Social Security and Welfare Reform

The rise of sanctioning in Great Britain

  • Published 16th Jun 2015
  • Authors: Adam Tinson,
  • Category: Social Security and Welfare Reform

Benefit sanctions have become an increasingly prominent part of the social security system in Great Britain. A benefit sanction is a punishment for failing to comply with the conditions of a certain benefit without good cause through a reduction in that benefit for a fixed period of time. For Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA), this is a 100% reduction in this benefit. For Income Support (IS) and Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) the proportional reduction is lower and only covers one component of the benefit. The Coalition government formed in 2010 oversaw a large increase in the number of sanctions handed out, as well as increasing their severity from 2012 onwards. This paper looks at changes in the number and proportion of JSA claimants being sanctioned, as well as who is being sanctioned and for what reason.


  • There were 686,000 benefit sanctions in Great Britain in 2014. This is broken down as 606,000 sanctions for Jobseeker’s Allowance, 43,000 for Income Support and 37,000 for Employment and Support Allowance. A sanction is a reduction of up to 100% of benefit received for failing to comply with the conditions of claiming a particular benefit.
  • The proportion of JSA sanction referrals - when a jobcentre asks a ‘decision maker’ whether someone should be sanctioned or not - that result in a sanction is around 50%, an increase on previous years.
  • The sanction rate - the number of sanctions in a month as a proportion of the number of claimants in that month - was 5.1% in 2014. This was slightly down on 2013 but still the second highest recorded.
  • The large fall in the number of sanctions between 2013 and 2014 was almost entirely due to the reduction in the number of JSA claimants, not the system becoming less harsh.
  • The main reasons for JSA sanctioning are failing to actively seek work, participate in training and employment schemes or attend interviews. Much of the increase in sanctions has been driven by the employment and training schemes, such as the Work Programme.
  • Over a quarter of JSA sanctions were received by disabled people or lone parents. At the same time, ESA sanctions have risen to their highest ever level in 2014.
  • The average duration of a JSA sanction is eight weeks with an average loss of income of around £530 in 2013-14. Sanctions made during this period would therefore reduce JSA spending by around £280m to £290m. This is an estimate, as there is no officially published figure.
  • The expansion of conditionality under Universal Credit could see a substantial increase in sanctions: if sanctioning occurred at the same rate as for JSA claimants, then the number could almost double, with an additional 600,000 sanctions.