Universal Credit (UC) claimants are almost nine times for likely to have their payments sanctioned than people in receipt of the benefits it is replacing, according to the Government’s latest benefit sanction statistics.
Statistics published by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) earlier this week reveal that 2.8% of UC claimants saw their benefits cuts due to a sanction, compared to 0.3% of people on Jobseeker’s Allowance and just 0.1% of Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) claimants.
The data also shows that disabled people receiving ESA are over three times more likely than JSA claimants to still be receiving benefits six months after a sanction is imposed by the DWP – 85% of disabled people receiving ESA compared to 27% of people claiming JSA.
Ayaz Manji, Senior Policy and Campaigns Officer at the mental health charity Mind, said sanctions are “counter-productive” and can push vulnerable people further away from employment due to the severe distress they can cause.
“It’s concerning to see that people who are currently receiving Universal Credit are much more likely to be sanctioned than those receiving the benefits that it’s replacing”, said Ayaz.
“We have long been warning the Government that a punitive approach towards people who are out of work because of their health or disability is not only ineffective but is causing a great deal of distress.
“In addition to the harm they cause, sanctions are counter-productive, causing many people with mental health problems to become even more unwell and move further from hopes of getting back into paid employment as a result.”
The charity says it has heard from people with mental health problems who have either been threatened with a sanction or have had payments docked, often for cruel and punitive reasons.
One such person told Mind: “It’s been awful, I became depressed and found the Job Centre staff very unsympathetic. One told me she knew all about my illness as her father and partner had Bipolar disorder like me. She was angry, telling me “you can’t sit on your bloody backside until you retire”, I am 57.
“I found it embarrassing as there is no privacy at all. Her attitude was terrible with obvious bad temper but I felt bad about it, it dwelled on my mind and I felt like a burden. Even felt suicidal for a while, I had fitness certificate from my GP, not sick certificates these days. Told that I had to commit to certain tasks which I found hard due to my mental state, otherwise I wouldn’t get paid yet had to wait anyway.”
Another said: “I was treated like a work shy nobody up until I had my work assessment and they realised I am actually struggling with my health at the moment, even after that point they can be very inconsiderate.
“They would change my appointments at a moment notice and borderline harass me to attend meetings even though my GP had provided me a sick note for several months at a time.
“Because of the stress of it all my step dad had to become my advocate and deal with them because it was making me more ill.”
Ayaz Manji added: “We’re hearing from more and more people with mental health problems who are struggling to cope with far more stringent requirements under Universal Credit.
“That includes people who have had to stop claiming benefits altogether without another source of income because they couldn’t cope with the added pressure.
“The Government says that the higher sanction rate reflects technical changes to Universal Credit and that they do not think it is possible to compare different benefits.
“We need urgently clarity on what is really happening and for the Government to put in place safeguards to protect people who are unwell and in need of support.”