New data: More than 100 people per day with mental health problems are having their benefits sanctioned
20 January 2015
New data released today has revealed that benefits claimants
judged as unfit to work due to mental health problems are more
likely to have their benefits stopped by sanctions than those
suffering from other conditions.
Policy advisers for the Methodist Church obtained the data using
Freedom of Information Requests to the Department of Work and
Pensions. It shows that people who receive the sickness and
disability benefit Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) because
of a long-term mental health problem are being sanctioned at a rate
of more than 100 per day. In March 2014 - the last month for which
data is available - approximately 4,500 people with mental health
problems who receive ESA because of mental health problems were
Paul Morrison, Public Issues Policy Adviser for the Methodist
Church, said: "We believe that the number of people with mental
health problems who have their benefit stopped due to being
sanctioned is in fact a great deal higher than 100 a day. Not
included in these figures are people who receive ESA due to a
physical illness, but who have a higher risk of mental health
According to the DWP data, the most common reason for being
sanctioned is that a person has been late or not turned up for a
Work Programme appointment.
"Sanctioning someone with a mental health problem for being late
for a meeting is like sanctioning someone with a broken leg for
limping. The fact that this system punishes people for the symptoms
of their illness is a clear and worrying sign that it is
fundamentally flawed," said Mr Morrison, who is also the author of
an upcoming report on the sanctions regime. "Churches have
increasingly seen people in desperate need because they have been
sanctioned. The suffering and injustice we have seen caused by the
sanctions system deserves serious scrutiny."
Paul Farmer, CEO of mental health charity Mind, said: "We're
very concerned about the number of people having their benefits
stopped. This causes not just financial problems but added
emotional distress. It's unjustifiable that people with mental
health problems are being sanctioned disproportionately compared to
those who have another health problem.
"Stopping benefits does not help people with mental health
problems back into work. In fact, it often results in people
becoming more anxious and unwell and this makes a return to work
less likely. Sanctions are based on a false assumption that
individuals lack motivation and willingness to work, but it's the
impact of their illness and the environment in which they are
expected to work which actually present the toughest challenges.
That's why they should only be used as a last resort, when someone
simply refuses to engage."
These figures - and other new data on the sanctions regime -
will feature in a report that is due to be launched in the spring
by a coalition of major Churches, including the Methodist Church,
the Church of Scotland and the Church in Wales.
The Revd Sally Foster-Fulton, Convener of the Church and Society
Council of the Church of Scotland, said: "With others in the
Scottish Leaders' Group on Welfare, we are, sadly, well aware of
the negative impact of sanctions on vulnerable people, often left
with no income and no security and no way out of the deeper hole
they have fallen through. We welcome the publication of the
upcoming report. It is important that we highlight these facts and
begin to counter this troubling trend. We will use the new
data in our 28 February conference looking 'Beyond Food Banks', for
which sanctions are a key trigger."
1. People who are being supported by the disability benefit
Employment and Support Allowance can have their benefits sanctioned
(stopped for a period of time) if they fail to engage with certain
activities. This only applies to those in the Work Related Activity
Group (WRAG) - a group for whom an assessment has deemed that they
are neither fit for work nor unable to work, but able to move into
employment with support.
2. Paul Morrison is available for interview.
3. Case studies and the full data set are available - please email Toby
4. Email Toby
Fairclough to receive an advance copy of the upcoming