MORE than 100 people with mental-health problems are having
their benefits cut each day, effectively because of their
condition, data unearthed by the Methodist Church suggests.
The figures, obtained under a Freedom of Information request to
the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), suggest that people who
receive Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) because of a
long-term mental-health problem are more likely to be sanctioned -
that is, have their benefits suspended for a specific period - than
any other group.
The DWP data shows that the most common reason for being
sanctioned is that a person has been late, or not turned up, for a
Work Programme appointment.
The public-issues policy adviser for the Methodist Church, Paul
Morrison, said that sanctioning people with mental-health issues
was "like sanctioning someone with a broken leg for limping".
In March 2014 - the last month for which data is available -
4500 people who receive ESA because of mental-health problems were
Mr Morrison believes the total could be higher, however, as the
figures do not include those who receive ESA primarily because of a
physical illness but who have a higher risk of mental-health
"The fact that this system punishes people for the symptoms of
their illness is a clear and worrying sign that it is fundamentally
flawed," he said.
"Churches have increasingly seen people in desperate need
because they have been sanctioned. The suffering and injustice we
have seen caused by the sanctions system deserves serious
The mental-health charity Mind is worried that the cuts cause
added emotional distress. The CEO of Mind, Paul Farmer, said: "It's
unjustifiable that people with mental-health problems are being
sanctioned disproportionately compared with those who have another
"Stopping benefits does not help people with mental-health
problems back into work. In fact, it often results in people
becoming more anxious and unwell, and this makes a return to work
"Sanctions are based on a false assumption that individuals lack
motivation and willingness to work, but it's the impact of their
illness and the environment in which they are expected to work
which actually present the toughest challenges."
The data, and other information on the sanctions regime, is
included in a report due to be launched in the spring by a
coalition of Churches, including the Methodist Church, the Church
of Scotland, and the Church in Wales.
The convener of the Church and Society Council of the Church of
Scotland, the Revd Sally Foster-Fulton, said: "We are, sadly, well
aware of the negative impact of sanctions on vulnerable people,
often left with no income and no security, and no way out of the
deeper hole they have fallen through.
"It is important that we highlight these facts, and begin to
counter this troubling trend."