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Benefit sanctions have ‘increased rates of mental health problems’, experts warn

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The Tory Government’s controversial benefit sanctions regime is leading to “increased rates of mental health problems” and causing unemployed people to slip into poverty and destitution, experts have warned.

In an open letter to the Independent newspaper, many of the UK’s leading bodies representing psychologists, psychotherapists, psychoanalysts, and counsellors, say benefit sanctions damage people’s mental health and call on the UK Government to “immediately suspend” the cruel system.

The letter follows a joint response from psychotherapy organisations to a Government consultation, who also called on the Tories to suspend its cruel sanctions regime.

“Findings from the National Audit Office (NAO) show limited evidence that the sanctions system actually works, or is cost effective”, the experts say.

They also draw attention to a recent Public Accounts Committee (PAC) report which found “sanctions and exemptions are being applied inconsistently”.

Meg Hillier MP, Chair of the PAC, said “sanctions have been used as a blunt instrument” by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) “with little understanding of why”.

The Committee also warned the crude system risks pushing vulnerable people into debt and could ultimately “undermine their efforts to find work”.

Meg Hillier said: “Some people who receive sanctions stop claiming without finding work, adding to pressures on other services.”

She added: “A third of people surveyed by the charity Crisis who were claiming Housing Benefit had this stopped in error because of a sanction – an appalling situation to be faced with.

“All of this highlights the need for a far more nuanced approach to sanctioning claimants, with meaningful measures in place to monitor its effectiveness.

“As a priority the Government must make better use of data and evidence from the frontline to improve its understanding of what best supports both claimants and the interests of taxpayers in general.”

In their letter to the Independent, the experts say: “Vulnerable people with multiple and complex needs, in particular, are disproportionately affected by the increased use of sanctions.

“Therefore, we call on the Government to suspend the benefits sanctions regime and undertake an independent review of its impact on people’s mental health and wellbeing.”

However, the letter says “suspending the sanctions system alone is not enough”, and urges the government “to change its focus from making unemployment less attractive, to making employment more attractive.”

It adds: “We want to see a range of policy changes to promote mental health and wellbeing. These include increased mental health awareness training for Jobcentre staff – and reform of the work capability assessment (WCA), which may be psychologically damaging, and lacks clear evidence of reliability or effectiveness.”

Jobcentre’s should also rethink the role they play in helping unemployed people back to work, the letters says, and warns “bad jobs can be more damaging to mental health than unemployment”.

The letter is signed by leading representatives from the British Psychological Society, UK Council for Psychotherapy, British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy, British Psychoanalytic Council, and the British Association of Behavioural and Cognitive Psychotherapies.


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