Benefits claimants with mental health problems among worst hit by sanctions

The majority of those sanctioned had been so due to lateness or absence from compulsory Work Programme appointments, researchers found.Reuters

Benefits claimants deemed unfit to work owing to mental health problems are more likely to have their benefits stopped by sanctions than those suffering from other conditions, new research shows.

Policy advisers for the Methodist Church have found that more than 100 people suffering with long-term mental health problems are being sanctioned every day, and the exact figure could be much higher.

"Not included in these figures are people who receive ESA [Employment and Support Allowance] due to a physical illness, but who have a higher risk of mental health difficulties," said Paul Morrison, Public Issues Policy Adviser for the Methodist Church.

Morrison added that data obtained from the Department of Work and Pensions suggests that the majority of those sanctioned had been so owing to lateness or absence from compulsory Work Programme appointments.

"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," Morrison said.

"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."

The CEO of mental health charity Mind, Paul Farmer, has also criticised the "false assumptions" upon which sanctions are often based. He said he is "very concerned" at the number of people having their benefits taken away from them

"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," Farmer said.

"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."

Farmer added that sanctions should only be used as a "last resort".

A report detailing the latest figures will be launched this spring.