BENEFITS sanctions feed into a “vicious cycle” of destitution and would not be used in an independent Scotland, government ministers have said.

Speaking after the launch of a white paper on social security after independence, Cabinet Secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville said the evidence shows that benefit sanctions force people into poverty.

The UK Government currently uses sanctions to punish people who do not meet conditions attached to their benefits. For example, someone on job seekers’ allowance (JSA) could see their benefit payments cut or stopped altogether if they left their previous job “without good reason”.

Speaking to media, Social Security Secretary Somerville and Independence Minister Jamie Hepburn said this was not an approach Scotland should seek to replicate.

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Somerville said: “What we’ve seen – and this isn't Scottish Government research, it’s independent research – is the sanction system does not work. It does not put people into work, what it does is it forces them into poverty.”

She went on: “That has been shown again and again, which again comes back to: why is it still in place?

“That's a political choice, because people like to feel that if they are harsh on those on benefits, it plays well to their core vote – even though the research shows that it markedly doesn't actually help anybody into employment.”

Hepburn (below) said there had to be “conditionality within any social security system” but also criticised benefits sanctions.

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He said: “It's completely an ineffective approach … “What you'll find is that people might be coerced into an inappropriate form of employment that doesn't actually sustain themselves, sustain their families, and actually, they end up back looking for the support they had before because they couldn't sustain that form of employment.

“It's a vicious cycle, so why would we seek to replicate that approach?”

The Independence Minister went on: “The other thing I think is really important as well is that this obsession that some people have with sanctions completely shifts the dialogue around what social security is for.

“Actually, most people in the social security system are already in employment, and that's often forgotten as a consequence of that type of rhetoric and dialogue.

“When push comes to shove, you've got to take the effective approach. And the UK government's approach is not working.”

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In the ninth independence white paper, published by the Scottish Government on Wednesday and called Social Security in an Independent Scotland, the research which concluded benefits sanctions are not working is referenced.

It states: “Analysis by the University of Glasgow, published in March 2022, reviewed evidence showing that sanctions led to ‘worsening job quality and stability in the longer term’, and to people returning more quickly to claiming benefits or exiting the labour market entirely.

“In addition, the imposition of sanctions was associated with ‘an increase in material hardship, including food deprivation’, and with poorer physical and mental health.”

And the paper adds: “The Joseph Rowntree Foundation, in its series of destitution studies focusing on the UK social security system, found that ‘benefit sanctions were a key driver of destitution’ at a number of points over the last decade.”

Scrapping the existing sanctions policy is one of the ten key reforms to the social security system which the paper outlined, and which Somerville (below) said could be achieved “within five years” of independence.

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She said: “You don't need a review, like UK Labour are saying, to know that the rape clause is bad. You don't need a review to know that parts of Universal Credit are absolutely morally bankrupt.

“You can do that [reform] within the early days of independence.”

Scrapping the “rape clause” and the two-child limit, removing the benefit cap, scrapping the bedroom tax, replacing Universal Credit ‘budgeting loans’ with grants, and ending the young parent penalty in Universal Credit were all listed in the paper as reforms which would follow independence.

The plan to ensure that parents under 25 receive the same amount of financial support for their family as those over 25 was costed at £20 million per year.

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Asked why the Scottish Government was not spending this relatively small amount to do this already, Somerville pointed to budget pressures due to having to mitigate other Westminster policies.

She said: “We already have a number of aspects which we mitigate against … Over £120m is already spent by the Scottish government mitigating against the worst of the excesses. And we already have the Scottish Child Payment investment, which is around £450m.

“So we are investing a lot of money, that's the choices that we have made. But I would point to the fact that we are just about to try and set a Budget under austerity mark two, because we have a situation under the current Westminster government where we are receiving detrimental cuts to the Scottish Government budget, both in resource and capital.

“So there are many things that we would like to do, but you have a system where the UK Government would rather make tax cuts for the rich rather than invest in public services.”

You can find the full white paper on the Scottish Government website here.