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Benefit sanctions “punished” 6,500 Scottish children last year

Rev Sally Foster Fulton, convener of the Church of Scotland’s church and society council
Rev Sally Foster Fulton, convener of the Church of Scotland’s church and society council

Religious leaders have called for an urgent rethink of UK welfare reforms after a major report found around 6,500 children in Scotland were hit by benefit sanctions last year.

The report from a coalition of churches condemned the sanctions system – the withdrawal of benefits for those deemed not to be properly seeking work – as one of the “most severe in the developed world”.

It said it was morally indefensible that children should suffer through no fault of their own and that hunger should be used as “an instrument of policy”.

The churches called for the suspension of sanctions for families with children and for people suffering from mental ill health.

The report – put together by the Church of Scotland, Church Action on Poverty, the Church in Wales, the Methodist Church, the United Reformed Church and the Baptist Union of Great Britain – found that around 100,000 youngsters across the country suffered as a result of sanctions.

It said more than 100 people assessed as unfit to work due to mental health problems were sanctioned each day.

The report concluded there was some anecdotal evidence that sanctions can provide some incentive for those who cannot be bothered to seek employment, but they represented a “minute fraction” of those looking for work.

“ If our aim is also to avoid hardship, then there is unequivocal evidence that the UK sanctions system actually causes hardship,” the report said.

Reverend Sally Foster-Fulton, the convener of the Church of Scotland’s church and society council, said: “As a society we need to face up to the reality of this situation and think: is this really what we want to happen? Where those whose lives are already fragile to be made harder? It isn’t right that punishment rather than support is what we offer to families or people with mental health problems who can’t find work.”

A Department of Works and Pensions spokeswoman said: “We do not recognise these figures.

“The truth is that every day Jobcentre Plus advisers work hard to help claimants into work – unemployment is falling and a record number of people are in work. Sanctions are only used as a last resort for the tiny minority who fail to take up the support which is on offer.”

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