By Natalie Leal for Welfare Weekly.
Sanctioned Jobseekers with mental health problems are not classed as ‘vulnerable’ unless they have an accompanying physical health problem, according to the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).
Use of the controversial sanctions regime, which sees claimants money cut or stopped for up to three years, has rocketed since stricter rules were introduced by the government.
When a claimant has their Jobseekers Allowance (JSA) reduced or stopped they can apply for a hardship payment – up to 60% of their JSA. This can go some way to cover the cost of food and bills while they have no other means of support. Those classed as ‘vulnerable’ can normally claim this vital support immediately, but others may have to wait at least two weeks.
However, those JSA claimants with even the most serious mental health illnesses are not considered vulnerable by DWP; they have to instead wait and go through what could become a lengthy application process.
DWP guidance on hardship paymentsstates: “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.”
It continues: “It is extremely rare for a mental condition to produce a physical impairment that limits or restricts functional capacity but it can happen.”
For decision makers in any doubt, the guidance goes on to clarify all mental illnesses “without physical impairment”:
- Affective disorder
- Anorexia nervosa
- Bipolar Affective disorder
- Bulimia nervosa
- Dissociative disorders
- Nervous Debility
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder
- Panic attacks
- Phobic anxiety
While those suffering from the most severe mental illnesses are likely to receive Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), it is estimated that 23% of JSA claimants have a mental health condition.
Tom Pollard, Policy and Campaigns Manager at Mind said:
“We are extremely concerned that this guidance does not consider people with mental health problems to be vulnerable compared to those who are living with physical health problems.
“Making such a distinction could result in further financial difficulties for those affected by mental health problems, in addition to the distress caused by being sanctioned in the first place.”
Tom Pollard from Mind said they were seeking clarity from the DWP as to why people with mental health problems who have had their benefits stopped aren’t considered to be vulnerable in this instance.
A DWP spokesman said they have a well-established system of hardship provision for claimants who are sanctioned.
“We absolutely recognise mental health conditions through the benefit system, with mental health champions and other support for individuals to find work through Jobcentre Plus.
“As taxpayers would expect, the vast majority of those on benefits do the right thing by looking for work, however the small minority who refuse to do so, or take up a job, risk a reduction to their benefits.”
They declined to add anything further following the comments from Mind.