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More than 60% of adverse Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) sanctions decisions made during the first three months of 2014 were against people with mental health issues or behavioral problems, new figures show.

Figures released by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) in response to a Freedom of Information Request, show that 9,851 adverse benefit sanctions decisions were made against ESA claimants with mental or behavioural disorders between January to March 2014.

This compares to:

  • 508 adverse sanctions decisions against ESA claimants with diseases of the circulatory or respiratory system.
  • 1,598 against those with diseases of the musculoskeletal system and connective tissue.
  • 571 against people with diseases of the nervous system.
  • 714 against people with injuries, poisoning and certain other consequences of external causes.
  • 2,727 against those with other health conditions or disabilities.

A DWP official said benefit sanctions are used to encourage people to “engage with the support being offered by Jobcentres, by making it clearer to claimants what they are expected to do in return for their benefits”.

However, charities and medical experts say people with mental health issues, learning problems and behavioral disorders often struggle to understand what is required of them in return for their benefits. Following strict requirements can prove to be more difficult for these groups of people, without additional support and guidance.

Commenting on similar figures from November 2013, Tom Pollard, Policy and Campaigns Manager at the mental health charity Mind, said:

“We’re very concerned that an increasing number of people on ESA are having their benefits stopped, despite the fact that there are now fewer people in the WRAG (Work Related Activity Group).

“We know that around half of people in the WRAG need support because they have mental health problems, but over 60 per cent of sanctions are imposed on this group.”

“It is unjustifiable that people with mental health problems are being disproportionately affected by this increasingly punitive system. This confirms our fears that people are being pressured to undertake activities that are inappropriate for them and are not having their mental health properly taken into account.”

“As a result people often become more anxious and unwell and this makes a return to work less likely. We urgently need to see people with mental health problems placed on a scheme which recognises and helps them overcome the challenges they face in finding and keeping a job.”

In total, there were 15,995 adverse ESA sanctions decisions between January to March 2014.

A cross-party report published earlier this week said the harsh use of punitive benefit sanctions is leading to rising numbers of people turning to food banks.

Commenting in response to the report, Salman Shaheen of Left Unity said:

“Sanctions mean that tiny mistakes can see people’s benefits stopped. Often people are given unclear instructions. Sometimes the rules suddenly change or appointments are moved. One slip-up and they join the ranks of the hungry.

“Every crackdown on benefits pushes more people into the food bank queues. Abolishing sanctions is the simple answer: no one should ever be left with no income to live on.

“We also need to raise benefits from their current poverty level. And it is vital to tackle in-work poverty by ending zero-hours contracts and raising the minimum wage to £10 an hour.”


  1. People on ESA should always appeal a benefit sanction to be straight every claimant no matter the benefit should appeal a benefit sanction. As the Sanctions are meant to be last resort only. Not the first thing to cross a benefit officers mind.
    The DWP are abusing the Sanctions by applying it straight away and they know it. but Ian Duncan Smith and the DWP staff know full well many claimants will accept a sanction with no appeal against it as they are wary of the appeals process.
    ESA Claimants who are back by their doctor and told not to work should not be forced onto work placements or back into employment. many have been placed in the work category by mistake and once in cannot be removed.
    All ESA claimants must read up on Health and safety in the work place in regards to their health condition and any medication and side effects from medication. They are also legally obliged to tell the workfare provider or employer they have a health issue and or are on medication which could lead to accidents in the work place. as once informed the claimant is no longer liable and is able to sue for accidents. where as the employer will find the company insurance will not cover a claim for compensation and the company must fund the claim from their own bank account and the employer must except they could also be liable for criminal charges if a death occurs due to a person deemed not fit to work by their own GP and the company could be fined for breaching the health and safety laws when employing such a person. The DWP hide a lot of things the disabled as well as work provider and employer should know. but all disabled are legally obliged by law to state their health condition and any medication and its side effects before taking on paid or unpaid employment.

  2. People with mental health issues are very poorly treated and shoved on the crap heap. My area spend 5 million on sexual health in the same year they spent 30,000 on mental health. My best friend of 30 years killed herself in 2009 she developed mental health problems in the preceding 5 or so years. None of the minuscule mental health workers believed her and though she was just being needy and feeling sorry for herself. I tried to speak to them after her death and they wouldn’t speak to me.

  3. I have type 1 manic depression. If these bastards drive me to my death, I will make sure I take 10 of the fuckers with me.

  4. Easy targets because they are unsure to start with due to their conditions or meds and the DWP staff know some wont remember what they have been told .

  5. This was completely predictable. Therefore it must be deliberate. Every consequence must therefore be intended.

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