Figures released by the DWP this week show a massive 38% rise in employment and support allowance (ESA) sanctions in the space of just one month. The huge increase raises fears that the DWP deliberately reduced sanctions in the run up to the election, but are now launching a big new drive against ESA claimants.
The statistics show that ESA sanctions rose from 2,454 in February 2015 to 3,382 in March 2015. The March total is the highest since May 2014 and the fourth highest monthly total since a new sanctions regime was introduced in December 2012.
No explanation is given for the rise of over a third in the number of sanctions in the course of just one month.
However, it seems incredibly unlikely that claimant behaviour altered that much in such a short time, so a toughening in the way the DWP are administering the sanctions regime seems the most probable reason.
The DWP would have been aware that the March 2015 statistics would not be released until the election was safely out of the way. It is, therefore, entirely possible that after many months of generally reducing sanction numbers in the run up to the election, the DWP knew that from early last year they would be free to start hitting ESA claimants again, as the figures would not be seen until a new administration was in place.
Many people will doubt, however, that the DWP could be so coldly calculating in the way it deals with sick and disabled claimants.
Few, perhaps, of those doubters would be ESA claimants.