Controversial benefit sanctions are responsible for the deteriorating health of benefit claimants, according to welfare rights campaigners.
Campaigners are urging the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to protect vulnerable people from the impact of welfare cuts, after it was revealed by Welfare Welfare that sanctioned mentally ill benefit claimants are not regarded as “vulnerable” by the government.
Mentally disabled people may have to wait up to two weeks before becoming eligible for hardship payments after having their benefits reduced or stopped (sanctioned), while those regarded as physically disabled could be entitled to crucial financial support immediately.
A freedom of information request submitted by Welfare Weekly has also exposed how the DWP used fake stories in benefit sanctions advice leaflet.
The controversial benefits sanctions regime has come under close scrutiny, with the Work and Pensions Select Committee demanding a review into the damaging policy.
Examples include severely sick and disabled people who had their benefits docked for failure to turn up to Jobcentre appointments, despite having informed the relevant office they were admitted to hospital.
The Black Triangle Campaign, who campaign on the rights of disabled people, said the revelation that mentally ill disabled people are not seen as vulnerable by the DWP is a “perversion” of social justice.
Advice detailed in official DWP guidance states: “It would be usual for a normal healthy adult to suffer some deterioration in their health if they were without: 1. essential items such as food, clothing, heating and accommodation, or 2. sufficient money to buy essential items for a period of two weeks.”
It adds: “Requests for hardship payments may be made by people who say they have a mental condition. A person will only be a member of a vulnerable group if the condition causes limitation in functional capacity because of a physical impairment.”
According to official guidance in regard to hardship payments for sanctioned mentally ill claimants: “It is extremely rare for a mental condition to produce a physical impairment that limits or restricts functional capacity but it can happen”.
The guidance then lists a number of mental health complaints which, the DWP claims, does not result in physical symptoms. These include:
- Affective disorder
- Anorexia nervosa
- Bipolar Affective disorder
- Bulimia nervosa
- Dissociative disorders
- Nervous Debility
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder
- Panic attacks
- Phobic anxiety
John McArdle, of the Black Triangle Campaign, said: “What decent civilised person would look at that and be anything other than utterly appalled by it?
“Even if it were acceptable, we believe DMs are not qualified to make these sort of judgements.”
He added: “We are trying to persuade the Scottish Government to legislate to protect people. We also feel they could do more to educate family doctors about the issues of disabled people falling through the net and being sanctioned.
“We want primary care to step up to the plate and flag up to the DWP when sanctions are putting people at substantial risk.”
A Scottish Government spokesman told Herald Scotland: “We know the current sanctions regime isn’t working and we support the House of Commons Work and Pensions Committee call for a full and independent review of the system.
“It is clear from the evidence we have and from reports produced by a whole range of stakeholders that people are hurt by this punitive sanctions system, including lone parents, young people and disabled people and now the DWP appear to be admitting this.
“Following Mrs Burgess’s meeting with the Black Triangle Disability Rights Campaign we are considering how best to support GPs in helping patients that are at risk of sanctions.”
John Dickie, director of the Child Poverty Action Group in Scotland (CPAG), said: “It is almost beyond belief that official DWP guidance explicitly recognises that sanctions will cause deterioration to health but that deterioration in itself is not enough to demonstrate hardship or vulnerability.
“Such a punitive approach does nothing to support people back to work and everything to further damage their life chances.”