The use of sanctions (often referred to a ‘conditionality’) has been a key mechanism in the welfare reforms of successive governments. They have been a feature of ESA since it was introduced in 2008.
Sanctions can be applied to an ESA claimant in the Work Related Activity Group (WRAG) if they do not abide to the conditions about work focussed activity or work focussed interviews, without ‘good cause’.
For example, failing to attend or take part in a work focussed interview. These claimants face a reduction in their payments. The rules regarding sanctions changed in December 2012.
Sanctions can also be applied to people on Job Seekers Allowance (JSA), but official figures regarding these are not broken down into health conditions.
Sanctions and people with mental health problems
Reports show that there has been a formidable rise in the number of people on ESA who have been sanctioned. The number of people receiving a sanction each month rose from 600 in January 2012 to over 4,700 in December 2013.
Official figures show that people with mental health problems are disproportionately sanctioned – 50% of people in the WRAG group have a mental health problem, but they received 60% of the sanctions.
Possible reasons include:
- A lack of understanding of mental health throughout the benefits system.
- The barriers faced by people with mental health conditions are not readily taken into account.
- The current benefit system is ineffective and inaccurate at assessing claimants and placing them on the appropriate benefit.
A key problem is that the system of conditionality assumes that the threat of reduction or withdrawal of benefits will encourage people to engage in activities. But this assumption is misplaced – many people with mental health problems want to work but are prevented from doing so by the impact of their condition, systemic barriers and a lack of effective employment support.
The use of sanctions is not only ineffective but has a detrimental effect on peoples’ mental health.