ONE of the government’s own advisers called for the scrapping of benefit sanctions and the controversial “fit-for-work” tests yesterday.
Matthew Oakley, who sits on the social security advisory committee, called the current system “broken” and in need of a “complete overhaul.”
He warned that the threat of benefit sanctions “can do more harm than good” and had failed to boost employment.
Sanctions should instead be replaced with a system of voluntary assistance to help disabled people who need support to get into work, Mr Oakley suggested in a report for the Social Market Foundation think tank.
He said: “The government faces a massive challenge in meeting its ambition of halving the disability employment gap.
“The current system does not provide adequate financial support to disabled people who need it and pushes many further away from work. The system of benefits and requirements placed on disabled people needs a complete overhaul.”
Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) co-ordinator Linda Burnip welcomed any move to scrap benefit sanctions and “fit-for-work” but voiced concern over the details of any voluntary assistance system.
“The trouble is many disabled people no longer trust the government,” she said.
“There needs to be more detail on what voluntary assistance entails and how it would work in practice with employers, many of which are not at all accommodating to disabled workers’ needs.”
The report also recommends that benefit levels should be adequate to support those living with a disability to fully engage in society.
And it finds that if the government is to reach its target of halving the disability employment gap within 20 years, the disability employment rate will have to at least treble.
Mr Oakley’s criticism of benefit sanctions followed outrageous claims by Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith that 75 per cent of those hit by them had said “it helped them focus and get on.”
Contradicting the report’s findings, Mr Duncan Smith said: “Even the people in the jobcentres think it’s the right thing to do … sanctions are the reason why we now have the highest employment levels ever in the UK and more women in work.”
A Department for Work and Pensions spokesman claimed the government had increased spending on disability support and that sanctions were “an important part of the benefit system.”