Churches Welcome Call For Benefit Sanction Review

A coalition of major UK Churches, with a combined membership of more than 800,000 people, has welcomed the call for a full independent review of the benefit sanctions system. The recommendation comes in a report from the Work and Pensions Select Committee that has been released today.

Earlier this month the Churches called for such a review in their report Time to Rethink Benefit Sanctions which cited new evidence about the negative impact of the current regime. They revealed that, in 2013/14, nearly seven million weeks of sanctions were handed out to people, with around 100,000 children affected. The data, obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, also shows that people who receive the sickness and disability benefit Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) because of a long-term mental health problem are being sanctioned at a rate of more than 100 per day. The most common reason for being sanctioned is being late or not turning up for an appointment.

“The Select Committee Report describes a system that is broken and needs urgent review,” said Paul Morrison Public Issues Policy Adviser for the Methodist Church. “Churches are often at the forefront of helping people who have been sanctioned and who are in desperate need of food, support and advice. It is unacceptable that vulnerable people can be left with no means of support as punishment for often very minor mistakes.

“The people we have met have spoken of the shame, demoralisation and loss of self-worth caused by this system. As Christians we believe that everyone is loved, valued and made in the image of God, and we have a responsibility to challenge any structure or system that undermines that dignity. We hope that whoever forms the next government will treat this issue with the urgency and seriousness it deserves.”

“So far, more than 1,400 people have written to their MPs about sanctions as a result of the campaign,” added Niall Cooper, Director of Church Action on Poverty, “It’s great that people in churches understand how important this issue is. We know that sanctions have a disproportionate impact on those who are most vulnerable: young people, care leavers, homeless people, single parents, the mentally ill and those with long-term illness. The new government must act to ensure that the benefits system provides a safety net for everyone, rather than making people destitute.”

Time to Rethink Benefit Sanctions was published by the Baptist Union of Great Britain, Church Action on Poverty, the Church in Wales, the Church of Scotland, the Methodist Church and the United Reformed Church and features the stories of people like Sarah* who have had their benefits sanctioned:

Sarah worked as a charity project coordinator until she was laid off a due to funding cuts. She was asked to apply for eight jobs a week, but always applied for more as she was keen to get back to work. One week she was unable to fill out her job search on the computer because there were workmen fixing her roof and she had to stay in the house. Instead she filled out her search in a booklet. She contacted the jobcentre to explain, and ask if they needed any proof to support the booklet as she had emails from prospective employers and had even attended interviews. They said they didn’t need anything from her.

When Sarah went to collect her money she was told she had been sanctioned. However, she did not receive the letter telling her she had been sanctioned so was unable to apply for discretionary funds to help support her and her family. Sarah successfully appealed the decision, though she says that Jobcentre Plus staff repeatedly tried to discourage her from doing so.

“Usually I’m quite a confident person, but they crush you. I found the experience at the Jobcentre Plus so awful I’d rather starve than go back there again. They should properly train the people in the job centre to treat us like people …That whole attitude that people are scroungers is terrible, there’s just no respect.”

The Department for Work and Pensions has failed to respond to a further FOI request regarding whether sanctions make it easier for the DWP to achieve its targets. This is despite the fact that the Information Commissioner’s Office ordered the DWP to respond by 15 March.

I personally think that it is absolutely scandalous that people on benefits should be sanctioned because, for instance, they are a few minutes late for an appointment at the Job Centre.

If an employee is late for work no employer is going to stop their wages because they were a few minutes late for work. There would be an outcry if that ever happened.

So, what I fail to understand is why the Job Centres are allowed to take such  draconian action  by stopping, or reducing, people’s much needed benefits.

Some families are starving because of the Job Centre’s irresponsible action!

I know that I am not the only one seeking answers to this question!!

With many peaceful blessings

Geoffrey

Mental Health, Sanctions and the Department of Works and Pensions

New data released today has revealed that benefits claimants judged as unfit to work due to mental health problems are more likely to have their benefits stopped by sanctions than those suffering from other conditions.

Policy advisers for the Methodist Church obtained the data using Freedom of Information Requests to the Department of Work and Pensions. It shows that people who receive the sickness and disability benefit Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) because of a long-term mental health problem are being sanctioned at a rate of more than 100 per day. In March 2014 – the last month for which data is available – approximately 4,500 people with mental health problems who receive ESA because of mental health problems were sanctioned.

Paul Morrison, Public Issues Policy Adviser for the Methodist Church, said: “We believe that the number of people with mental health problems who have their benefit stopped due to being sanctioned is in fact a great deal higher than 100 a day. Not included in these figures are people who receive ESA due to a physical illness, but who have a higher risk of mental health difficulties.”

According to the DWP data, the most common reason for being sanctioned is that a person has been late or not turned up for a Work Programme appointment.

“Sanctioning someone with a mental health problem for being late for a meeting is like sanctioning someone with a broken leg for limping. The fact that this system punishes people for the symptoms of their illness is a clear and worrying sign that it is fundamentally flawed,” said Mr Morrison, who is also the author of an upcoming report on the sanctions regime. “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.”

Paul Farmer, CEO of mental health charity Mind, said: “We’re very concerned about the number of people having their benefits stopped. This causes not just financial problems but added emotional distress. It’s unjustifiable that people with mental health problems are being sanctioned disproportionately compared to 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. That’s why they should only be used as a last resort, when someone simply refuses to engage.”

These figures – and other new data on the sanctions regime – will feature in a report that is due to be launched in the spring by a coalition of major Churches, including the Methodist Church, the Church of Scotland and the Church in Wales.

The Revd Sally Foster-Fulton, Convener of the Church and Society Council of the Church of Scotland, said: “With others in the Scottish Leaders’ Group on Welfare, 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. We welcome the publication of the upcoming report. It is important that we highlight these facts and begin to counter this troubling trend.  We will use the new data in our 28 February conference looking ‘Beyond Food Banks’, for which sanctions are a key trigger.”

 

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Please pray that the UK Government realise the great harm that they are doing to people suffering from Mental Health problems by sanctioning them unnecessarily.

By sanctioning people suffering from Mental Health problems they are causing these people tremendous additional stress and anxieties as, in my many cases, sanctioning their benefits leave them without monies for food, heating, rent etc.

Let us pray that David Cameron, and his Government, become more caring and understanding to people who have mental health issues.

Amen

With many peaceful blessings

Geoffrey