'Punishments' for benefits claimants with mental health issues rocket, figures show

Punishments for mental health benefits claimants rocket, figures show.

Benefit claimants with mental health problems are more likely to be punished and have their payments stopped, new figures have revealed.

The numbers of those judged unfit to work were released by the Department of Work and Pensions following Freedom of Information requests from the Methodist Church.

The figures show that in March 2014 – the last month for which data is available - approximately 4,500 people with mental health problems who were on the sickness and disability benefit Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) were sanctioned.

Read: Claimants with mental health issues are being 'punished' for being late and missing appointments while claiming benefits

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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."

Paul Morrison, public issues policy adviser for the Methodist Church. Credit: Methodist Church

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 meeting.

Around 4,500 people with mental health problems were sanctioned. Credit: PA

Paul Morrison, who is also the author of an upcoming report on the regime, added: “Churches have increasingly seen people in desperate need because they have been sanctioned. The suffering and in justice we have seen caused by the sanctions system deserves serious scrutiny.”

Claimants were sanctioned for arriving late or missing appointments. Credit: PA

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."

The new regime has been criticised. Credit: PA

The figures, along with other new data on the sanctions regime - will feature in a report 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 Rev Sally Foster-Fulton, convener of the Church and Society Council of the Church of Scotland, said: "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 February 28 conference looking ‘Beyond Food Banks’, for which sanctions are a key trigger.”

A DWP spokesman said decisions to suspend benefits "aren't taken lightly".