Rising ESA sanctions: punishing vulnerable citizens for being vulnerable

The number of sanctions applied to ESA claimants rose 334% between December 2012 and December 2013, according to new Department of Work and Pensions statistics.

The report shows that since the new Employment Support Allowance (ESA) sanctions regime was introduced on 3 December 2012, there has been a steady increase in the number of sanctions applied, from 1,102 in December 2012 to 4,789 in December 2013.

The total number of adverse sanction decisions over the period 3 December 2012 to 31 December 2013 was 28,702:

  • 5,889 were applied for failure to attend a mandatory interview and
  • 22,814 were applied for failure to participate in work related activity

In addition, the statistics show that, of the 28,702 decisions:

  • 13,994 were reviewed and in 8,508 cases, the decisions were overturned. This equals a “success” rate of nearly 61% and
  • 331 cases were appealed, 90 of those (27%) were overturned on appeal

Since the new Job Seekers Allowance (JSA) sanctions regime was introduced on 22 October 2012, there have been a total of 1,028,819 adverse JSA sanction decisions up to the end of December 2013.

Of those 1,028,819 decisions:

  • 317,411 were reviewed – 146,486 were overturned
  • 34,503 were appealed – 6,158 were overturned at appeal

The Department of Work and Pensions statistical release is available on the .Gov website

Six out of every ten sanctioned ESA claimants are extremely vulnerable people with a mental health condition or learning difficulty, according DWP figures, obtained under the Freedom of Information Act. The proportion has risen from 35% of sanctioned claimants in 2009 to 58% in 2013. The statistics demonstrate that sanctions are now overwhelmingly aimed at the most vulnerable individuals by a government department which is using a policy of institutional discrimination to cut benefits costs.

Sanctions of £71.70 a week are imposed when ESA claimants in the work-related activity group are forced onto the work programme and then fail to meet mandatory conditions imposed on them by private sector companies.

However, for a person to get into the ESA work-related activity group on mental health grounds, they need to score a minimum of 15 points at assessment for problems with issues such as:

  • planning new activities,
  • changes in routine,
  • going to new places,
  • talking to new people,
  • avoiding behaving aggressively or inappropriately when stressed.

So, it’s pretty obvious that many will struggle to cope with regular and punctual attendance on training courses and work-experience placements with strangers in unfamiliar places. Even if some people manage to attend, they may not succeed in participating to the satisfaction of those running the courses or placements. People are being coerced by the DWP to engage in activities that they are simply not well enough to undertake.

Debbie Abrahams, a Labour MP, and a member of the Work And Pensions Committee, has been leading the calls for an inquiry into the issue of sanctions. She said:

“As a member of the work and pensions select committee I’ve been very concerned about the growing evidence of inappropriate sanctioning and demanded that that a second independent inquiry into the issue is established.

“When I made my demands face-to-face with Esther McVey at a Committee session back in November she agreed to set up an independent investigation into the ‘appropriateness of sanctions’ and her offer was welcomed by the Committee in their following report. But, in a deliberate snub to the Committee, the Government have now said they won’t set one up.

“My question is this: If sanctions are currently being applied correctly, an independent review will testify to that, so just what are Ministers trying to hide?

“It’s just another example of how Iain Duncan Smith and Esther McVey are using smoke and mirrors to avoid any criticism about the mess and misery they are creating in the social security system.

“No-one is arguing with the fact that anyone who is on work related benefits should do all they can to find appropriate employment. But there is a growing body of evidence that the way the government is implementing sanctions means vulnerable people are being targeted disproportionately and suffering terribly as a result.

“The last thing Iain Duncan Smith and Esther McVey want is for that uncomfortable truth to be uncovered by a focussed and independent investigation.”

You can download a copy of the freedom of information response here

Thanks to Robert Livingstone.

30 thoughts on “Rising ESA sanctions: punishing vulnerable citizens for being vulnerable

  1. Reblogged this on Vox Political and commented:
    Once again the government is playing fast and loose with the figures. The FoI request is only partially answered – this time under a claim that it would cost too much – and Esther McVey has reneged on her promise to set up an independent investigation into the appropriateness of sanctions.
    It seems clear that this is a department – and a government – with a large amount to hide.
    One imagines many departmental budgets will be used to buy shredders over the coming 11-and-a-bit months.


  2. Reblogged this on Beastrabban’s Weblog and commented:
    This shows that the government’s sanctions regime is punishing the mentally ill and vulnerable, who are unable to carry out the social tasks set them by the Jobcentre and DWP because of their mental condition. To add insult to injury, IDS and Esther McVie refuse to submit to an independent inquiry. They know their policies are cruel and unjust. They just don’t want you to know.


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