with our own experience, working with single mothers who are sanctioned or threatened with sanctions through no fault of their own.

“In addition, the rise of a stigmatizing, disrespectful and even aggressive culture at Job Centres and Work Programme placements is a critical issue for single mothers and is a major cause of rising stress.  This is borne out by research into the experiences of single parents in Glasgow which found that most (though not all) single parents experiences of services provided by JobCentre Plus were very negative indeed.”

The impact of sanctions on victims of domestic and sexual violence

The Fawcett Society:

“Due to the framework of benefits conditionality inherent to JSA and which has been tightened by the recent reforms, survivors of domestic and sexual violence, who are predominantly women, are therefore more likely to lose access to the benefits they are entitled to because of normal responses to circumstances outside of their control.”

The impact of sanctions on disabled women

Inclusion Scotland:

“Disabled women feel that benefit staff have more recently become increasingly unhelpful and arbitrary in their decisions and also much more punitive.  Indeed, many disabled women are now fearful of dealing with DWP staff because of the fear of sanctions or having their entitlement to DLA or ESA taken away.”

“Due to benefit cuts, long delays in assessing claims, punitive sanctions and lengthy mandatory reconsiderations, disabled women are experiencing increasingly long periods with inadequate or no means of financial support.  As a consequence some disabled women are being forced to turn to prostitution as a source of income.  This is even more likely where these women have caring responsibilities and no means to feed their children.”

The impact of sanctions on refugees

Scottish Refugee Council:

“Where our clients are sanctioned, this most often occurs within the first six months of being granted leave to remain.  This would suggest that people who are grappling with an unfamiliar and complex system are being penalised for their lack of awareness of the system rather than supported effectively to engage with it and start to rebuild lives.”

On devolution

The Fawcett Society submission calls for the Scottish Government to have “the power to redefine the scope, applicability and severity of sanctions.”

One Parent Familes Scotland:

“Under current proposals, the Work Programme, but not the JobCentre Plus is to be devolved.  As they stand, the draft clauses set out in the UK Government’s Command Paper appear to devolve the Work Programme to the Scottish Government whilst maintaining the current sanctioning regime which underpins both referrals to, and the policing of, the Work Programme by the DWP. It is difficult to see how such  arrangements can be described as the devolution in any meaningful way.”

“Given that the final shape of devolution is not yet settled, we would urge The Scottish Government to seize every opportunity to press for full devolution of the Work Programme so that we can develop an alternative which will support and empower single mothers in Scotland.”

Scottish Women’s Convention:

“As sanctions and conditionality are to remain reserved, serious tensions could arise between policies put in place by the Scottish Government with regards to the Work Programme, and the sanctions that can be imposed by the Jobcentre Plus, a UK-level institution.”

“It seems somewhat at odds that on one hand, the Scottish Government can create a Work Programme which best suits the needs of Scottish people, yet on the other hand, the sanctions associated with that remain at Westminster.  Those seeking work could be at a detriment as a result.”