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Jon Sparkes @jon_sparkes Crisis Chief Executive

Do sanctions really help homeless people find work?

At Crisis we know it is possible for homeless people to find and sustain meaningful employment, and in doing so to rebuild their lives. But new research we have published finds that the conditionality and sanctions regime instead makes it much harder for homeless people to find work.

The report, authored by Sheffield Hallam University and commissioned by Crisis in response to growing concerns about the impact of sanctions on homeless people, is based on survey data of over 1,000 people using homelessness services across the country.

The report finds that homeless people overwhelmingly want to work and agree that they should be doing something in return for receiving their benefits. As Helena, one respondent to the research, put it:

‘They have a right to ask me to do something in order to get my money, I understand this and it’s not that I’m fighting against this, so if you want money in this country, give something back. The trouble is, how much is enough?’

This points to the failings of the system identified by the research: that homeless people and those at risk of homelessness are too often sanctioned because they are unable to comply with unrealistic requirements imposed on them, and not because they are wilfully flouting the rules. It is of course this latter behaviour the regime is intended to discourage. Instead it is punishing vulnerable people who fall through the gaps precisely because their needs and circumstances are not taken into account.

Rather than capitalising on homeless people’s desire to work, the system is creating additional barriers. Shockingly, sanctions are found to actually lead some people to become homeless– and even to sleep rough– in the first place. In many cases this is because of administrative failures that lead to people’s housing benefit being stopped when they are sanctioned.

For those who are already homeless, sanctions are found to cause debt and hunger, to strain relationships with family and friends and to exacerbate mental and physical health conditions. Not only is this inhumane– it is hardly an effective way of helping people improve their employability.

At Crisis we are experts in supporting homeless people into employment: we work with individuals to identify their personal barriers to work and provide the necessary support to help them address these barriers. We want to see more of this tailored, individualised support in the employment support commissioned and delivered by Government.

We’re also asking the Government to identify homeless people and those at risk of homelessness from an early stage- and to suspend the use of financial sanctions when they are likely to be counter-productive. And we’re calling on Government to find a solution once and for all to the longstanding problem of housing benefit being stopped when someone is sanctioned. People cannot be made homeless by a system that is designed to support them.

So no, sanctions are not helping people find work. But with the right support and encouragement, homeless people can be supported into meaningful employment and forge a route out of homelessness. It’s high time the Government stepped up to the challenge of building on homeless people’s motivation to work and helping them fulfil their aspirations.

You can watch coverage of our report from last night’s BBC News at Ten, from around 21 minutes in.