Data released in a Freedom of Information request (FOI) by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) shows between 2010 and 2014, Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) claimants with a mental health condition were 5 times as likely to be sanctioned than those with other health conditions.
The FOI request submitted by Jack Dutton on whatdotheyknow.com asked for;
“A graph showing the employment and support allowance sanctions by disability over the last five years up to today (or as most recently as possible).”
The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) did reply quite promptly and provided what they claimed to be “the most up to date information,” (2010 – 2014). Make of that what you will.
Defend and Mislead
What was odd however was the beginning of their response. They jumped straight into defending the use of sanctions.
“Benefit sanctions are only used only as a last resort and the overwhelming majority of claimants do not receive a sanction. The recent independent Oakley review confirmed that they are vital to a properly functioning welfare system.”
They seem to have attempted to mislead anyone reading their response. This is because the Oakley review was only related to the use of sanctions on Jobseekers Allowance (JSA) claimants. It did not investigate the use and effectiveness of sanctions for claimants on Employment and Support Allowance (ESA).
This isn’t really surprising but I thought I’d point it out for clarity.
Mental Health claimants hit hard
The graph above shows the shocking number of claimants with mental health conditions that were sanctioned in the four years after the coalition government of the Tories and Lib Dems came to power.
Whilst the number did initially fall it then started on an upward decent at a fairly rapid rate. Then suddenly between January 2013 and January 2014 it went up by a factor of five. 2013 was the year that Iain Duncan Smith embarked on his welfare reforms so it’s hard not to see a connection.
When you compare it to the other health groups they have used, it shows that claimants with a mental health condition were five times as likely to be sanctioned than those with another health condition. It is simply shocking.
Also in the response the DWP were keen to say;
“It is worth noting that the vast majority of ESA claimants are not sanctioned; in any given month only around 1% receives a sanction.”
Handily the DWP provided a second graph showing the number of claimants on ESA and listed by their health condition. They did try to make it harder to correlate the results by using February instead of January as the starting point of the year.
More misleading claims debunked
The DWP’s stance that only 1% are sanctioned in any given month doesn’t really add up even to the naked eye when you look at both graphs.
PLEASE NOTE: My estimates are only rough as they graphs aren’t exact.
For example in January 2014 approximately 28,000 claimants were in the Work Related Activity Group known as WRAG. Taking a rough reading of the sanctions graph I saw that about 2300 claimants were sanctioned that month.
That means that just in the mental health conditions group approximately 8.2% of claimants were sanctioned, nowhere near the 1% claim the DWP tried to pass off.
Even if you go to the next biggest group “other” you’ll still find in January 2014 about 5% of claimants were sanctioned.
More recent data?
Why is the data from 2014 and not more recent you ask? Well the DWP claim that this is the most up to date information they have. I was informed by Steve Topple from Independent News Site The Canary that there could well be an explanation for this.
He explained that the classification system for health conditions has changed over time and because of that it may be more difficult for them to gather all the data. Not impossible but the DWP are notorious for wiggling out of FOIs on a technicality. I will therefore put in a carefully worded request myself to see if I can find out recent trends.
A Tory assault on the vulnerable
This just adds top the growing list of facts that show the Tories Welfare Reforms are an assault on the most vulnerable in society.
The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) found that the DWP and the Tories had committed “grave” and “systematic” violations of disabled people’s human rights adding that had lead to a “human catastrophe”.
In December 2017 the High Court ruled that the DWP had discriminated against claimants with mental health conditions. Those claimants are still waiting to receive the back payment they were told would come by the end of summer.
The High Court again found against the government in June this year. It ruled they illegally and unfairly withdrew two claimants disability premiums simply because they moved areas for medical treatment.
And finally lets not forget that in November coming The UNCRPD are sending Professor Philip Alston to investigate how austerity and welfare reform has affected poverty and human rights in the UK. With all the evidence piling up it is going to be hard for them to shrug this visit off like the last one.
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