Ayaz from our Policy & Campaigns team blogs about the issues around benefit sanctions facing those with mental health problems and how we and our campaigners are letting MPs know that these need to change.
Ayaz Manji is a Policy and Campaigns Officer at Mind. He leads on Mind’s campaigning work on welfare, benefits and back-to-work support.
When you’re too unwell to work you need support and understanding, not threats and pressure. But for too many people with mental health problems an appointment at the Jobcentre means having the cope with the fear and anxiety of knowing that your income might be at risk if you can’t do what you’re asked. That’s why when a group of MPs announced they were launching an inquiry into benefit sanctions, we knew we had to take this chance to try and change things for the better. We also knew that the only way things will change is if people in power listen to people who are going through the system.
"The only way things will change is if people in power listen to people who are going through the system."
Two weeks ago I watched from the audience as Jen, a Mind campaigner, told MPs from all parties about her experience of being sanctioned. Jen and the others on the panel talked powerfully about how let down they felt by a system that was supposed to be supporting them. She spoke about how being sanctioned meant that she spent a year of her life trying to find a place to stay rather than being able to focus on her mental health, on college, and on moving forward with her life.
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Jen is one of hundreds of campaigners who have shared their own stories and experiences with the MPs on the Work and Pensions Committee. And the MPs are still taking evidence. Today we’re going back to the House of Commons to talk about what we think needs to change, based on what we hear every week from people with mental health problems who are struggling to keep up with requirements at the Jobcentre. Above everything else we’ll be saying that no-one should have to face the threat of sanctions when they’re unwell.
Inquiries like these matter because when they’ve finished taking evidence, the MPs will come up with recommendations for change that the Government have to respond to. It’s hard to know in advance what those will be or how far they’ll go, but it’s our job to keep pushing for real change, so that stories like Jen’s will become a thing of the past. That means helping people have their voice heard in parliament, speaking out in the media, taking legal cases to challenge injustices, and doing everything we can to push for a benefits system that really works for people with mental health problems. Will you join us?
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Blogs and stories can show that people with mental health problems are cared about, understood and listened to. We can use it to challenge the status quo and change attitudes.