Figures obtained by the mental health charity under the Freedom of Information Act show that there were up to three times more benefit sanctions issued by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to people with mental health problems last year than there were people supported into work.
There were almost 20,000 benefits sanctions received by people who were out of work because of their mental health last year*, while only 6340** of this group were successfully supported into a job during the same period.
There are approximately 250,000 people receiving the benefit Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) who need this support primarily because of their mental health. People can be sanctioned – have their benefits cut – if they fail to participate in work-related activity, including missing appointments or being late for meetings or CV writing workshops. However, many people with mental health problems find it difficult to participate in these activities due to the nature of their health problem and the types of activities they’re asked to do, which are often inappropriate.
These revelations follow the DWP's refusal last week to commission an independent review of the use of conditionality and sanctions in the benefits system, despite being recommended by the Work and Pensions Select Committee, a cross-party committee of MPs. There is currently very little evidence to support the idea that threatening to cut someone’s benefits helps them to move into work.
Responding to the new figures, Paul Farmer, Chief Executive of Mind said:
"It is perverse that people with mental health problems are more likely to have their benefits stopped than they are to be supported into employment. We have long been warning the Government that a punitive approach towards people who are out of work because of their health or disability is not only ineffective but is causing a great deal of distress."
“These data provide further evidence that the DWP should have accepted the suggestion of a cross-party committee of MPs to commission an independent review of how sanctions are used. By continuing to refuse to listen to the numerous expert voices calling for a fundamental rethink of the use of sanctions, the Government is not only undermining its ambition of helping a million more disabled people into work, but is also failing its duty of care for the health and wellbeing of hundreds of thousands of people with mental health problems."
"We already know that the Work Programme has helped fewer than 1 in 10 people with mental health problems into employment. In fact, it’s counterproductive, as the pressure people are being put under, and the anxiety caused by the threat of sanctions, is making people more unwell and less able to work. 83 per cent*** of our survey respondents said that being on the Work Programme made their mental health worse or much worse. Even the threat of stopping someone’s financial support is enough to cause a great deal of undue stress and anxiety for people with mental health problems."
* Freedom of Information Request 2015-3391 shows that between April 2014 and March 2015 (the most recent statistics available) there were 19,259 sanction decisions against people with Mental Health and Behavioural Disorders.
** Work Programme: Monthly figures Job Outcomes (Thousands): Time Series by Primary Health Condition.
*** Mind (2014) We’ve got work to do (www.mind.org.uk/worktodo) Online survey of 439 people whose mental health was the main reason for using the Work Programme or Jobcentre Plus back-to-work support.