Disabled people receiving state benefits have been hit with a million sanctions in less than a decade, according to alarming new evidence that they are being discriminated against by the welfare system. A comprehensive analysis of the treatment of unemployed disabled claimants has revealed that they are up to 53% more likely to be docked money than claimant who are not disabled. This raises serious concerns about how they and their conditions are treated.
Sanctions – the cutting or withholding of benefits – are applied as a punishment when claimants infringe the conditions of their payments by, say, as missing appointments or failing to apply for enough jobs. While the sanctions regime has been championed by the government as a means of encouraging people to take a job or boosting their chances of finding one, most experts consulted as part of the Demos project concluded that conditionality has little or no effect on improving employment for disabled people. There was also widespread anecdotal evidence that the threat of sanctions can lead to anxiety and broader ill health.
The findings have caused alarm among charities, many of which have dealt with cases in which disabled people complained of poor treatment and a lack of understanding.
Mark Atkinson, chief executive at disability charity Scope, said: “Punitive sanctions can be extremely harmful to disabled people, who already face the financial penalty of higher living costs. There is no clear evidence that cutting disabled people’s benefits supports them to get into and stay in work. Sanctions are likely to cause unnecessary stress, pushing the very people that the government aims to support into work further away from the jobs market.”
Polly Mackenzie, director of Demos, said it was now clear that the benefits system isn’t working for disabled people: “Jobcentre advisers and capability assessors too often have a culture of disbelief about disability, especially mental illness, that leads them to sanction claimants who genuinely could not do the job they are being bullied into applying for.