Are sanctions driving people off JSA?
The figures on the number of sanctions imposed on recipients of Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) published today by the Department for Work show that 420,000 people had their JSA stopped for failing to comply with tough new job seeking criteria in the first half of this year. This is an increase of 4% compared to the same time last year, under the old system.
But this is only part of the picture. The total number of people referred for sanctions rose by a quarter over the same period, but a smaller proportion of those referrals resulted in actual sanctions. So what is happening?
Firstly, we should of course make clear that a 4% rise in JSA sanctions is itself quite a big deal. JSA sanctions were already at record levels. Increases since the coalition came to power, following changes implemented by the previous Labour administration, meant that the number of people being sanctioned doubled between 2009 and 2012. In the first half of 2012, around 65,000 people a month were seeing their benefits stopped. Now that figure is around 70,000 per month.
But digging a little deeper into the figures there is something else going on. In the first half of 2012, 790,000 people were referred for a sanction. That means they had a “labour market doubt” raised against them; Job Centre Plus may have felt they were not making themselves available for work, for instance. In the first half of this year, that figure rose to 980,000, a rise of a quarter.
What happens next is that a decision is made on this “doubt”. The decision may be adverse, in which case the sanction is applied, or non-adverse, in which case the sanction is not applied. There were 400,000 adverse decisions in the first half of last year, and 420,000 this – an increase of 4%. The number of “non-adverse” decisions rose from 235,000 to 285,000, a rise of 21%. That means Job Centre Plus is effectively throwing out more of these referrals.
That doesn’t account for the full difference, however. Many of these referrals don’t get as far as the decision making stage, as people simply leave the benefit altogether. The number of sanctions that were “reserved or cancelled”, because the individual stopped claiming, rose from 155,000 to 280,000 between the first half of last year and the first half of this. That’s an increase of around 80%.
We need to be a bit careful here – people move on and off JSA all the time; those 280,000 ceased claims may not all be a direct result of the sanction. But some of them certainly will be. On average, around 20% of people claiming JSA stop claiming in any given month. But that 280,000 represents around 30% of people given a sanction over the first six months of 2013. So, unsurprisingly, people given a sanction are more likely to drop out of JSA than other people and the number of people being sanctioned is rising. All of which is worth bearing in mind the next time a minister trumpets the falling JSA claimant count as an obviously good thing.