Nearly 100,000 of the poorest children in the UK went hungry last year because their parents’ benefits were stopped or cut, according to a report by a coalition of churches.
A total of more than a million benefit sanctions were imposed last year – sometimes simply because people were late for an appointment at the Jobcentre – although more than 120,000 of those decisions were overturned on appeal.
Researchers found that more than 100 people with severe mental health problems a day were sanctioned.
The report said: “We are disturbed that a benefit system intended to provide for the needy and vulnerable is used as a means of coercion and compliance.
“The penalties often do not appear reasonable or proportionate to the ‘failure’ that has occurred.
“If a similar system operated in a workplace, where pay was removed for a month for being late for a meeting or not achieving a target, we might reasonably expect action to be taken against the employer.”
Niall Cooper, of Church Action on Poverty, which helped write the report, added: “If you commit a crime, no court is allowed to make you go hungry as a punishment.
“But if you’re late for an appointment at the Jobcentre they can remove all your income and leave you unable to feed you or your family for weeks.”
The report was published as a former Jobcentre worked told Channel 4’s Dispatches programme, to be broadcast on Monday, that he had to “hammer” welfare claimants because of Government targets. Alan Davies, who works in Leicester, said: “They weren’t willing to look at them as human beings.”
The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) said it did not recognise the figures in the report.
“Every day Job Centre Plus advisers work hard to help claimants into work,” a DWP spokesman said. “Sanctions are only used as a last resort for the tiny minority who fail to take up the support which is on offer.”