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ESA: Massive Increase In Sanctions

July 2, 2014

Many thanks to Benefits And Work.

Employment and support allowance (ESA) claimants in the work-related activity group (WRAG) are being subjected to a massively increased sanctions regime that deliberately targets the most vulnerable. Sanctions, primarily aimed at claimants on the work programme who have mental health conditions or learning difficulties, have quadrupled in the course of a year, even though referrals to the programme have fallen by 43%.

The number of sanctions rose from 1,102 a month in December 2012 to 4,789 a month in December 2013, the most recent date figures are available for.

The vast majority of sanctions are imposed for failing to participate in work-related activity whilst on the work programme, which thousands of ESA claimants are forced to join every month in spite of overwhelming evidence that it does not improve their chances of getting a job.

The massive rise in sanctions, however, cannot be explained by a sudden huge surge in the number of claimants in the WRAG.

In fact, the number of claimants in the WRAG increased by just 21% between November 2012 to November 2013, from 460,160 to 558,960.

Indeed, between August and November 2013 the number of claimants in the WRAG actually fell slightly, from 562,620 to 558,960. Yet the number of claimants sanctioned in this period shot up by a staggering 75% from 2,193 to 3,837.

Nor can the rise in sanctions be explained by a corresponding increase in the numbers of ESA claimants being forced onto the work programme.

In fact, the rate at which ESA claimants get pushed onto the work programme has fallen dramatically over the same period. 8,290 claimant were put onto the work programme in December 2012. This fell to just 4,700 in December 2013, a drop of 43%.

Yet sanctions increased fourfold.

And the main targets of those sanctions are claimants with mental health conditions or learning difficulties. Back in April we pointed out that the proportion of this group receiving a sanction had risen from 35% of sanctioned claimants in 2009 to a massive 58% by June 2013.

That figure has now increased again to 62% in December 2013, even though claimants with these conditions make up just 50% of the work-related activity group.

Also back in April the DWP told us:

“It’s only right that people should do everything they can to move off benefits and into work if they are able. Sanctions are only used as a last resort and we have robust procedures in place to protect vulnerable people, with a number of safeguards built into the system.

Yet many people will wonder, if sanctions are only being used as a last resort, what possible explanation there can be for the sudden massive increase in the number being handed out?

And if safeguards are built into the system, why are claimants with mental health conditions increasingly over-represented on the roster of sanctioned individuals?

The DWP also told us in April:

“Everyone has the right to appeal a sanction decision if they disagree with it.”

Which is entirely true. But a Citizens Advice Scotland report on sanctions released yesterday reveals that “many people who are hit by a sanction are not told the reason for it, or how to appeal against it”.

The DWP have good reason to keep people in the dark about their appeal rights. According to the ‘Fulfilling potential? ESA and the fate of the work-related activity group’ report released last month by Mind, tribunals now uphold almost nine out of ten ESA and JSA sanctions appeals.

Such a huge proportion of overturned decisions is ample proof of the savagery of the sanctions regime. But for many people, especially vulnerable claimants suddenly struggling to survive on drastically reduced benefits and no longer able to get legal aid for help with tribunals, coping with the complex new appeal system is an impossibility.

According to the Mind report, written by Catherine Hale, – herself an ESA claimant:

“ . . . findings suggest that the regime of conditionality and sanctions has left participants in the WRAG fearful , demoralised and further away from achieving their work-related goals or participating in society than when they started.”

The report also found that in 87% of cases of claimants failing to participate in a mandatory work-related activity, the reason was related to their health condition, including 19% who had missed an activity because of a medical appointment.

Such cynical targeting of vulnerable claimants is clearly counter-productive in terms of moving them off benefits and into work.

But there is one very likely explanation for the increasing use of sanctions.

Leaked documents obtained by the BBC last month revealed that the DWP expect the cost of ESA to rise by almost £13bn by 2018/19. The documents warn that the increase is “one of the largest fiscal risks currently facing the government” and could cause it to breach its self-imposed benefits cap.

One of the documents also warns that, in terms of cutting costs, there is “not much low-hanging fruit left”.

ESA claimants with mental health conditions are, however, one remaining low-hanging fruit that IDS and his increasingly vicious and shambolic department are determined to pluck as heavily and as quickly as they possibly can.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. July 2, 2014 3:14 pm

    What are the effects of the sanctions being levied against people with mental health issues Sarah? Does this mean people being thrown off benefits completely? Thanks for letting us know about what is happening.

  2. Ashamed to be British permalink
    July 2, 2014 3:32 pm

    This is a human rights atrocity.

    Bear in mind that the courts have already made clear that the WCA that dumps the mentally ill in the WRAG group is discriminatory, and yet the ConDems, like true totalitarians, ignore the rule of justice.

    Anyone who has died following this abuse is plainiy a victim of corporate manslaughter.

    Why are the BBC and mainstream media not reporting this?

    Why is the UN still sitting on it’s hands when they have repeatedly been made aware of these horrific abuses? How much suffering does it take before they will intervene? This government has repeatedly ignored the UK courts so why does the UN not act?

    How many more innocent citizens must be tortured to death by these unelected and sociopatic government monsters before they are called to account?

    • Ashamed to be British permalink
      July 2, 2014 3:44 pm

      A related issue is that LABOUR, by turning a blind eye (and very often having been base enough to vote IN FAVOUR of gov’t abuses of the disabled) IS ALLOWING A PRECEDENT TO BE SET WHERE THE DEATH OF VULNERABLE INDIVIDUALS CAN BE WRITTEN OFF AS COLLATEROL when those in power can dredge up a feeble excuse, such as ‘austerity’.

      The thing about precedents is that once accommodated, THEY KEEP ON COMING BACK, whenever those in power (whoever they may be) think it would be handy to make a few more cuts.

      If the existing tens of thousands of ‘collateral deaths’ of disabled citizens under the ConDems ar not EXPLICITLY CONDEMNED AND DISOWNED BY LABOUR, this can only mean it is because LABOUR HAVE TACITLY MADE IT POLICY TO KEEP THIS PRACTICE IN THEIR OWN BACK POCKET as a ‘safety valve’ to claw back savings to ‘appease’ Daily Mail readers.

  3. July 2, 2014 3:58 pm

    Reblogged this on sdbast.

  4. jray permalink
    July 2, 2014 4:05 pm

    I am not on ESA or WRAG,just a normal 50 yo who is unemployed and on JSA,looking for employment use to be my full time occupation. After 2 years on the WP,attending ?? I am still unsure what was the purpose,other than doing tasks that had no purpose.Now returned to the JCP,where it was announced that “You will be in Training,Education or MIR” Great,what Training is available(Dec 2013) ? “You must submit a proposal” Do you have an outline? “No” I am on my 7th proposal,all have been rejected,same for Education. While on the WP,I arranged 3 placements with local charities,all were refused by the WP Provider,but amazingly,the same Provider once I had left the WP was paid over £600 to place me on MWA for 4 weeks with a local Charity. I use the UJM to prove I am searching for work,this alone is no longer accepted as proof,I asked why? It was suppose to revolutionise how the unemployed searched for work,All singing and Dancing(Not) I go through the motions,but the goal posts are moved so often,that finding work is far down the list,avoiding being sanctioned is now my full time occupation!

  5. Sam Barnett-Cormack permalink
    July 2, 2014 4:42 pm

    From my reading of the figures, it’s not only the number of sanctions being up – it’s the proportion of sanction referrals being decided against the claimant that’s really swung.

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