Matthew Oakley's report is out. You can read it here. His brief was to look at how the sanctions system was working amongst certain groups; in particular at the communications with, and understanding by, claimants. It was said from the beginning that the remit was far too narrow, a cosmetic exercise to justify the DWP but ignoring the real issues. And it was said that Oakley was the wrong person to do it. If you read the Foreword to the report you do get the impression that Oakley dutifully applauds the system. But in fact he has gone beyond his brief, and there are some very important points in the document.
The Financial Times wrote a fair piece, highlighting the poor way in which the DWP communicates with claimants who have been sanctioned. They also got a quote out of Esther McVey: "I have already started to make improvements ..." Far be it from me to call anyone a liar, but I doubt that this is true. The Guardian went with the fact that "Benefit sanctions hit most vulnerable people the hardest", sending out unintelligible letters, and not telling people about the availability of hardship payments unless they asked. There's also a very significant observation from the report: "It also revealed serious flaws in how sanctions were imposed, with Work Programme providers required to send participants for sanctions when they knew they had done nothing wrong, leaving 'claimants … sent from pillar to post'". This is the first time I've seen this fact in print. The Guardian produced an update on this article this evening to take account of the fact that the government is to "overhaul the way it treats benefit recipients threatened by sanctions". This must be based on the DWP's press release, which doesn't use the word overhaul and promises very little. It does provide a quote from McVey which is probably made up by the DWP Press Office. (You can play meaningless platitude bingo with it.) The BBC website has a very careful piece which isn't worth reading. And from Iain Duncan Smith, not a peep.
This report is, of course, far from sufficient. As the TUC has said, there must be a much wider review into the sanctions regime. Perhaps it should look at this case reported today in a Hertfordshire local paper. It's as bad as it gets.