By Daniel Hunter

Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) claimants who have failed to do enough to find work, turned down jobs offered to them, or not turned up to appointments have had their benefits payments suspended 580,000 times since new tougher rules were introduced in October last year, new figures published show. In each month this is roughly 5% of the number of people claiming JSA.

The new JSA sanctions regime, which was introduced in October 2012, encourages people to engage with the support being offered by Jobcentres by making it clearer to claimants what they are expected to do in return for their benefits — and that they risk losing them if they don’t stick to the rules. It also makes sanctions more proportionate: with shorter sanctions for minor offences and tougher ones for repeat offenders. Repeat offenders can lose benefits for up to 3 years.

Minister for Employment Esther McVey said: "This government has always been clear that in return for claiming unemployment benefits jobseekers have a responsibility to do everything they can to get back into work. We are ending the something for nothing culture.

"People who are in a job know that if they don’t play by the rules or fail to turn up in the morning, there might be consequences, so it’s only right that people on benefits should have similar responsibilities. We always make the rules very clear — it’s only right that there is a penalty if people fail to play by them."

The figures show that there has been a rise in the number of sanctions compared to last year. Between November 2012 (the first full month of the new sanctions) and June 2013 there were 553,000 sanctions. This compares to 499,000 between November 2011 — June 2012.

The number of the most severe sanctions (refusing employment, leaving employment voluntarily or losing employment through misconduct) has reduced — almost halving compared to last year.

The most common reason for a JSA sanction (36%) was a failure on the part of the jobseeker to actively look for work. A further 30% were sanctioned because they failed to participate in employment programmes (including the Work Programme) designed to help people back to work and 20% were sanctioned because they didn’t have a good reason for missing a meeting at the Jobcentre.

Today’s statistics also show the number of sanctions given for people in the work-related activity group for Employment and Support Allowance (ESA). People in this group are expected to be able to return to work in the future and so have to attend support programmes as a condition of receiving their benefits. The figures show that from 3 December 2012 to June 2013 there were 11,400 sanctions for people in this group mainly because they didn’t take part in the programmes designed to help them move closer to getting a job.

The government is now introducing the Claimant Commitment for anyone making a new claim for JSA. The commitment will see jobseekers having to account more clearly for their efforts to find work in order to receive their benefits. It will roll out in around 100 jobcentres a month until it’s fully implemented across the country in the spring.

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