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Shaw Trust using evidence to influence policy

12 November 2018
MPs quote Shaw Trust’s policy research on benefit sanctioning in major report
This week a major Work and Pensions Committee report has used frontline evidence from Shaw Trust to influence The Department for Work and Pensions’ approach to benefit sanctions. This comes at a time when media reports claim charities delivering government contracts for both DWP and Ministry of Justice (MOJ) are prevented from speaking out independently about public policy issues.
Putting staff and participants at the heart of what we say
At Shaw Trust we believe in supporting people above all else, and contract clauses in no way impinge on our independence. As a frontline service delivery charity we regularly share our evidence and experience-based policy perspectives and proposals. 
We do this by including the real-life experiences and views of our staff and the people we support at the heart of our policy submissions and consultation responses. Our recently-quoted submission to the Work and Pensions Committee on benefit sanctions epitomises this approach to policy influencing.
To make sure our submission on sanctions was accurate and factual, we ran a series of qualitative and quantitative studies surveying frontline staff and customers about their experiences and views of sanctioning. We undertook focus groups with staff to gather more detailed, open and honest evidence on the impact sanctioning was having on lives. Our submission to parliament summarised our findings and recommended the reforms to the sanctioning system based on what our staff and customers told us.
Shaw Trust’s policy influence
Our submission acknowledged benefit sanctions can, where used appropriately, effectively encourage some individuals to engage with employment support and take steps to find work. However, drawing on our survey and focus group findings, we found that in too many cases, inappropriate or inconsistent application of sanctions can cause severe impacts on people’s lives, at times pushing them further from the labour market. This is particularly the case for disabled people, and those with mental health and other long term health conditions.
Shaw Trust is one of the most widely cited organisations in the Work and Pensions Committee report. In particular, the committee quoted our call to urgently improve the “accuracy, consistency, proportionality and fairness of decision-making” to end “inappropriate sanctioning practice.”
We were also amongst a number of organisations cited among the “overwhelming majority of evidence” showing “that conditionality and sanctions for people with a disability is at best ineffective, and worse, inappropriate and counterproductive” and “that disabled claimants should be exempt from conditionality and sanctions.”
We are among a number of respondents to have proposed a ‘yellow card’ warning system to be considered before sanctions are imposed. The committee cited our recommendation that yellow card warnings must be clearly communicated using an individual's preferred method of communication, “taking into account the fact that for many individuals with mental health conditions, skills, learning or language barriers, this may not be a written letter”. The committee took ministerial evidence on the issue of a warning system, suggesting that a trial of such a system would not require any legislative changes. DWP is therefore “exploring the feasibility” of issuing written warnings instead of sanctions for a first sanctionable failure to attend a work-search review.
At Shaw Trust we genuinely do not feel we are 'gagged' by any of our contracts, and believe this week's widely reported sanctions report demonstrates our commitment to question, challenge and influence policy wherever and whenever we have experience and evidence. 
As a service delivery charity for government the weight and authenticity of our evidence is supported by the views and experiences of our frontline staff and the recommendations we make are based on empirical evidence. At the heart of all of our work is the people we support and whose voices need to be heard.
Setting the record straight on Universal Credit
In the first news article focusing on the role charities have in critiquing Universal Credit, it was acknowledged that Shaw Trust gave verbal evidence to the Work and Pensions Committee about Universal Credit (UC). The article claimed Shaw Trust could not speak out about the impact of this major welfare reform because of a gagging clause in our DWP contract.
However, at Shaw Trust, until recently very few of the people we support on our employment programmes had transferred to UC. This is changing as this major reform of the benefit system gathers pace and more benefit recipients are 'migrated' onto the UC system. We will be actively engaging with frontline staff and people we support who are receiving UC to gather factual, honest and useful evidence, and this will feed into all of our future work. 

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