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DWP boss Chloe Smith says it's 'absolutely fair' to cut benefits if claimants 'do not engage'

Birmingham Mail 29/09/2022 Tom Blackburn
Chloe Smith has defended the DWP's benefits sanctions regime in an interview © PA Chloe Smith has defended the DWP's benefits sanctions regime in an interview

New work and pensions secretary Chloe Smith has defended the DWP’s controversial benefit sanctions regime, saying that it was "absolutely fair" to reduce or halt benefits to claimants who did not abide by the rules. Her comments came as the Government tightened rules for Universal Credit recipients.

In an interview on LBC, Ms Smith - who replaced Therese Coffey as DWP secretary after the latter was promoted to health secretary and deputy prime minister by Liz Truss - said she was "perfectly comfortable" with sanctions for claimants who "do not engage" with job offers or support.

There has been a surge in benefits sanctions in recent months, forcing thousands of sanctioned claimants to apply for hardship payments. According to OpenDemocracy, the DWP issued 74,200 hardship payments in the first five months of this year - an 80 per cent increase on the same period in 2019, when 40,400 were issued.

READ MORE: Thousands of Universal Credit claimants forced to rely on DWP hardship payments

Her remarks came as the DWP raised its administrative earnings threshold (AET) for Universal Credit claimants. UC recipients whose earnings are below the AET are subject to tougher rules, including attending regular appointments at the jobcentre and providing evidence they are looking for extra work.

On Monday (September 26), the AET was raised to £494 per calendar month for single claimants and £782 for couples making a joint claim. Previously, the threshold stood at £355 a month for single claimants and £567 for couples.

As a result of the change in the AET, around 114,000 Universal Credit claimants will be moved from the ‘light touch’ group into the ‘intensive work search’ group. These claimants will be expected to step up their search for more work and provide evidence of their efforts in appointments with DWP ‘work coaches’.

Chloe Smith added that work coaches would play an important role in enabling claimants to find more work. She said that they would be on hand to provide "further support" to those searching for more hours and increased earnings.

In his mini-budget last week, Chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng announced plans to raise the AET further, to the equivalent of 15 hours a week on the National Living Wage (the minimum wage for over-23s). This new increase is expected to come into force in January.

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