Over 100 people a day with mental health problems are having their benefits sanctioned, according to Freedom of Information requests by the Methodist Church in Britain.
The data, obtained from the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP), showed that in March 2014 alone – the last month for which data is available – around 4,500 people with mental health problems who receive the sickness and disability benefit Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) because of mental health problems had their benefits sanctioned.
The Methodist Church public issues policy adviser, Paul Morrison, 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.
But Morrison added: ‘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.’
Mental health charity Mind’s chief executive Paul Farmer said: ‘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.’