PEOPLE in Wales who have mental-health problems are having welfare payments suspended at a faster rate than anywhere else in Britain, research published this week suggests.
Under rules intended to encourage people back to work, the Government is allowed to “sanction” payment of Employment Support Allowance and other benefits if claimants fail to meet certain conditions, such as keeping appointments or attending a minimum number of job interviews.
But an investigation by the Church in Wales found that, while nationally 60 per cent of those sanctioned had mental difficulties, in the Principality the figure rose to 70 per cent.
The Welsh Data Supplement to the report Time to Rethink Benefit Sanctions, published by the Baptist Union of Great Britain, the Church in Wales, the Church of Scotland, the Methodist Church, the United Reformed Church (URC), and the campaign group Church Action on Poverty, showed that sanctions applied to those with mental-health difficulties has increased rapidly over the past five years. Nationally, 100 people are sanctioned each day.
In his preface to the supplement, the Archbishop of Wales, Dr Barry Morgan, wrote: “The results are shocking: large numbers of people, particularly those judged unfit for work due to mental-health problems, are being punished by the withholding of their income. . . God-given human dignity is affronted when people are left destitute.”
The Revd Jennifer Hurd, who chairs the Cymru Synod of the Methodist Church, said that the Department for Work and Pensions statistics, obtained through a Freedom of Information request, also showed that more than a third of all sanction referrals involving Welsh claimants were due to administrative errors and were subsequently dropped.
“But in the meantime, they will have suffered additional, unnecessary stress and anxiety, waiting to find out if their support is to be cut off,” she said. The Moderator of the URC in Wales, the Revd Simon Walkling, said: “This is a shocking report, and confirms what churches find in their work on the ground with food-banks, debt counselling services, and other projects helping those in need. . . That is why our Churches have said that . . . it is time to rethink benefit sanctions.”