The thousands of people in Leeds whose benefits are suspended and why

The number of people in Leeds whose performances are sanctioned has more than doubled compared to before the pandemic.

Figures from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) show that 1,150 people on Universal Credit (UC) in the region were under sanction in February. This represented 4.1% of applicants, and far more than 435 (2.5%) in the same month of 2020, before the pandemic.

Reasons a person has their benefits reduced include not showing up for a work-related interview, not starting a new role, or turning down a job offer. The length and severity of the penalty depends on the reason for which it is imposed and whether someone has already been penalized.

READ MORE: DWP warns people could lose some benefits if they go on vacation

The cuts were largely halted at the start of the pandemic, with employment centers closing and the government focused on managing the growing demand from new applicants. However, the number of people across Britain having their UC claim reduced started to rise again last summer and has now reached record highs.

Across Yorkshire, 4.2% of claimants received a sanction in February, up from 2.3% in the month before the pandemic. The biggest increase in UC sanctions was seen in Harrogate, where the number rose from just 18 to 143, or 6.0% of those who could enforce them. Although the number rose less steeply in Craven, from 25 to 52, there was the highest proportion of claimants in the region with a deduction (7.1%) – the third highest proportion across the country.

Across Britain, 78,672 UC claimants (3.9%) were sanctioned in February, well over double the 31,129 (2.4%) 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.

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.

Benefit penalties have reached record levels across Britain

But Caroline Selman, a sanctions researcher at the Public Law Project, said the sanctions could be “disastrous” for people’s mental health. She added: “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 wrongfully taken UC sanctions go uncorrected. This unfairly leaves out the vulnerable. are already on or below the poverty line, it 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. Penalty levels are commensurate with our greater number of pandemic cases and people are only penalized if they do not comply, without good reason, with the conditions they have agreed to.

“Sanctions can be quickly resolved by reconnecting with the Jobcentre and attending the next appointment.”

Rate of applicants benefiting from a withholding of sanction by local authority, February 2020 and February 2022:

Penalty rate
February 2020 February 2022
Cowardly 4.9% 7.1%
york 1.8% 6.3%
Harrogate 1.0% 6.0%
Ryedale 2.0% 5.9%
Hambleton 2.2% 5.6%
Scarborough 2.5% 4.9%
Doncaster 2.6% 4.7%
Selby 2.5% 4.3%
Barnsley 2.5% 4.2%
Sheffield 1.9% 4.1%
Leeds 2.5% 4.1%
Kirklees 2.3% 4.1%
Bradford 1.7% 3.9%
richmondshire 2.4% 3.9%
Calderdale 4.5% 3.9%
Wakefield 2.0% 3.8%
Rotherham 1.9% 3.2%