While the mainstream media is focusing on the latest employment data, figures published today by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) reveal that tens of thousands of people with disabilities have been subjected to cruel benefit sanctions since December 2012.
According to the data, 71,366 sanctions were applied against disabled Employment and Support Allowance claimants between 3 December 2012 and 30 September 2016.
The shocking figures also suggest that some disabled people were sanctioned more than once, with the data showing 41,510 disabled individuals received an adverse sanction decision over this period.
In total, more than 85,000 ESA claimants were affected by benefit sanctions between 3 December 2012 and 30 September 2016, with the highest number of these living in London and the Home Counties (22,589).
However, the data also shows that 95,571 sanction referrals did not result in an adverse decision and 130,000 referrals were cancelled before a final decision was made.
[clickToTweet tweet=”Over 40,000 #disabled people on #ESA hit by #sanctions since Dec2012 http://bit.ly/2m5xJHF via @Welfare_Weekly” quote=”Over 40,000 disabled people on ESA hit by sanctions since Dec2012"]
The most common reason for sanction referrals seems to be ‘failure to participate in work related activity’, which may include attending work-focused interviews and other work-related activities the DWP believe will improve a disabled person’s future job prospects.
Disabled Jobseeker’s Allowance claimants are also being hit hard by sanctions, with over 260,000 receiving an adverse sanction decision between 22 October 2012 and 30 September 2016.
Opponents of the benefit sanctions regime say people with disabilities face far more barriers to employment compared to non-disabled people. They also compare the sanctions regime to a ‘postcode lottery’, with the likelihood of a person being sanctioned largely dependent on where they live.
A National Audit Office report in November 2016 concluded that the government had failed to provide any discernable evidence that benefit sanctions actually work.
The spending watchdog said the DWP is failing to monitor those who have had their benefits stopped or reduced, whilst warning many are being pushed outside of the benefits system entirely,.. and questioned whether the sanctions regime offered value for money to taxpayers.
NAO estimates found the DWP had withheld £132m from claimants through the use of sanctions in 2015, and paid them £35m in hardship payments.
The costs of administering sanctions increased to £50m in 2015, but the wider impact on public spending through additional support or savings had not been calculated by the DWP, auditors said.
[c[clickToTweet tweet=”Cost of administering benefit sanctions increased to £50m in 2015 @Welfare_Weekly” quote=”Cost of administering benefit sanctions increased to £50m in 2015"]p>
Commenting on the report, Labour MP Meg Hillier said: “Benefit sanctions punish some of the poorest people in the country. But despite the anxiety and misery they cause, it seems to be pot luck who gets sanctioned.
“While studies suggest sanctions do encourage some people back into work, other people stop claiming but do not start working and the Department for Work and Pensions has no record of them.
“If vulnerable people fall through the safety net, what happens to them?”
The SNP has warned Government proposals to close job centres could further increase the risk of sanctions and “cause real difficulty and hardship for thousands of people“.
Fears have also been raised by the Public and Commercial Services union, after the DWP admitted the closures could cost hundreds of jobs.
PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said: “Jobcentres provide a lifeline for unemployed people, and forcing them to travel further is not only unfair it undermines support to get them back to work.
“We are opposed to these closures and will vigorously fight any attempt to force DWP workers out of their jobs.”
Last updated at 18:59 (GMT) on 16 February 2017