From the TUC

100 claimants with mental health problems have their benefits stopped every day

21 Jan 2015, by in Society & Welfare

Figures obtained by the Methodist Church from the Department of Work and Pensions have revealed that claimants thought to be unfit for work due to mental health problems are disproportionately and increasingly likely to have their benefits stopped under sanctions.

The DWP’s own figures show that in March 2014, the last month for which statistics are available, approximately 4,500 people with mental health problems who receive the sickness and disability benefit Employment and Support Allowance, (ESA), because of mental health problems were sanctioned.

The proportion of claimants with mental health problems rose from Feb 2010 to Feb 2014, but the proportion of sanctions for this group received rose even more sharply.

Proportion of claimants with mental health problems and the sanctions they receive: 
Graph showing increasing rate of sanctions given to claimant with mental health problems
Source: FOI figures from DWP obtained by Methodist Church

Paul Morrison, Public Issues Policy Advisor 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. 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.”

What the figures don’t show is the human cost of a system that seems intent on punishing those that are looking for work while suffering with mental health problems. For some, the stress of sanctions, of not having any money, proves too much and pushes them over the edge.

A 48-year -old single mother from Glasgow was sanctioned for not attending a meeting. She wasn’t directed anywhere for help and the stress became too much for her. She was found hanged in her home two days before Christmas 2013 (Source: Poverty Truth Commission).

A 53-year-old Glasgow man said the stress made him want to turn to drink and drugs. He said:

“I was on ESA and was called to attend a medical with ATOS.  I was sent a letter the day before I was to be paid saying I had been sanctioned for six weeks.  When I phoned to query this I was informed that I had been phoned to explain I was being taken off ESA and put onto JSA (Job Seekers Allowance) and invited to a meeting.  I had not answered this phone call as I did not know it was from the DWP and am afraid to answer numbers I don’t know on my phone as they are very often from debt collectors. I was given no direction over where to go for help.  I felt so angry, insecure, negative, depressed and beaten. I felt like finding solace in drugs and drink.” (Source: Poverty Truth Commission)

Where sanctions increase stress and anxiety they may aggravate a mental illness. Tragically, this may then make it even harder for the claimant to obtain or return to work and may lengthen the period they are incapacitated.

If people with mental health problems are increasingly being sanctioned more often than other claimants this suggests the sanctioning policy is discriminatory against them. This may be direct or indirect discrimination.  Direct discrimination (treating someone less favourably because they have a mental illness) does happen. But indirect discrimination, when for example someone has difficulties attending meetings reliably because of their illness, may be more common.

Very common mental illnesses, like anxiety and depression, can often result in indirect discrimination. If someone with one of these illnesses is sanctioned for not attending a meeting , there will often have been good cause related to the symptoms of the illness. Those administering the benefits system would benefit from remembering that the welfare state was designed to help those who fall on hard times at the time they most need help – just like the claimants who have mental health problems.

4 Responses to 100 claimants with mental health problems have their benefits stopped every day

  1. Darren Stanley
    Jan 21st 2015, 6:20 pm

    It is very sad to read your article Kay on the sanctioning of the mentally ill. How about you approach the BBC’s daily politics and try to confront a Govt minister on the subject eg Norman Lamb MP or the dreaded IDS!!
    I’ve suffered myself at the hands of ATOS and had to have a psychiatric referral. I still needed my Doctor’s help to rebuff the calls to a medical exam. I also found the help of my local MIND to be invaluable in completing my ESA form.
    Thankfully I am now in the ESA support group but I worry about the next review. :-(


  2. Dan Manville
    Jan 21st 2015, 8:54 pm

    So many sanction decisions are discriminatory yet very few seek legal advice. If more people were to seek such advice and take action it would stop. People with long term illnesses whose illness is at the foot of their sanction should call Civil Legal Advice on 0345 345 4 345 and assert that discrimination has taken place. Many people have secured damages from DWP and Work Programme Providers. If it’s a Work Programme sanction ring ACAS on 0845 474747 and ask about early conciliation too. We CAN stop this but it will be down to individuals to take action.

  3. Brian Jackson
    Jan 24th 2015, 1:06 pm

    This government seems hell bent on punishing the defenceless. Hopefully their reign of careless incompetence is soon to be halted.
    The people involved are not all scroungers, but people who “if given a chance” would become a vital part of the country’s manpower. All they need is some helpful advice and guidance to set them on their way. Unfortunately with this shower in control they will get none of either.

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