DWP refuses to look at whether benefit sanctions damage mental health

Charities have warned that the Government's approach is failing

Jon Stone
Monday 02 November 2015 17:02 GMT
A queue outside a jobcentre
A queue outside a jobcentre

The Government has refused to examine the effect of its benefit sanctions system on the mental health of people who are affected by it.

Department for Work and Pensions minister Priti Patel said any analysis of the temporary benefit cuts’ effects would be “misleading” in isolation and that their effect should therefore not be examined.

“There are many factors affecting an individual’s mental health. To assess the effect of sanctions in isolation of all other factors would be misleading,” she told MPs at Work and Pensions Questions in the House of Commons.

“There are a number of checks built into the system to support all claimants including those with mental health concerns.”

Ms Patel had been asked to launch an assessment by SNP MP Callum McCraig.

She also claimed that there was no evidence that sanctions particularly affected people with mental health problems – a claim contrary to the results of independent research.

More than 100 people with mental health issues have their benefits sanctioned every day, according to figures released at the start of the year.

The refusal to engage with criticism of the sanction system’s effect on mental health comes after a highly critical study by the charity Mind.

83 per cent of Work Programme participants with mental health issues surveyed by Mind said the scheme’s “support” had made their mental health problems worse of much worse.

Priti Patel, DWP minister

An additional 76 per cent of people said the Work Programme had made them feel less able to work than before they had started it.

“Cutting someone’s support for failing to meet certain requirements causes not just financial problems but a great deal of psychological distress too,” Mind’s chief executive Paul Farmer said at the time.

“This punitive approach is backfiring … even the threat of being sanctioned can be enough to cause anxiety.

“We often hear from people who are filled with dread every time they receive a letter or phone call, in case they’re told the vital support they get from disability benefits has been reduced or stopped altogether.”

Ms Patel said jobcentre staff were adequately equipped to deal with the health problems, however.

“Our staff are trained to support claimants with mental health conditions … claimants are only asked to meet reasonable requirements, taking into account their circumstances, their capability, and their mental health services,” Ms Patel told MPs.

“There is no evidence to suggest that mental health claimants are being sanctioned more than anyone else.”

The Government announced earlier this year that it would begin stationing 350 psychological therapists at jobcentres to support and assess claimants.

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