The number of Universal Credit claimants in Leicestershire with moored benefits doubles in two years

Despite the spike in the cost of living putting people under financial pressure, the number of people in Leicestershire whose benefits are currently suspended has more than doubled compared to before the pandemic, according to official statistics. Figures reveal that 1,039 people on Universal Credit have penalties, 416 more than in 2020.

Figures from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) show the area with the biggest increase in UC sanctions was Oadby and Wigston, where the number rose from just nine to 51. The next biggest increase was in Leicester , where the figure tripled from 200 people to 602.

Reasons for reduced benefits include failing to show up for a work-related interview, not starting a new role, or turning down a job offer. The duration and severity of the sanction depends on the reason for which it is imposed and whether the person has already been penalised.

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These cuts were largely halted at the start of the pandemic as job centers closed and the government focused on managing the growing demand from new applicants. But the number of people across Britain having their UC claim reduced started to rise again last summer and has now reached record highs.

Across Britain, 78,672 UC claimants were sanctioned in February, well over double the 31,129 recorded two years earlier. The data could include some penalties which are then reversed and refunded, although that number is likely to be low as the figures suggest relatively few are challenged.

Number and rate of applicants benefiting from a deduction on a penalty by local authority, February 2020 and February 2022

Area // Sanctions (Feb 2020) // Sanctions (Feb 2022) // Total eligible for sanctions (Feb 2020) // Total eligible for sanctions (Feb 2022) // Rate of sanctions (Feb 2020) // Rate of sanctions ( Feb 2022) )

Oadby and Wigston // 9 // 51 // 614 // 1,160 // 1.5% // 4.4%
Leicester // 200 // 602 // 8,971 // 15,533 // 2.2% // 3.9%
Melton // 14 // 41 // 719 // 953 // 1.9% // 4.3%
Blaby // 26 // 58 // 1,082 // 1,767 // 2.4% // 3.3%
North West Leicestershire // 34 // 70 // 1,291 // 1,985 // 2.6% // 3.5%
Charnwood // 54 // 96 // 2,197 // 3,642 // 2.5% // 2.6%
Hinckley and Bosworth // 47 // 83 // 1,702 // 2,286 // 2.8% // 3.6%
Harborough // 32 // 38 // 826 // 1,316 // 3.9% // 2.9%

Ministers recently announced new rules for some job seekers on UC which means they will have to seek employment outside their chosen field from the fourth week of their application, instead of after three months, and can be punished for not doing so. The changes come as labor shortages are causing problems for various industries such as the aviation sector, which is struggling to meet traveler demand as Covid restrictions ease.

The Office for National Statistics also recently revealed that there were more vacancies than unemployed in the UK for the first time on record earlier this year. But Caroline Selman, a sanctions researcher at the Public Law Project, said the sanctions could be “disastrous” for people’s mental health.

She said: “Secondly, although only a small proportion of sanctions are challenged, according to the latest figures available, the success rate is high when they are. This suggests that many wrongly taken UC sanctions go unaddressed. .

“This leaves vulnerable people unfairly burdened. When someone is sanctioned, they can lose up to 100% of their standard allowance, potentially indefinitely. If you are already above or below the poverty line, this can be devastating.”

Ms Selman said she was concerned the DWP were stepping up the sanctions despite the lack of evidence they support people in the work and plenty of evidence of their potential harm. A DWP spokesperson said: ‘We understand people are struggling with rising prices, which is why we have acted to protect Britain’s 8 million most vulnerable families with at least £1,200 of direct payments this year.

“Sanction levels are commensurate with our greater number of pandemic cases and people are only sanctioned if they do not, without good reason, comply with the conditions they have agreed to. Sanctions can be quickly resolved by reconnecting with the Jobcentre and attending the next appointment.”

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