This week local MP Corri Wilson is calling for an immediate halt to all benefit sanctions in response to concerns that Department of Work and Pensions staff are put under pressure to hit targets.
However DWP said this week that no benefit sanction targets are ever set for staff.
The SNP member’s call comes as figures show more than 5,100 benefit dependent families in Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock are now considered ‘over-indebted’ and that almost a quarter of adults in the Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock constituency have been behind with their bills in the last six months.
According to figures released by the Money Advice Service, almost a quarter (22%) of adults living in the constituency have been at least three months behind with their bills in the last six months, or have said that they feel their debts are a heavy burden. The UK average is 18%.
And of the 16,451 people affected, almost a third are aged between 35 and 64 who are either unemployed or work part-time, and whose household income is below £15,000 and is almost entirely made up of state benefits.
Speaking on the figures, Ms Wilson said: “Families who depend on benefits to stay afloat are being forced into sever financial instability by this system of sanctions. Almost one in ten jobseekers in South Ayrshire is referred for a sanction each month, and the situation is not much better in East Ayrshire.
“Having your benefits cut or stopped altogether, even for a short time, can throw hard up families into arrears with rent and bills that can take them months, or even years to recover from.
“It is clearly unacceptable that so many people are struggling with over-indebtedness, particularly when it is the State that is forcing them into arrears and debt in the first place in order to hit some spurious targets.
“That half of all ESA and JSA sanctions are overturned when reviewed just goes to show that there is a crisis at the heart of this discredited system. All sanctions need to be halted immediately until a fundamental root and branch independent review of the DWP’s sanctions and conditionality can be carried out.”
A Department for Work and Pensions spokesman said:
“We’ve been very clear that Jobcentre Plus has no targets for sanctions.
“The vast majority of those on benefits do the right thing by looking for work, and the number of sanctions are going down. Taxpayers would expect the small minority who refuse to do so would risk a reduction in benefits. Everyone has the right to appeal a sanction decision.”
The spokesman added that the decision to impose a sanction is taken by an independent decision maker based on the evidence provided to make a fair, balanced and consistent decision – and everyone is made aware of their right to appeal before any sanction is imposed. In addition, the DWP say that sanctioned claimants who have children can apply for hardship payments straight away and in Scotland JSA sanctions have fallen from 84,200 in 2013 to 55,900 in 2014.