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Mentally ill are hit hardest by system

23 January 2015

iSTOCK

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 sanctioned.

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 difficulties.

"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 scrutiny."

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 health problem.

"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 less likely.

"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."

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