Data obtained by Mind from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) under the Freedom of Information Act reveals the huge and disproportionate number of sanctions imposed on people with mental health problems who aren’t currently able to work.
40,000 people with mental health problems were threatened with having their Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) cut in 2014-15.*
This equates to roughly 16 per cent of all the people who receive this benefit primarily due to their mental health problems.**
Worryingly, nearly three in four (73 per cent - 28,624 people) were incorrectly issued,* despite the negative impact of such threats on someone with a mental health problem.
Tom Pollard, Policy and Campaigns Manager at Mind, said:
“The system is in chaos with three quarters of referrals for sanctions wrongly issued to people with mental health problems. Despite having been found not well enough to work, these individuals are being threatened left, right and centre, often unjustifiably. There is a complete lack of evidence to show that stopping, or threatening to stop, someone’s financial support is an effective approach. In fact, pressurising people with mental health problems to engage in activities under the threat of losing their benefit is counterproductive, causing additional anxiety, often making people more unwell and less able to work. Continuing in this vein won’t help the Government halve the disability gap."
“Despite claiming to have safeguards in place to protect vulnerable people, the statistics show that the DWP is too eager to assume the worst and threaten to remove somebody’s financial support before they have the full picture. Even if sanctions are overturned – as in three in four of these cases - the damage has already been done. Every day, people tell us how frustrating it is to be treated with suspicion, rather than helped with positive support. We’ve heard from people who have been threatened with sanctions after missing a meeting because they’d been hospitalised, were attending a job interview, or weren’t ever notified of their meeting in the first place."
“Instead of threatening to punish people for failing to do certain tasks, we want the Government to take a more positive approach. Programmes that provide more personalised support are much more effective in getting people with mental health problems back into employment. We need a system that takes into account their skills, ambitions, and the real barriers they face in getting and staying in a job.”
Other data obtained by the mental health charity also showed that over 10,000 people with mental health problems received an ‘adverse decision’ in 2014-15,* meaning that their benefits were cut for a period of time. This represents four per cent of people receiving the benefit, four times more than the Government have previously claimed.***
*Statistics calculated using Freedom of Information Request 2014-4599 which shows that in 2014-15 39,190 individual people with Mental and Behavioural Disorders received either an adverse, non-adverse or cancelled decision
**Statistics calculated using the DWP Tabulation Tool on ESA which show that as of February 2015 there were 244,000 people with mental health problems in the ESA WRAG
***Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) press release (May 2015) Benefit sanctions down as more people helped into work