Church leaders welcome MPs' call for review of benefits sanctions

Churches and charities have welcomed MPs' calls for a review of benefits sanctions.Reuters

Church leaders in the UK have welcomed a call by MPs for an "urgent" review of benefits sanctions.

Their support for the Work and Pensions Select Committee proposal comes after a Church report found that nearly seven million weeks of sanctions were handed out to people in 2013/2014, with as many as 100,000 children affected.

People on sickness benefit because of a long-term mental health problem were being sanctioned at a rate of more than 100 per day.

"The Select Committee Report describes a system that is broken and needs urgent review," said Paul Morrison of the Methodist Church. "Churches are often at the forefront of helping people who have been sanctioned and who are in desperate need of food, support and advice. It is unacceptable that vulnerable people can be left with no means of support as punishment for often very minor mistakes."

More than 1,400 people have written to their MPs about sanctions as a result of a church campaign against sanctions.

Niall Cooper, of Church Action on Poverty, said: "It's great that people in churches understand how important this issue is. We know that sanctions have a disproportionate impact on those who are most vulnerable: young people, care leavers, homeless people, single parents, the mentally ill and those with long-term illness. The new government must act to ensure that the benefits system provides a safety net for everyone, rather than making people destitute."

The Catholic social action charity CSAN also welcomed the report. Helen O'Brien, chief executive, said: "This report rightly highlights that in the majority of cases benefit sanctions are not being applied fairly and proportionately. In the experience of the CSAN network, the current approach of sanctions has not only left many families, often unnecessarily, without vital income but it has also created a climate of resentment and increased alienation leading to an 'us and them' situation between advisers and claimants, when the relationship should be a mutual partnership."

More than 80 per cent of Trussell Trust foodbanks have said benefit sanctions were causing people to turn to them for emergency food.