Benefit sanctions a 'parallel secret penal system'

Date: 
Monday, 12 January, 2015

Last week the House of Commons Work and Pensions Select Committee held an evidence session on the benefit sanctions scheme. The government was urged to suspend the sanctions regime pending a review of its impact – especially on the mentally ill and disabled, reports The Guardian

In his oral evidence Dr David Webster of Glasgow University said that over the last twenty to thirty years there has been a shift to a 'parallel secret penal system' through a number of incremental changes. He urged MPs to ask fundamental questions about whether such a system is necessary or wanted. 

When asked why he describes it as a 'secret' system he said;

It is a secret penal system because the decisions are made in secret by officials. The claimant is not present. They are not legally represented. The punishment is applied before there has been any hearing. If they get a hearing it is long after the punishment has been applied. The scale of penalties are more severe than the scale of penalties that is available to magistrates courts or sheriff courts in Scotland. You are talking unmistakably about a penal system that has a set of characteristics which, I would suggest, are totally unacceptable in a democratic society.

The evidence session can be viewed in full here. Dr Webster's written evidence can be found here, and other briefings are available on the Child Poverty Action Group website.